At the end of October, the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (banned in Russia – Ed.) was excluded from the list of terrorist organizations by the US State Department.
It bears reminding that the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a Sufi Uyghur illegal armed group created in 1993, seeks to create an independent Sharia-based state in East Turkestan and to forcefully convert the Chinese people to Islam. The name of the group reflects the key goal of the radical Uyghurs – the struggle for East Turkestan, by which they mean the Chinese province of Xinjiang. The group claimed responsibility for numerous acts of terrorism, as a result of which several hundreds of people have died. It was involved in attacks on law enforcement officers and residents, both in Xinjiang and in other regions of China, and supplied personnel for the Islamist forces fighting in Syria. The group has international relations with other terrorist structures, and is located in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. Since this group is behind a number of major acts of terrorism in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Chinese authorities consider it as the most important security challenge in China at the moment.
In 2004, Deputy Emir of the ETIM Abdullah Qariadzhi confirmed the existence of relations with the subdivisions of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization (banned in Russia – Ed.) even before the September 11 attacks, as well as the subsequent participation of the militants of the movement in the ranks of Al-Qaeda in the war against NATO contingent in Afghanistan.
In 1998, the headquarters of the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement was moved to Kabul, and until 2001, Uyghur radicals were accommodated mainly in the Tora-Bora mountains. After the start of the US military operation in Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban regime, the main base of the ETIM was moved to the territory of the self-appointed Waziristan in northwestern Pakistan.
Since this movement did not manage to gain a foothold and create bases on its own territory, its activists joined terrorist groups in the Middle East and throughout Southeast Asia, even in countries as far from Xinjiang as Thailand. During active hostilities in the North Caucasus, Russian law enforcement officers killed or captured people who had Chinese citizenship and had a direct relations with the ETIM. In this regard, mutual cooperation between Russia and China in that area has long been established, which is still ongoing nowadays within the regional anti-terrorist structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
The ETIM terrorist movement was included in the “blacklist” under President George Bush in 2004 and is considered a terrorist movement in the UN and the EU.
The measures taken by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to exclude ETIM from the American list of terrorist organizations attracted public attention for a number of reasons. There is no doubt now that such actions were taken by Pompeo clearly with geopolitical considerations in mind, with the ultimate goal being leaving a legacy that would complicate China’s life and make Xinjiang a second Afghanistan. Hence, the reasons why Xinjiang has been the focus of Washington’s intensive information attacks on Beijing in recent months, are quite obvious.
For example, on June 19, the USA adopted the so-called Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020. That very day, the US authorities initiated a discussion on violations of these rights by China in the UN Human Rights Council. There was thus an attempt to impose the practice of American “exclusive” extraterritoriality – the spread of US legislation to other countries under the threat of applying sanctions against them for non-compliance with the unilateral punitive measures announced by Washington. The excuse was specifically the situation around the flaring up conflict between the United States and China using the Uyghur issue.
The United States has long been paying attention to Xinjiang, since this region has an important strategic position (common borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia and the states of Central Asia). Separatism in Xinjiang even received the official name in the United States as the “movement for national self-determination.”
For a long time, the separatists of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) actively used Western aid in their activities, primarily from the USA. While the security services were pumping money into the separatist movement, recruiting and preparing subversive agents, the State Department’s diplomacy covered up this activity by fanning scandals about Beijing’s alleged violation of the rights of the Uyghurs in order to discredit the attempts of the Chinese authorities to resist the terrorist aspirations of the ETIM.
It is also no secret that the Western countries have a friendly attitude towards the Uyghur independence movement. The main centers of this support are precisely the USA and Germany. For example, in 2005, the USA accepted Rabiye Qadir, one of the most active fighters for the “national self-determination of the Uyghur people”, who established the International Uyghur Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy in the United States, became a president of the American Uyghur Association, and then was elected a president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), which has become Washington’s key instrument in the new Cold War against China. The WUC regards China’s northwestern Xinjiang region as East Turkestan and considers its Muslim Uyghur residents to be not the citizens of China, but a part of a pan-Turkic state stretching from Central Asia to Turkey.
In an attempt to stage a “color revolution” and change the regime in Beijing, the WUC and its branches have built on ties with the Gray Wolves unit (banned in Russia –Ed.), an ultra-right Turkish organization actively involved in sectarian violence from Syria to East Asia. The organization’s militants have been accused of a number of murders and terrorist incidents, including the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. Since the beginning of November, Gray Wolves have been banned in France. A number of opposition members of the Bundestag called on the Federal Government of Germany to also ban this nationalist unit, following the example of France.
After the start of the American occupation of Afghanistan, it became clear to everyone that the key goal of the USA there was by no means the fight against terrorism, but the implementation, under the guise of this fight, of special operations to support armed Islamism and separatism in the Central Asian region. In the post-Soviet republics, the USA had an intention to bring into power extremists capable of exporting terror to the north – to Kazakhstan and further to Russia. And in Chinese Xinjiang, the bet was placed on Uighur separatism, with the subsequent fragmentation of the PRC.
In this regard, the measures taken by Mike Pompeo to remove ETIM, through the US State Department, from the list of terrorist organizations are obviously provocative. Now the question arises, what position Joe Biden will take on this issue. Although, on the one hand, there are concerns that he may be influenced by the neo-conservative lobby of the military-industrial complex and intelligence, nevertheless, his statements are known for reducing tensions in relations with China and for refraining from conflicts, for ceasing endless wars like in Afghanistan and the Middle East. In this regard, the French mass media remind that, in 2016, he called for modesty regarding the US ability to make profound changes in the world.
Vladimir Danilov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.