The Uyghur Issue in Early 2020 / Analysis

We need to carefully consider the cultural, symbolic and historical problems emerging in China with regard to the Uyghur issue. The new phase of Uyghur jihadism will affect the whole Middle East and the Maghreb region, in addition to an increasing share of jihadists of Turkish origin who will be operating in South-East Asia

Chinese Uyghur Muslims. Archive photo: AP

The Uyghur issue is now a very important asset for global anti-Chinese propaganda, both by the United States and by other European or Asian countries.

If we do not understand the strategic importance of the Belt and Road Initiative, which inevitably passes through Xinjiang, we do not even understand the central role currently played by the Western propaganda in favour of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

The basic criterion - certainly originally coming from the U.S. State organizations themselves - is that of comparing the Nazi concentration camps to the Uyghur re-education camps in China.

This is a criterion of "grey propaganda" which is by now very widespread: relatively scarcely widespread news, regardless of its factual truth, is associated with tragically true news, but very widespread throughout the world.

Hence the "truth effect" passes from the "major premise", which is certainly true, i.e. the Jewish Shoah during the Third Reich, to the minor premise, not fully verifiable, as happens in Aristotelian syllogisms - hence, in this case, the supposed truth of the "repression" (another key propaganda term) of the ethnic group of Turkish origin living in Xinjiang.

By now all open sources - whether journalistic or para-analytical ones - have revised figures significantly: until about a year ago, everywhere there was talk about three million Uyghurs detained in camps, but now all U.S. journalistic sources refer only to one million prisoners, but with the other two million ones of Turkish ethnic origin who are, in fact, "under the Chinese iron heel" - just to use Jack London’s old metaphor.

However, the matter of the documents coming from "Chinese sources", translated and published by the main U.S. newspapers in November 2019, makes us revise also this figure: allegedly, in fact, there were about 500,000 Uyghurs in the Xinjiang camps from 2017 until November 2019.

Nevertheless, even this figure should probably be revised, although there are certainly camps in which the unruliest Uyghurs are temporarily interned, and certainly in very different ways from the tragic ones typical of the Jewish Shoah.

Furthermore, the Uyghur jihad - strengthened with the new displacement of Turkish jihadists, led by the Turkish MIT, towards Libya - has always been a very serious and very dangerous problem.

According to some Russian sources, in late 2016 the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), still based in Munich, directly organized para-military operations against the Chinese territory and positions.

At least since 2015 the WUC has had direct relations with the Turkish government.

Until August 2019 over 18,000 Uyghur Islamists were in fact sent for training in Syria, with the support of the Turkish intelligence Services alone.

Now a part of these militants is being relocated to al-Sarraj's Tripolitania, with a view to defending al-Sarraj’s pro-Western and UN-recognized government, which has always been supported by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The partial and very weak support to al-Sarraj is a perfect fig leaf for the operations of the Muslim Brotherhood and of its reference State, which is currently Turkey.

Qatar, another State linked to the Islamist Ikhwan, funds operations and arms purchases.

Nevertheless many of these 18,000 "Turkmen" jihadists or, however, from Xinjiang are still in Al-Zanbaki, Governorate of Idlib, supported by German and French non-governmental organizations.

On December 7-9, 2019 a closed-door meeting was held in Brussels on Uyghur issues, while the following day, on December 10, there was a conference at the European Parliament organized by the French MP, Raphaël Glucksmann, attended by Dolkun Isa, the current President of the World Uyghur Congress based in Munich.

As can easily be predicted, the EU as a screen for the expansion of a "good" or "moderate" Islamism - as the United States maintains - which the EU believes will serve the interests of a weak, ineffective and misinformed Europe.

This is very unlikely to happen.

Currently the primary variable to be kept under control is Tunisia.

On December 25, 2019, in fact, Turkish President Erdogan - who fell in love with the Uyghurs when he was mayor of Istanbul - paid a visit to the Tunisian President, Kais Saied, an "independent" jurist elected also with the votes of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunis and of its political arm, Ennahda.

Turkish President Erdogan was accompanied by the Head of Turkish intelligence Services, Hakan Fidan, and by the Foreign and Defence Ministers.

The bone of contention was the possibility for the Turkish intelligence Services to use the airport and the port of Djerba for the mass transfer of jihadists, organized by the Turkish MIT, from Syria to Libya and, probably, also to other areas of the Maghreb region, besides Tunisia itself.

The new phase of Uyghur jihadism will therefore affect the whole Middle East and the Maghreb region, in addition to an increasing share of jihadists of Turkish origin who will be operating in South-East Asia.

At first the Maghreb region will be affected, with a sequence of attacks by the new jihad on the economic, oil and tourist resources of the most modernized countries of the Maghreb region, irrespective of these resources belonging to the West or not. Later there will be a wave of "sword jihad" actions between the Maghreb region and sub-Saharan Africa, with direct effects on the migration routes from "black" Africa, and then sequences of attacks will reach Southern Europe.

The attacks will initially be organized by groups particularly specialized in "hybrid" warfare and terrorist operations. Later there will be a resurgence of massive and very low intensity actions so as to cover other types of actions.

These attacks, however, will be different from the old Qaedist logic: the jihadists will target the production, transport and logistics systems, with the least possible impact on civilians.

We cannot even rule out the possibility of an action against the local and foreign Armed Forces, i.e. French, British and U.S. Forces (which have certainly not left Africa) and other countries’ ones.

In this future scenario, there will probably be a new military role for Saudi Arabia which will possibly reactivate its "ad hoc" jihadist networks to counter the "Allah’s warriors " supported by its strategic competitors: Iran which, however, will not play all its cards here; Egypt, which will protect its Nile Sources and the two Suez canals, the area of Djibouti and the Horn of Africa, where the local jihad will mobilize against Somalia and Eritrea.

Moreover, as we noted above, the data on Xinjiang’s economy is not at all consistent with what has been propagandized as "mass detention" of Uyghurs by the Chinese authorities.

The latest reliable statistics, dating back to 2018, points to an annual GDP of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region equal to 1.22 trillion yuan, with a 0.11 trillion increase compared to 2017.

It is unlikely if we consider the data released by Western media on the Uyghurs detained in various “re-education camps”.

Moreover, very significant investment has always been made in the Xinjiang region, in three Chinese five-year programmes: the 2006-2010 one and the 12th plan of 2011-2015, as well as the current one.

At the beginning of China’s planning policy, about 97% of the population lived in a territory covering only 8% of the Autonomous Region’ surface.

The 12th plan focused on 12 Chinese areas and regions, obviously including Xinjiang, with a view to enhancing economic growth, infrastructure and public services, as well as to implementing a vast environmental protection of the region: since 2015 forests have been covering over 20% of the Uyghur territory.

As we saw during the last years of the Shah’s government in Iran, the fast modernization of the economy often leads to cultural and identity imbalances which may probably explain much of the ideological background of Islamism in Xinjiang.

An Islam which is, however, a vast operation of some countries against China - obviously not only Western ones.

Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that the Turkish majority areas in the Chinese Autonomous Region are much less radicalized or even less tied to ancestral religious traditions, precisely in Xinjiang, where the oil and gas fields are located.

However, there is no close and consequential link between the public security operations in Xinjiang and the progress in oil and gas extraction.

Hence, currently the only possibility to destabilize Xinjiang against China is to put pressure on the Uyghur minorities living in the neighbouring countries, mainly in Kazakhstan.

We also need to carefully consider the cultural, symbolic and historical problems emerging in China with regard to the Uyghur issue.

China is a powerful culture State: you can certainly be Chinese from an ethnic viewpoint - han or the other over fifty-five minorities accepted - but obviously what really matters is the sharing of a great cultural, identity and historical heritage.

From Mao Zedong to date, there has been no political program, nor leaders' speech, nor CPC messages not referring to facts and people of China's very long history.

Twenty-two centuries cannot certainly be wiped out.

The White Paper published in August 2019 by the State Council’s Information Office, regarding Uyghur culture and traditions, also states that, at the beginning, Islam was "imposed by force" on those populations.

The Turkish minority in Xinjiang has been living there since well before its Islamization. It is also true that currently the customs of the non-han populations in the region are certainly linked to Islam.

It is equally true, however - and here the White Paper realistically identifies the problem - that the symbolic radicalization of the Uyghur population has come after the often clumsy attempts of forced and violent Sinicization of this Turkish ethnic group.

All those attempts were made before the founding of the People's Republic of China. The two Uyghur republics, the pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese factions, as well as the divisions between tribes and cities, are all traditions that the Uyghur Islam has had since before the establishment of the han-Chinese Communism.

Islam has been living in the Uyghur population of Xinjiang for about 900 years.

In other areas, Islam is certainly much older: just think of the Maghreb region, the frontline of the “sword jihad” of the Rashidun Caliphs, the so-called "rightly-guided" ones after Prophet Muhammad.

Furthermore - and here we find, once again, the Marxist roots of the Chinese regime - the White Paper also maintains that Islam was imposed on the Uyghurs with violence and "by their ruling classes".

It is partly true, but not even Muhammad did peacefully impose Islam on his first converted populations.

In the Islamic tradition there are as many as 43 murderers of Prophet’s enemies - all assassinations explicitly ordered by Muhammad himself.

We do not want to focus on the long-standing issue of the violent nature of Islam, in which we are not interested at all.

The real problem is that the White Paper makes it clear that Communist China is liberating Uyghurs from their Islam and therefore from their old ruling classes.

It should also be recalled that - even after its Communist revolution - China is still linked to an imperial theory of sovereignty, which emphasizes how power is a "Mandate of Heaven". The Emperor is the Party, the Party is the Leader and the Leader represents - almost mystically - all the people, thus protecting them precisely with his Mandate of Heaven.

It is evident that such a theory, although secularized by Marxism-Leninism and by Mao Zedong, cannot absorb but only contain Xinjiang’s Islam.

In the traditional Chinese political culture, the Mandate of Heaven, also in its "materialistic" version, is what saves from civil war, from inter-State and ethnic clashes, as well as from the "period of warring kingdoms".

A phase that, in pre-Communist Chinese history, has occurred cyclically every 200-300 years. Hence the concept of harmony has precise historical and anthropological foundations.

 

Professor Valori is president of the International World Group (IWG)