Terrorism in China
Terrorism in China refers to the use or threatened use of violence to affect political or ideological change in the People's Republic of China. The definition of terrorism differs among scholars, between international and national bodies, and across time, and there is no legally binding definition internationally. In the cultural setting of China, the term is relatively new and ambiguous.
Many media and scholarly accounts of terrorism in contemporary China focus on incidents of violence committed in Xinjiang, as well as on the Chinese government's counter-terrorism campaign in those regions. There is no unified Uyghur ideology, but Pan-Turkism, Uyghur nationalism, and Islamism have all attracted segments of the Uyghur population. Pan-Turkism manifested in the early 20th century, in opposition to Yang Zengxin's rule. Chinese promotion of atheism during the early years of the PRC reinforced the Islamic beliefs of the Uyghurs, which were further heightened when the political liberalization of the 1980s allowed Uyghurs to interact with Muslims in the Gulf region and Central Asia. Recent incidents include the 1992 Urumqi bombings, the 1997 Ürümqi bus bombings, the 2010 Aksu bombing, the 2011 Hotan attack, 2011 Kashgar attacks and the 2014 Ürümqi attack. Some scholars have also characterized political campaigns under Mao Zedong as a form of state terrorism.
The occurrence of violence as a form of political resistance in China has been attributed to government policies restricting the practice of religion and political expression, particularly in the Xinjiang region. Because expression of grievances against government policies are not permitted, "acts of violence have replaced peaceful demonstrations as the expression of the Uyghur malaise," according to Rémi Castets. The government of the People's Republic of China identifies terrorism as one of "Three Evils" which also include separatism and religious fundamentalism. These forces are seen by Beijing as inter-connected threats to social stability and national security. In particular, terrorism is viewed as a violent manifestation of ethnic separatism, and separatism is understood as a corollary of religious zealotry. The government has embarked on strike-hard campaigns to suppress these tendencies, particularly in Xinjiang and Tibetan regions.
Since the 11 September attacks in 2001, the PRC government has strengthened its involvement in multilateral and bilateral 'counter-terrorism' efforts. As a result of these efforts, some Uyghur separatist movements have been labelled as terrorist groups by the United Nations and U.S. Department of State. There have been allegations that the Chinese government has been applying charges of terrorism in an inconsistent and sometimes politically motivated manner. Amnesty International has condemned China's embrace of the American "Global War on Terror", and has voiced concerns that the government may be using the label to justify human rights abuses against political and religious dissidents.
- 1 Chinese cultural context
- 2 Ethnic-Religious
- 3 Terrorism in contemporary China
- 4 Counter-terrorism
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Chinese cultural context
The concept of terrorism, as it evolved and is understood in the West, did not exist in imperial China. In that setting, political criminality took the form as violence against the emperor, and was viewed as harmful as it induced fear and led to "chaos." With the exception of "good" political violence against rulers whose lack of propriety and virtue resulted in loss of the mandate of heaven, violence was seen as contrary to human nature and the Tao. Kam Wong argues that the dynamics of imperial China form the basis for contemporary Chinese understandings of terrorism.
Fear of chaos and social disorder is a powerful factor in mobilizing political will to combat potential threats. In the modern context, any group or force with the potential to challenge the existing social order or the political security of the rulers may be considered a form of terrorism, "to be condemned unrelentingly and suppressed at all costs," according to Wong.
There is currently no clearly established definition for terrorism either nationally or internationally, though the National People's Congress is in the process of drafting legislation that would clarify the use of the term in Chinese law. The draft legislation, as reported by Xinhua News Agency, classified as terrorism acts that "cause or aim to cause severe harm to society by causing casualties, bringing about major economic losses, damaging public facilities or disturbing social order." Human rights groups charge that the term is sometimes applied to non-violent dissidents in China.
"If you do not wage jihad, you will never be able to get rid of the oppression of the infidels which makes you abandon the religion and which makes slaves of you. Thus, you will not be able to be rescued from the oppression of this world and the torments of the hereafter, or find eternal happiness until you return to the religion of Allah. . ." - Abdul Haq (Memetiming Memeti), a commander in the Uyghur separatist movement Turkistan Islamic Party (East Turkestan Islamic Movement), from a video released by TIP, February 9. 2009.
"We have to conquer our own country and purify it of all infidels. Then, we should conquer the infidels’ countries and spread Islam. The infidels who are usurping our countries have announced war against Islam and Muslims, forcing Muslims to abandon Islam and change their beliefs." - Abdullah Mansour, current leader of the Uyghur separatist movement Turkistan Islamic Party (East Turkestan Islamic Movement), from “The Duty of Faith and Support,” Voice of Islam/al-Fajr Media Center, August 26, 2009.
Media reports and scholarly studies of terrorism in contemporary China frequently focus on members of the largely Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, who are concentrated in the Northwestern province of Xinjiang. Throughout its history, the region now known as Xinjiang was ruled intermittently by China, while the local Uyghurs identify more closely with the cultures of Central Asia and had resisted attempts at assimilation to Han Chinese culture. From 1933–34, Uyghurs founded a short-lived independent Islamic republic, and the Soviets supported Communist Uyghur rebels in the Ili Rebellion from 1944 to 1949 against the Republic of China to establish the Soviet satellite state, the Second East Turkestan Republic, before the Incorporation of Xinjiang into the People's Republic of China in 1949. After the Sino-Soviet split, the Soviet Union amassed troops on the Russian border with Xinjiang, and bolstered "East Turkestan" separatist movements, which received moral and material support from other regional militant groups. China accused the Soviets of engineering riots, and improved the military infrastructure there to combat it. The Soviet Union incited separatist activities in Xinjiang through propaganda, encouraging Kazakhs to flee to the Soviet Union and attacking China. China responded by reinforcing the Xinjiang-Soviet border area specifically with Han Bingtuan militia and farmers. The Soviets massively intensified their broadcasts inciting Uyghurs to revolt against the Chinese via Radio Tashkent since 1967 and directly harbored and supported separatist guerilla fighters to attack the Chinese border, in 1966 the amount of Soviet sponsored separatist attacks on China numbered 5,000. The Soviets transmitted a radio broadcast from Radio Tashkent into Xinjiang on 14 May 1967, boasting of the fact that the Soviets had supported the Second East Turkestan Republic against China. In addition to Radio Tashkent, other Soviet media outlets aimed at disseminating propaganda towards Uyghurs urging that they proclaim independence and revolt against China included Radio Alma-Ata and the Alma-Ata published Sherki Türkistan Evazi ("The Voice of Eastern Turkestan") newspaper. After the Sino-Soviet split in 1962, over 60,000 Uyghurs and Kazakhs defected from Xinjiang to the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, in response to Soviet propaganda which promised Xinjiang independence. Uyghur exiles later threatened China with rumors of a Uyghur "liberation army" in the thousands that were supposedly recruited from Sovietized emigres.
The Soviet Union was involved in funding and support to the East Turkestan People's Revolutionary Party (ETPRP), the largest militant Uyghur separatist organization in its time, to start a violent uprising against China in 1968. In the 1970s, the Soviets also supported the United Revolutionary Front of East Turkestan (URFET) to fight against the Chinese.
"Bloody incidents" in 1966-67 flared up as Chinese and Soviet forces clashed along the border as the Soviets trained anti-Chinese guerillas and urged Uyghurs to revolt against China, hailing their "national liberation struggle". In 1969, Chinese and Soviet forces directly fought each other along the Xinjiang-Soviet border.
The Soviet Union supported Uyghur nationalist propaganda and Uyghur separatist movements against China. The Soviet historians claimed that the Uyghur native land was Xinjiang and Uyghur nationalism was promoted by Soviet versions of history on turcology. Soviet turcologists like D.I. Tikhonov wrote pro-independence works on Uyghur history and the Soviet supported Uyghur historian Tursun Rakhimov wrote more historical works supporting Uyghur independence and attacking the Chinese government, claiming that Xinjiang was an entity created by China made out of the different parts of East Turkestan and Zungharia. These Soviet Uyghur historians were waging an "ideological war" against China, emphasizing the "national liberation movement" of Uyghurs throughout history. The Soviet Communist Party supported the publication of works which glorified the Second East Turkestan Republic and the Ili Rebellion against China in its anti-China propaganda war. Soviet propaganda writers wrote works claiming that Uyghurs lived better lives and were able to practice their culture only in Soviet Central Asia and not in Xinjiang. In 1979 Soviet KGB agent Victor Louis wrote a thesis claiming that the Soviets should support a "war of liberation" against the "imperial" China to support Uighur, Tibetan, Mongol, and Manchu independence. The Soviet KGB itself supported Uyghur separatists against China.
Uyghur nationalist historian Turghun Almas and his book Uyghurlar (The Uyghurs) and Uyghur nationalist accounts of history were galvanized by Soviet stances on history, "firmly grounded" in Soviet Turcological works, and both heavily influenced and partially created by Soviet historians and Soviet works on Turkic peoples. Soviet historiography spawned the rendering of Uyghur history found in Uyghurlar. Almas claimed that Central Asia was "the motherland of the Uyghurs" and also the "ancient golden cradle of world culture".
Xinjiang's importance to China increased after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, leading to China's perception of being encircled by the Soviets. China supported the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet invasion, and broadcast reports of Soviet atrocities on Afghan Muslims to Uyghurs in order to counter Soviet propaganda broadcasts into Xinjiang, which boasted that Soviet minorities lived better and incited Muslims to revolt. Chinese radio beamed anti-Soviet broadcasts to Central Asian ethnic minorities like the Kazakhs. The Soviets feared disloyalty among the non-Russian Kazakh, Uzbek, and Kyrgyz in the event of Chinese troops attacking the Soviet Union and entering Central Asia. Russians were goaded with the taunt "Just wait till the Chinese get here, they'll show you what's what!" by Central Asians when they had altercations. The Chinese authorities viewed the Han migrants in Xinjiang as vital to defending the area against the Soviet Union. China opened up camps to train the Afghan Mujahideen near Kashgar and Khotan and supplied them with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of small arms, rockets, mines, and anti-tank weapons.
In the 1980s, Chinese authorities relaxed some of its repressive policies against ethnic minorities, and loosened border controls which allowed Uyghurs to travel to the Mecca Pilgrimage. During this period, some Uyghurs came into contact with radical Islamist groups operating in Central Asia and Pakistan, while others were studied in Koranic schools associated with Islamist movements. The increase in fundamentalism has been linked to the Islamic revival of the 1980s, following Deng Xiaoping's political reforms which sought to reduce the suppression of religion and promotion of atheism that was widespread during Mao's rule. Rémi Castets has commented that this led to a "more militant logic using Islam as an instrument for distinguishing Uyghur values from the non-clerical and atheistic values promoted by the Chinese authorities." Following the fall of the Soviet Union and the independence of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, the Chinese government feared a resurgence of separatist movements, as well a spread of radical Islam in the region, which could destabilize its infrastructure in Xinjiang. During this time, countries such as Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan offered asylum to Uyghur refugees, and recognition to groups pursuing independence. To combat this, the Beijing government settled border disputes and offered economic co-operation with the Central Asian republics through the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, and successfully persuaded these countries to ban Uyghur separatist groups residing there, as well as to extradite suspected Uyghur separatist refugees.
A chain of aggressive and belligerent press releases in the 1990s making false claims about violent insurrections in Xinjiang, and exaggerating both the number of Chinese migrants and the total number of Uyghurs in Xinjiang were made by the former Soviet supported URFET leader Yusupbek Mukhlisi.
There is no single Uyghur agenda, and grievances of Uyghurs against the Chinese government are mostly political in nature. While some Uyghurs desire an independent state in line with Turkic ethnic groups of Central Asia, others desire an autonomous relation with China while retaining their distinct culture, whereas others desire extensive integration with the Chinese political system.
The desire for independence or greater political and cultural autonomy largely stems from resentment over perceived restrictions to religious and cultural expression, ethnic conflict with the local Han Chinese population, income inequality, and the perception that Beijing's government is misallocating Xinjiang's natural resource wealth. Some groups have adopted violent tactics in pursuit of these goals, mostly the establishment of a separate Uyghur state called East Turkistan or Uyghuristan, which lays claim to a large part of China. Entities identified in Chinese government documents as having involvement in violent attacks include the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), East Turkistan Liberation Organization (ETLO), United Revolutionary Front of East Turkestan (URFET), and the Uyghur Liberation Organization (ULO). Members of these groups are believed to have received training in Central Asian nations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Such violent groups has been noted as frequently splintering, merging, and collapsing, which makes claims difficult to substantiate. China's Muslim Hui people, who are comparatively well integrated into Chinese society, regard some Uyghurs as "unpatriotic separatists who give other Chinese Muslims a bad name," according to the New York Times.
Scholars have indicated that violence in Xinjiang is based on an assortment of ideologies, and there is no single dominant ideology among the Uyhurs. As James Millward writes, incidents have "been discontinuous and characterized by a variety of ideologies, Islam being only one of them." Islam, Pan-Turkic nationalism, and Uyghur nationalism are all factors in unrest in the Xinjiang region. There are six incidents in China from 1990 to 2005, according to Ogden, that meet the strictest definition of terrorism, meaning the use of "random" violence against innocent civilians to cause terror, and excluding calculated violence against the state to advance a secessionist movement. Among the events identified by Ogden was an incident on 6 February 1992 when Uyghur separatists (possibly belonging to the East Turkestan Islamic Party) detonated a bomb on a public bus in Urumqi, and a bomb attack on a hotel in Kashgar on 17 June 1992. Instances of violence by ethnic Uyghurs against security forces, organs or infrastructure of the state are far more common, but are distinguished by scholars from terrorism aimed against the civilian population. According to Martin, Chinese authorities frequently classify any act of violence or separatist activity in Xinjiang as a manifestation of terrorism, while comparable acts by ethnic Han Chinese would not be classified in this manner.
On 27 May 2014 a rare mass trial was held at a packed sports stadium in Xinjiang where three people were sentenced to death and another 53 received lengthy jail terms, after being convicted of terrorism charges. 39 people had been sentenced at a similar gathering a week previous. An anti-terror campaign which began in 2013 and continued into 2014 preceded the sentencing trials. The campaign included attacks on railway stations and a market in Xinjiang in which seventy people were killed and several hundred wounded.
The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (Turkistan Islamic Party) is allied with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan along with the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek i Taliban Pakistan) and Al-Qaeda.
Al Qaeda appointed TIP (ETIM) member Abdul Haq al Turkistani to their Shura Majlis. Al Qaeda also appointed TIP (ETIM) member Abdul Shakoor Turkistani as military commander of their forces in the FATA region of Pakistan.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a statement supporting Jihad in Xinjiang against Chinese, in the Caucasus against the Russians and naming Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan as places of warfare. Zawahiri endorsed "jihad to liberate every span of land of the Muslims that has been usurped and violated, from Kashgar to Andalusia, and from the Caucasus to Somalia and Central Africa". Uyghurs inhabit Kashgar, the city which was mentioned by Zawahiri.
TIP (ETIM) sent the "Turkistan Brigade" (Katibat Turkistani) to take part in the Syrian Civil War, most noticeably in the 2015 Jisr al-Shughur offensive. TIP (ETIM) members in Syria fight alongside the Al-Qaeda branch Al Nusrah Front since TIP is allied to Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and conducted suicide bombings for Nusrah Front. Members of TIP have been killed in battle in Syria. TIP (ETIM) eulogized and applauded members of its organization who participated in suicide bombings and members who were killed in action in Jisr al Shughur. Members of the group helped other Jihadists enforce religious law in Idlib such as wrecking alcohol in stores and this was noted that with “support of Allah and by the strike of the fist of the Mujahideen from the Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham and Turkistan,” that they undertook these actions by a Syrian Jihadist in Jaysh al Fateh. A Jabhat Al Nusra Jihadist called Abu Mohamed Al-Ansari interviewed by VICE News after the Idlib offensive said that "The battle was good, praise be to God. The brothers from all the groups started working together and coordinating. Each faction is responsible for a side. The majority were immigrant brothers from Turkestan. They are the ones who attacked the important points." The spokesman of Jabhat Al-Nusra Abu Maria al-Qahtani claimed that Muslims were "oppressed" in "Turkestan" and that Nusra needs to "defend" them. TIP (ETIM) joined in on the Jihadist offensive in the Al-Ghab plain along with Al-Qaeda affiliated Jund al Aqsa against the Syrian army.
Turkish connections were used by Uyghur fighters to go into Syria and the humanitarian Uyghur Eastern Turkistan Education and Solidarity Association (ETESA) which is located in Turkey sent Uyghurs into Syria, endorsed the killing of the pro-China Imam Juma Tayir, applauded attacks in China, and posted on its website content from the TIP. Turkish passports were used by Uyghurs who were seeking to contact Mujahidin Indonesia Timor, a pro-ISIS organization in Sulawesi in Indonesia.
Al-Qaeda included an article in its magazine "Resurgence" promoting East Turkestan Independence titled “Did You Know? 10 Facts About East Turkistan”, the article was ridden with errors and false claims such as claiming Quranic education was banned, and included other claims such as "East Turkistan has never been a part of China" and it was "independent of China for more than 1,800 years", "In 1949, 93 percent of the population of East Turkistan was Uyghur (Turk Muslims) while 7 percent was Chinese", and that "After the Communist takeover in 1949, more than 4.5 million Turkish Muslims were killed by the Communist government", with Al-Qaeda calling for the "occupied Muslim land" "East Turkistan" to be "recovered [into] the shade of the Islamic Caliphate".
As part of an effort to reach out to foreign Muslims, on the Ink of Swords (Medad al-Sayouf) Network, an Arabic language magazine titled "Islamic Turkistan" (Turkistan al-Islamia) was issued by ETIM on January 2009 and it described ETIM as "a group of workers for Islam and the mujahideen in the Cause of Allah in order to liberate Turkistan", and said that the aim of ETIM was to "establish an Islamic Caliphate in the light of the Book and the Sunnah", "in the Cause of Allah, promotion of virtue, prevention of vice, and the call to Allah.", to create an Islamic State by means of jihad.
Fellow Al-Qaeda aligned Islamist organizations with the aim of a world wide Islamic Caliphate cooperate with TIP (ETIM) whose own goal is an Islamic State, with TIP fighting against the military of Syria and Pakistan in addition to China and being assisted by Central Asian, Gulf, European, and North American based outfits and the TIP leader Abdullah Mansour used the words "mujahideen" and "jihadi operation" in a Uighur language video produced by Al Qaeda-TIP's Islam Awazi Media Center when TIP took responsibility for the October 29, 2013 Tianmen Square terrorist attack.
Islam Awazi released a video showing Burqa clad women being militarily trained by Al-Qaeda with guns and RPGs. Islam Awazi also released a video of fighters training in eastern Afghanistan. Islam Awazi released a video called "We Are Coming O Buddhists” of a TIP affiliated Uyghur cleric named Sheikh Abu Dhar ‘Azzam who also called for the killing of Buddhists in addition to Chinese, saying "Killing you... Slaughtering you... And cutting off your heads is all good", "Kill you, spill your blood, cut off your head is a good thing", on February 24, 2014.
A video released by Islam Awazi showed TIP members ambushing a bomb disposal unit in Afghanistan which was unarmed. One video released by Islam Awazi showed one of their members being knocked over by the SPG-9 he was firing, accompanied by the phrase Inna Lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji'un in Arabic.
The terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant released a video featuring an 80 year old Uyghur man who came to join ISIS in Syria along with his grandchildren, wife, and daughter after he was inspired by his son who died in combat in Syria. The video featured Uyghur children singing about martyrdom and a 10 year old Uyghur child threatening China, saying : "O Chinese kuffar (non-believers), know that we are preparing in the land of the khilafah (caliphate) and we will come to you and raise this flag in Turkestan with the permission of Allah.” The old Uyghur man said "'I made hijrah accompanied by my four grandsons, my daughter and my wife".
Tibet, the homeland of the Tibetan nation of 4.6 million Tibetans, about half of whom live in the Tibetan Autonomous Region ("Tibet") and slightly more in the neighboring provinces of Qinghai, Yunnan, Gansu and Sichuan, lies for the most part within the People's Republic of China. For centuries Tibet resisted Chinese influence and control, with varying effectiveness. During periods when China was dominant, little more was involved than a Chinese governor and a garrison in Lhasa and Chinese administration in border areas such as Amdo and Kham with mixed populations of Tibetans and Chinese; no attempt was made by the Chinese to displace the Tibetan aristocracy or political and religious institutions of Tibet. From 1912 until 1950, Tibet experienced a period of de facto independence from Chinese rule, following the fall of the Qing Dynasty. However in 1950 the Chinese successfully incorporated Tibet and its outlying areas, occupied it, displaced Tibetan political and religious institutions, and assumed governance of the nation. Tibetan resistance since 1950 has taken a variety of forms, including instances of armed resistance that has been described as terrorism by Chinese authorities.
Discontent surrounding the Chinese-implemented land reforms and assimilation policies in Tibetan areas led to revolts and intermittent warfare. Some Tibetan paramilitary groups during the period, such as Chushi Gangdruk, received covert material and training support from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Taiwan-based Kuomintang government. The resistance culminated in the 1959 Tibetan Rebellion. The uprising was suppressed by Chinese forces, leading to the flight of the 14th Dalai Lama and some 100,000 other Tibetans to India.
In the aftermath of the revolt, Chinese authorities imposed radical social reforms and further restrictions to religious freedom. The Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution further intensified Tibetan resentment against Chinese rule and strengthened group identification. By 1980, Deng Xiaoping's ascension to leadership and the implementation of the Chinese economic reform program led to reform of earlier repressive policies against ethnic minorities, and granted nominal political autonomy to Tibet. While the Chinese government has invested considerably in the development of the Tibetan economy, education system and infrastructure, the continuing restrictions to religious expression and political participation resulted in resentment amongst the Tibetan populace, leading to the 1987–1989 Tibetan unrest. The unrest prompted Chinese authorities to focus more on the economic, educational, and infrastructural development of the region, intensify efforts to undermine the religious and political influence of the Dalai Lama, and encourage ethnic Han migration to the region.
Ogden notes that many Tibetans desire greater cultural and political autonomy, if not full independence, and outbreaks of violent clashes with authorities in the region occur only intermittently, such as in the 2008 Lhasa violence. Ogden credits the low incidence of conventional terrorism in Tibet to an undereducated population, swift and harsh responses to terrorism by the Chinese state, and the pacific influence of Buddhism. Nonetheless, there are segments of the Tibetan and Tibetan diasporic population who reject the leadership of the Dalai Lama and view violent opposition as the only viable route towards independence. Notable instances of violence against civilians include a series of attacks 1996 in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, and a bombing in a public square in the city of Chengdu in April 2002, which Chinese authorities allege were carried out by Tibetan separatists. Chinese authorities adopt a broad definition of terrorism with respect to Tibet, and have labelled a variety of protests and expressions of opposition as terrorism. In 2012, for instance, authorities referred to the Dalai Lama's prayer sessions for Tibetan self-immolators as "terrorism in disguise." Authorities have also ascribed terrorist motives to Tibetan exiles who call for independence, and to Tibetan monks who travel to India without government authorization.
Terrorism in contemporary China
Legal definition and use
Under China's criminal law, acts of terrorism can carry a prison sentence of up to ten years. Since 2001, over 7,000 Chinese citizens have been convicted on terrorism charges. However, the law does not clearly define what constitutes a terrorist group or activity. In October 2011, Chinese authorities began crafting a bill that would more clearly define terrorism. According to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, the draft bill defines terrorist acts as those that are intended "induce public fear or to coerce state organs or international organisations by means of violence, sabotage, threats or other tactics...These acts cause or aim to cause severe harm to society by causing casualties, bringing about major economic losses, damaging public facilities or disturbing social order."
Human rights and international law experts have raised concerns over the implications of the bills in light of the lack of judicial independence in the People's Republic of China. A representative of Human Rights Watch[unreliable source?] was reported as saying "strengthening law enforcement powers without appropriate judicial checks and balances is dangerous," and further noted that it was unclear how and by whom groups and individuals would be designated as terrorists.
The government of the People's Republic of China identifies terrorism as one of "Three Evils", alongside separatism and religious fundamentalism. These forces are seen by Beijing as inter-connected threats to social stability and national security. In particular, terrorism is viewed as a violent manifestation of ethnic separatism, and separatism is understood as a corollary of religious zealotry.
Entities designated as terrorists threats
China's Ministry of Public Security issued a list of what it considers terrorist threats on 15 December 2003. These include the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the East Turkestan Liberation Organization (ETLO), the World Uyghur Congress, and the East Turkistan Information Center. The Ministry further named eleven individuals as terrorists.
The Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, whose aim is to the establishment of a fundamentalist Muslim state to be called "East Turkistan" and the conversion of all Chinese people to Islam, operates throughout Central Asia and claimed responsibility for over 200 acts of terrorism from 1990 to 2001, resulting in at least 162 deaths and 440 injuries. Chinese authorities allege the group has a close relationship with al-Qaeda, and that it receives funding and training in Afghanistan. Rémi Castets has said that while "it is possible that these movements, and particularly the ETIM, might have had contacts with the bin Laden network and more probably with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan," direct ties are likely minimal because of "bin Laden's silence on East Turkistan." The group was considerable weakened following the American-led invasion of Afghanistan which saw the death of its leader Hasan Mahsum, as well as Emir Abu Mohammed, who was killed in October 2003 in raid on an al-Qaeda training camp in Waziristan by Pakistani forces.  According to Stratfor, following the death of Mahsum, the group fractured and a successor movement with ties to Central Asian militants was formed in Afghanistan, under the leadership of Abdul Haq. The reformed ETIM issuing several videos including threats to attack the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, although no such large-scale attacks took place. Haq was allegedly killed by an US drone strike in Afghanistan in March 2010.
ETIM's capabilities and existence as depicted by the Chinese government has raised doubt amongst Uyghur dissident groups; according to Uyghur expert Dru Gladney, the majority of information on ETIM derive from Chinese government sources and lack independent verification, while other analysts noted that the ETIM was "obscure but not unknown" before the 9/11 attacks, having been documented for over 20 years by both Chinese and non-Chinese scholars. Furthermore, Uyghur dissident groups criticized the inclusion of the World Uyghur Congress and East Turkistan Information Center, claiming that both groups are NGOs based in Germany which mainly serve to report information. Chinese state-media published a statement from terrorism scholar Rohan Gunaratna, who claimed that the ETIM had "many sympathizers and supporters" within the WUC.
Out of these groups, the ETIM and ETLO were also designated to be terrorist groups by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and the United Nations. The United States refused China's request to designate the ETLO as such in 2003, although US State Department says the ETLO has engaged "small politically-motivated bombings and armed attacks".
Chronology of major events
Following is a partial list of events that have been described as terror attacks or attempted terror attacks by non-state actors in the People's Republic of China. Due to variations in the definitions and applications of the term, the characterization of some events as terrorist attacks may be disputed. Many incidents listed occurred in Xinjiang or Tibet—areas where foreign journalists have extremely limited access, and are closely monitored if and when they gain permission to report in the regions. As such, many reports of violence or terror attacks cannot be confirmed independently, and foreign reporting frequently relies on information released by the government of China or in the state-run press. In several instances, conflicting narratives of these have emerged from witnesses or from diaspora groups.
|5 February 1992||Urumqi, Xinjiang||5 February 1992 Urumqi Bombings||Two buses exploded in Urumqi, resulting in at least 3 deaths, and 23 injured. Unconfirmed reports indicated the attacks were perpetrated by the East Turkestan Islamic Party. According to government documents, other bombs were discovered and defused in a local cinema and a residential building.|
|13 January 1996||Lhasa, Tibet||Four major attacks were acknowledged, although unofficial sources reported more. The attacks generally targeted and successfully wounded people, whereas earlier bombings targeted buildings, such an obelisk on the Qinghai-Tibet highway. On 13 January, a Tibetan Buddhist monk exploded a homemade bomb at a shop owned by Han Chinese. Five days later on 18 January, the house of Sengchen Lobsang Gyaltsen, the head lama of the Panchen Lama's Tashilhunpo Monastery, was bombed. Gyaltsen had opposed the 14th Dalai Lama to ordain Gyaincain Norbu in the 11th Panchen Lama controversy. He was out of his house at the time of the explosion, but a person nearby was "seriously injured", according to the South China Morning Post. No group claimed responsibility for the bombings, but China blamed forces loyal to the Dalai Lama. On 18 March, a bomb exploded at the regional government and local Communist Party compound. The government temporarily shut down tourism in Tibet in response. China initially denied all of the blasts, but later attributed them to separatists. The final blast of the year was detonated by remote control at 1:30 am on Christmas Day, in front of the central Lhasa municipal government offices. Five people were injured, including two night watchmen and three shopkeepers. The official Radio Tibet called the blast "an appalling act of terrorism", and the Chinese government offered a $120,000 reward for the perpetrator. Vice Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region Gyamco called on residents to "heighten our alertness and strengthen preventive measures".|
|27 February 1997||Urumqi, Xinjiang||Urumqi bus bombs||Bombs detonated on three buses in Urumqi, leaving nine dead and 68 seriously wounded. The Uyghur Liberation Party claims responsibility for the bombings.|
|February – April 1998||Qaghiliq, Xinjiang||A series of six explosions occurred in February and March aimed at economic and industrial targets. The following month, authorities reported that bombs exploded at homes and offices of local communist party and public security agents.|
|16 March 2001||Shijiazhuang, Hebei||Shijiazhuang bombings||108 civilians were killed when several ANFO bombs (similar to those used by the IRA and in the 1993 World Trade Center and 1995 Oklahoma City bombings) tore through four city blocks in the city of Shijiazhang. The perpetrator, 41-year-old Jin Ruchao, was allegedly motivated by hatred of his ex-wife.
The government account was greeted with skepticism, however; and some sources suggested Jin may have been a scapegoat, and that the bombings may have been the work of disgruntled former factory workers frustrated by layoffs. The bombings were described in the New York Times as the deadliest mass murder in decades, and was characterized by China scholar Andrew Scobell as perhaps the worst terrorist act in the history of the People's Republic of China.
|3 April 2002||Chengdu, Sichuan||On 3 April 2002, a bomb described as a "simple fuse device" detonated in Tianfu Square in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. According to local media reports, one individual was seriously injured, and many others were hurt in the blast. Two men were apprehended: 52-year-old Tibetan religious leader Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, and 26-year-old Lobsang Dondrub. On 2 December, Rinpoche was given a two-year suspended death sentence for "causing explosions [and] inciting the separation of the state." Dondrub was also sentenced to death, and executed on 26 January 2003. The men maintained their innocence, and international observers expressed concerns over the legality of the trial.|
|5 January 2007||Pamirs Plateau, Xinjiang||Xinjiang raid||Chinese police raided a suspected East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) training camp in Akto County in the Pamirs plateau near the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. A spokesperson for the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau said that 18 terror suspects were killed and 17 captured. The raid also resulted in the death of one Chinese police officer and the injury of another. The Bureau said they confiscated hand grenades, guns, and makeshift explosives from the site.|
|9 March 2008||Urumqi, Xinjiang||State-run Xinhua News Agency reported that authorities had successfully foiled a terrorist attack on a commercial jet. The Southern China flight departed from Urumqi, and made an emergency landing in Lanzhou while en route to Beijing. Two individuals were reportedly taken into custody after flight crew discovered flammable material in the plane's toilet. Xinjiang Governor Nuer Baikeli told reporters that the perpetrators "attempted to create an air disaster," but authorities provided no further details.|
|4 August 2008||Kashgar, Xinjiang||2008 Kashgar attack||Suspected ETIM militants reportedly drove a truck into a group of approximately 70 jogging policemen. According to official Chinese media accounts, they then got out of the truck wielding machetes, and lobbed grenades at the officers, killing 16 people. However, three tourists in the vicinity provided a different account of the event, saying that the attackers appeared to be uniformed paramilitary police officers attacking other officers with machetes.|
|10 August 2008||Kuqa County, Xinjiang||Xinhua reported that seven men armed with homemade explosives reportedly drove taxis into government buildings, in Kuqa, Xinjiang, injuring at least two police officers and a security guard. Five of the assailants were shot and killed. The attacks began at 2:30 am when five assailants drove taxis into the local public security and industry and commerce buildings. The Communist Party chief in Xinjiang called the attack a "terrorist act" and suspected the ETIM was responsible.|
|12 August 2008||Yamanya, Xinjiang||Chinese media reported that three security officers were allegedly killed in a stabbing incident in Yamanya, near Kashgar in Xinjiang. The report did not specify what the attacker's affiliations were.|
|19 August 2010||Aksu, Xinjiang||2010 Aksu bombing||According to Chinese media reports, six ethnic Uyghur men were allegedly involved in loading a vehicle with explosives and driving into a group of security officers at a highway intersection near Aksu, Xinjiang. Seven people, including two attackers, were killed, according to police. In the wake of the attack, authorities in the region vowed to crack down "relentlessly" on criminal activity.|
|18 July 2011||Hotan, Xinjiang||2011 Hotan attack||Chinese media reported that 18 people died when 18 young Uyghur men stormed a police station in the city of Hotan. The men were alleged to have stabbed a security guard and two female hostages, and killed another security guard with a bomb. The attack ended when security officers shot and killed 14 of the attackers. Chinese media initially referred to the attackers as rioters or thugs, though subsequent accounts called the event a terrorist attack. The Germany-based World Uyghur Congress provided a different accounts of event, saying that authorities provoked clashes by opening fire on Uyghurs participating in a non-violent protest against heavy-handed security crackdowns in the city. The Turkistan Islamic Party later claimed responsibility for the attack.|
|30–31 July 2011||Kashgar, Xinjiang||2011 Kashgar attacks||At least 18 people died in a series of alleged terrorist attacks in the city of Kashgar. According to state-run media accounts, the violence began when two Uyghur men hijacked a truck, ran it into a crowded street, and started stabbing people, killing six. The attack ended when the assailants were overpowered by the crowd, which killed one attacker. On the second day, state-run media reported that a "group of armed terrorists" stormed a restaurant, killed the owner and a waiter, and set it ablaze. They then proceeded to indiscriminately kill four more civilians. Armed clashes then reportedly ensured, ending with police capturing or killing the attackers. The Turkistan Islamic Party later claimed responsibility for the attack. One of the suspects appeared in a TIP video training in Pakistan.|
|29 June 2012||Xinjiang||Tianjin Airlines Flight GS7554||Chinese official media reported that six men attempted to hijack Tianjin Airlines flight GS7554 from Hotan to Urumqi, Xinjiang. The men reportedly sought to gain access to cockpit ten minutes after takeoff, but were stopped by passengers and crew. A spokesperson for the Xinjiang government said the men were ethnic Uyghurs. Xinhua reported at least 10 passengers and crew were injured when six hijackers tried to take control of the aircraft. The World Uyghur Congress contested the official account of events, claiming instead that a dispute over seating broke out between Uyghurs and ethnic Han. The WUC suggested the event was being used as a pretext to "reinforce repression" in Xinjiang.|
|24 April 2013||Xinjiang||2013 Xinjiang ethnic clashes||It was an incident of ethnic clash that took place between Muslim Uighur and Han Chinese community.As reported by BBC nearly 21 people were killed in the incident including 15 police officers.|
|26 June 2013||Lukqun, Xinjiang||At least 35 people were killed in clashes between ethnic Uyghurs and police in the deadliest altercation in the region since 2009. Chinese official media reported that a group of 17 knife-wielding Uyghur men attacked a police station and government building. Chinese authorities pronounced the event a terrorist attack, and blamed separatists and overseas forces for fomenting tensions. The World Uyghur Congress blamed the event on "continued suppression and provocation" by Chinese authorities in the region. Foreign media outlets were prevented from visiting the area to investigate.|
|28 October 2013||Tiananmen Square, Beijing||2013 Tiananmen Square attack||A fiery car blaze at Tiananmen Square that killed five and injured dozens was a premeditated terrorist attack, Chinese police said on Wednesday after making five arrests in connection with the case.|
|1 March 2014||Kunming, Yunnan||Kunming station massacre||An unidentified group of knife-wielding men and women attacked people at the Kunming Railway Station.|
|This section relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (May 2012)|
According to politics professor Chien-peng Chung, following a spate of unrest and violence in Xinjiang and Tibet in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Chinese authorities adopted a variety of approach to suppress what it considers the "three evils": terrorism, separatism, and religious fundamentalism, which the government considers to be interconnected threats to its authorities. To combat these, the government promoted economic development through investments in infrastructure, tourism, and capital investment to spur growth, and encouraged ethnic Han migration into the western regions. In addition, authorities launched "strike hard" campaigns against crime, which also had the effect of targeting expressions of separatism and unauthorized religious practice.
Chung noted that in recent years, Chinese authorities have allowed for a gradual expansion of individual freedoms in many spheres, all the while maintaining strict control over religious, cultural, and literary associations of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet. In 1997, a "strike hard" campaign began in Tibet and Xinjiang involving in tightly controlling religious activities and festivals. In Tibet, authorities sought to curtail the influence of the Dalai Lama by banning all displays of his image, and in 1995, authorities replaced his choice of the number two Panchen Lama with a Beijing-approved candidate. In Xinjiang, authorities placed restrictions on unofficial religious practices, and closely monitored Muslims returning from madrasah schools overseas.
Chung also noted that corresponding to the launch of strike-hard campaigns and economic stimulus efforts, there was an apparent decrease in the level of organized violent protest or bombings in the Western autonomous regions. Whereas levels of anti-government violence were high from 1987–1997, reported instances were virtually non-existent in the several years that followed. In the aftermath of the strike-hard campaigns, Tibetan and Uyghur dissident groups overseas have adjusted their strategies in promoting their causes: as of 1998 the Dalai Lama has no longer called for outright Tibetan independence, and Uyghur groups have become more adept in framing their cause as one of human rights and free elections. Chung noted that while instances of violent organized protest and bombings have decreased, heightened tensions between local ethnic groups and the Han Chinese who have migrated into Xinjiang and Tibet en masse since the 1990s. According to Chung, in terms of public relations and reporting incidences of violence, local authorities are encouraged to take accounts of foreign investments so that they would not be discouraged by violence, but at the same time, authorities needed justifications to initiate actions against separatist groups.
The government of the People’s Republic of China has engaged in cooperation at the bilateral and multilateral level to gain support for its efforts to combat terrorism and ethnic separatism. This has increased following the September 11 attacks in the United States, which led to the global War on Terror.
Much of this cooperation involves the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which includes several Central Asian states home to large ethnic Uyghur populations. The Chinese government has periodically requested that authorities in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan crack down on Uyghur secessionists, and that they extradite suspected terrorists and separatists to China. The Government of Kazakhstan has consistently extradited Uyghur terrorist suspects to China and in 2006 participated in a large-scale, joint counter-terrorism drill.
The Chinese and Kyrgyz governments increased security along their borders with each other and Tajikistan in January 2007 after Chinese government officials expressed concern that possible terrorists were traveling through Xinjiang and Central Asia to carry out attacks. The warning followed a high-profile raid on a training camp in Akto County, Xinjiang run by suspected East Turkestan Islamic Movement members.
In 2006, American forces captured 22 Uyghur militants from combat zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan on information that they were linked to Al-Qaeda. They were imprisoned for five to seven years in Guantanamo Bay, where they testified that they were trained by ETIM leader Abdul Haq, at an ETIM training camp. After being reclassified as No Longer Enemy Combatant, a panel of judges ordered them released into the United States, as they could not be released back to China because of human rights concerns. A Chinese government spokesman denounced the move as a violation of international law and demanded the return of the men to China.
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