Why Sino-Taliban Cooperation Could Be Hindered By Uyghur Issue
(August 25, 2021 / JNS) Many adversaries of the United States are taking the opportunity to fill the void created by the precipitous military withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is not one of them.
While Beijing will undoubtedly try to take advantage of Afghanistan’s vast reserves of mineral resources and celebrate America’s failure in the country, it will also need to consider its own security outlook as the Taliban projects terrorism. and radicalism in the region.
Beijing is guilty of committing atrocious human rights violations, under the guise of counterterrorism in its Xinjiang province, against the country’s Uyghur Muslims. The Taliban’s historic ties to a controversial Uyghur separatist group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), worry Chinese leaders, who consider the group a terrorist organization.
Uyghurs are Turkish-speaking Muslims from the northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Beijing sees this minority group as a threat to Han nationalism and fears calls for Uyghur separatism.
As part of its efforts to promote so-called cultural unity, the PRC perpetuates modern slavery in Xinjiang by forcibly detaining Uyghurs in makeshift concentration camps. Chinese officials have been accused of committing crimes against humanity for the torture and ill-treatment inflicted on this minority community. Uyghur women are systematically sexually abused, sterilized and indoctrinated. Uyghur men suffer the same fate in Xinjiang.
For years, Chinese officials have been shouting terrorism by referring to the Uyghur population and claiming that their efforts at detention, indoctrination and “re-education” are aimed at limiting the terrorist threat posed by the minority group. Beijing points the finger at ETIM to support the claim that Uyghur dissident groups, particularly in Xinjiang province, have committed and will continue to commit crimes against the ethnic Hans. However, the origins and even the current existence of the ETIM are disputed.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the term ETIM first appeared following a meeting in Afghanistan in 1999, when a Moscow-based newspaper reported that Osama bin Laden had pledged funds to both ETIM and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. China alleges that ETIM is closely linked to the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), a group that claimed responsibility for a handful of terrorist attacks against civilians in Beijing in 2008.
Although the link has not been confirmed, China claimed that “Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan provided the terrorist organizations in ‘East Turkestan’ with equipment and financial resources and trained their personnel,” and that one organization in particular, the “East Turkestan Islamic Movement” (ETIM), was a “major component of the terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden”.
Now that the Taliban has become the de facto government of Afghanistan, Chinese officials fear that Uyghur separatists will be encouraged and potentially helped to rise up against their oppressors.
Recent news reports suggest that Chinese and Taliban officials have reached an agreement not to meddle with each other and to establish diplomatic relations once a Taliban government is in place. During an Aug. 18 webinar on the Afghan crisis, Victoria Coates, senior analyst at the Center for Security Policy, said a new Taliban government could agree to work with China, accept aid and investment – and do not try to help the persecuted Uyghurs in China – because it will be “transactional” and corrupt.
On the other hand, the Taliban – an outright Islamist movement – may not agree to work with a nation that detains, tortures and indoctrinates its Muslim population. The Taliban might initially cooperate with the PRC to establish a working government to validate itself in the international community, but a long-term partnership may not be possible due to China’s brutal oppression against Uyghur Muslims.
Maya Carlin is an analyst at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC and former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel.