Suspicions were raised when in late 2020 the US de-listed as a terrorist organization the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), sometimes referred to as the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP).
This was because the US had claimed as its rationale that the ETIM/TIP had not been active for over a decade despite the US itself admitting to striking ETIM/TIP targets in Afghanistan as recently as 2018, just 2 years before the de-listing.
A 2020 Guardian article titled, “US removes shadowy group from terror list blamed by China for attacks,” for example, would note:
In a notice in the Federal Register, which publishes new US laws and rules, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said on Friday he was revoking the designation of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a “terrorist organization.”
“ETIM was removed from the list because, for more than a decade, there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist,” a state department spokesperson said.
The US State Department spokesperson’s claim went unchallenged by The Guardian despite the paper itself having written a 2013 article as recently as 7 years ago from the US de-listing of ETIM/TIP titled, “Islamist group claims responsibility for attack on China’s Tiananmen Square,” which reported:
The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) is the first group to claim responsibility for the attack on 28 October, when a four-wheel drive vehicle ploughed through a group of pedestrians near the iconic square in central Beijing, crashed into a stone bridge and caught fire, killing five people and injuring dozens. Chinese authorities quickly identified the driver as Uighur, a Muslim ethnic minority hailing from Xinjiang, a sparsely populated, restive region in the country’s far north-west.
Not only does the article indicate the US State Department lied in its claim the terrorist organization has been inactive for over a decade, it also illustrates the very real terrorist threat China faces nationwide from Xinjiang-based terrorist organizations.
The US government and the Western media in general have, for years now depicted security policies carried out by Beijing to counter this threat as “genocide.”
ETIM/TIP “Back from the Dead”
Considering all of this it should come as no surprise then when US-based Newsweek published an article in September of this year titled, “Exclusive: Despite China’s Pressure on Taliban, Uyghur Separatists See Opportunity in Afghanistan,” in which the “non-existent” ETIM/TIP’s spokesperson was interviewed by US media.
The article followed on the heels of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, a move that clearly opened the door to a transition from America’s overt military footprint in the Central Asian country to a more covert role in backing militant groups to sow chaos not only within Afghanistan’s borders but far beyond them, including into neighboring China.
The Newsweek article would report:
“The United States is a strong country, it has its own strategy, and we see the withdrawal of the American government today from this war in Afghanistan, which is incurring huge economic losses, as a means of confronting China, who are the enemy of all humanity and religions on the face of the Earth,” a spokesperson for the political office of the Turkestan Islamic Party, commonly known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), told Newsweek.
In what appears to be the first remarks by the secretive group to an international media outlet since being removed from a US list of terrorist organizations last year, the Turkestan Islamic Party spokesperson expressed hoped the US military exit last month would be followed by greater pressure against China.
“We believe that the opposition of the United States to China will not only benefit the Turkestan Islamic Party and the people of Turkestan,” the spokesperson said, “but also all mankind.”
Newsweek would also mention US strikes on ETIM/TIP targets in 2018, noting:
For many years, the US included ETIM on its Terrorist Exclusion List, part of Patriot Act measures established after the 9/11 attacks. The Pentagon even targeted the group with airstrikes in Afghanistan up until at least 2018.
The public is expected to believe the US de-listing ETIM/TIP was based on alleged evidence the organization no longer exists, despite the organization clearly continuing to exist and carry out acts of terrorism, and now also openly aligning itself with US foreign policy vis-à-vis China upon its “reemergence.”
The US has similarly de-listed terrorist organizations it sought to use as armed proxies in conflicts against targeted nations. This includes the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) the US used in its proxy war with not only Libya itself in 2011, but after transferring fighters and weapons from North Africa to the Middle East, against Syria as well from 2011 onward.
The US also de-listed the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), a terrorist organization used by the US and its allies to conduct terror operations against the government and people of Iran.
It’s No Secret the US Supports Separatism in Xinjiang, China
The Newsweek article spends much of its space attempting to depict the ETIM/TIP as engaged in a heroic battle for independence against an “oppressive” Chinese occupation. The article claims:
“East Turkestan is the land of the Uyghurs,” the Turkestan Islamic Party spokesperson said. “After the Chinese government occupied our homeland by force, they forced us to leave our homeland because of their oppression against us. The whole world knows that East Turkestan has always been the land of the Uyghurs.”
Only until about midway through the article does Newsweek finally admit:
Beyond China and the UN, an array of nations and international organizations including the European Union, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom consider ETIM to be a terrorist organization.
Indeed, the UN does count ETIM/TIP as a terrorist group and is quoted by Newsweek as noting the organization “poses an immediate threat to the security of China and its people.”
The UN Security Council, on the official UN website in a statement titled, “Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement,” explicitly notes:
The Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is an organization which has used violence to further its aim of setting up an independent so-called “East Turkistan” within China.
The UNSC statement makes two things abundantly clear. First, the UN, and by extension the majority of the international community, does not recognize the term “East Turkestan,” and instead recognizes the territory as Xinjinang and as part of China.
Second, the UNSC is explicitly designating ETIM/TIP as a terrorist organization that has used violence to further its separatist ambitions.
The term “East Turkestan” is used only by separatists in contradiction to international law and the region’s internationally recognized status as Xinjiang, China.
Therefore it is especially telling to see on the US government’s National Endowment for Democracy’s official website its programs in Xinjiang listed on a page titled, “Xinjiang/East Turkestan (China).”
The organizations listed, including the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) both explicitly refer to Xinjiang, China as “East Turkestan” which they regard as “occupied” by China.
The UHRP describes itself on its website, claiming (emphasis added):
The Uyghur Human Rights Project promotes the rights of the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim peoples in East Turkistan, referred to by the Chinese government as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region…
WUC’s website claims the organization declares an “opposition movement against Chinese occupation of East Turkistan.”
Both organizations are funded by the US government with the UHRP being based in Washington D.C.
The World Uyghur Congress, funded by the US government, was the organization that initiated the so-called “Uyghur Tribunal.” The Uyghur Tribunal’s official website even admits (emphasis added):
In June 2020 Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress formally requested that Sir Geoffrey Nice QC establish and chair an independent people’s tribunal to investigate ‘ongoing atrocities and possible Genocide’ against the Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic Muslim Populations.
Thus not only is the US clearly promoting separatism in Xinjiang, China by directly funding organizations promoting separatism, and not only has the US de-listed ETIM/TIP, an active terrorist organization, making it easier for the organization to allocate funding and travel globally, but it also leveraging its considerable control over global media and international institutions to depict China’s response to this concerted campaign of seperatism and terrorism aimed at its territory and people as “genocide.”
In other words, the US in one hand is armed with a sword – “reemerged” ETIM/TIP terrorists keen on joining America’s encirclement and containment of China – and in the other hand, the US holds the shield of “human rights advocacy” to guard against China’s attempts to address this threat.
It is a perpetual irony that the US presumes leadership of a “rules-based international order” it claims underwrites peace and stability worldwide while simultaneously being the greatest threat to both.
Brian Berletic is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.