The Case of Xinjiang Province
Monrovia – Why the world's populous nation has barely had any struggle with terrorism or extremism in recent years?
This is puzzling considering the growing wave of terrorism in Asia over the past decade. Even the Taliban that recently seized power in Afghanistan must now deal with an onslaught of violence from the Islamic State – a terrorist group raining havoc across the middle east.
But China, which has a population of over 1.4 billion people and shares a border with Afghanistan, continues to enjoy moderate stability for several decades. So, how is China doing this? The answer might lie in Beijing’s handling of suspected extremists in its Xinjiang Province – an autonomous territory in the northeast part of the country. Western countries have labeled China as a violator of human rights. They alleged that “genocide, forced labor, and re-education” are being used as mechanisms to marginalize the Uyghur people – a minority ethnic Chinese who are mostly Muslim.
Uyghur is the majority tribe of Xinjiang. But the Chinese government has insistently rejected these allegations, terming them as part of a “smear campaign and prejudice based on malice”. On the other hand, Beijing vehemently argues that its approach in the region is an efficient way of averting any possibilities of it becoming a breeding ground for extremism of terrorism.
In what appeared to be an attempt to debunk what he termed as “fabricated information” about the situation, Chinese ambassador to Liberia Ren Yisheng recently wrote that the “essence of Xinjiang-related issues is the issue of countering violence and terrorism, de-radicalization, and anti-separatism”.
Writes Ambassador Ren: “From 1990 to the end of 2016, thousands of violent and terrorist cases (incidents) occurred in Xinjiang, which brought serious disasters to people of all ethnic groups. Can any government tolerate this without doing anything?”Ran’s rhetorical question presents a salient argument.
So, if you reflect on the scale of disasters that have been caused by terrorism and its ramifications on global security, you might want to give him an ear. He further argues that the approach China employs to deal with suspected terrorism is one not of novelty. “Chinese government launched the fight against terrorism by the law, and at the same time, by drawing on the experience and practices of other countries including the Western countries to establish de-radicalization centers and other preventive counter-terrorism practices,” writes Ambassador Ren, who adds that rehabilitation of “people who have committed terrorism, extremism, illegal or criminal acts” are based on domestic and international laws.
“This is fully in line with the principles and spirit of a series of counter-terrorism resolutions such as the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy,” he adds. The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which was adopted by members states of the UN, ensures the promotion and protection of human rights for all and that the rule of law is essential to all components of the Strategy.
These documents “emphasize that all of Member States’ counter-terrorism measures must comply with their obligations under international law, in particular, international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international refugee law.” In addition to insisting that there’s no violation of international law, Beijing maintains that its counter-terrorism policy is efficient.
It relies on the absence of violence and terroristic incidents for more than four consecutive years in the region, now allowing people to continue enjoying “rights to life, health, development” while the national security interests of all “ethnic groups have been maximized”.
A reliance on recent population data for the region might also draw a plausible counterargument against the widespread allegations of genocide. Population census result shows that between 2010 and 2018, the permanent resident population of Xinjiang increased from 21.8158 million to 24.8676 million -- an increase of 3.0518 million or 13.99%. This shows that the Uygur population increased from 10.1715 million to 12.7184 million, an increase of 2.5469 million, or 25.04% while the population of the Han ethnic group (the majority ethnic group in China) increased from 8.8299 million to 9.0068 million – this represents an increase of 176,900 people or 2.0%, showing that the Uygur population increased more than the Han population in the province.
While there has been a steady population increase, economic growth has also been impressive. From 2014 to 2019, Xinjiang's GDP grew at an average annual rate of 7.2%, and by the end of 2019, over 2.9 million people were lifted out of poverty in the province – this means the incidence of poverty dropped from 19.4% in 2014 to 1.24%.
Regardless of the existence of these data, some western media have expressed doubts about these developments in Xinjiang arguing that the Chinese government has often used propaganda to misrepresent the actual situation in the region. But the Chinese have again refuted these claims. “In recent years, more than 1,200 diplomats, officials of international organizations, journalists, and religious figures from more than 100 countries have visited Xinjiang,” explains Amb. Ran in his article “The Truth and Nature of Xinjiang-related Issues”. He further argues that the visiting diplomats “believe that what they have seen and heard in Xinjiang is completely different from the reports of some Western media and the accusations of some politicians”.
Ren continues: “At the recent 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, more than 80 countries expressed their support for China's legitimate position on the Xinjiang issue in the form of joint or individual statements. This fully demonstrates that justice is in the hearts of the people.”However, the accusations are not going away.
In 2018, a UN human rights committee said it had credible reports that China was holding up to a million people in "counter-extremism centers", adding the government was targeting Muslim religious figures and banning the religious practice in the region.Again, Beijing has slammed this assertion, stressing that “Respect for and protection of freedom of religious belief is the embodiment of the rule of law of socialism” as enshrined in its Constitution.The pertinent part of the Chinese Constitution protecting the right to freedom of religion reads: "No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; the state protects normal religious activities," and "no one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state."
Since the Chinese Constitution warns against religious extremism, the government is poised to deconstruct possible fertile grounds that breed extremists. Beijing has also complained that “extremism has been behind the thousands of violent and terrorist incidents in Xinjiang since the 1990s” and it is a commitment to stopping it in its track that is being misconstrued by foreign powers that are also bent on destabilizing the country. “Numerous facts show that religious extremism has become a real danger that undermines national unity and ethnic solidarity, sabotages religious and social harmony, impairs social stability and peace in Xinjiang, and endangers the life and property of people of all ethnic groups,” states a report published in November 2020 by Islamic Association of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Meanwhile, some African countries have hailed China’s strategy in clamping down on terrorism. During a diplomatic conference in Beijing in July 2021, four ambassadors and diplomats from Guinea-Bissau, Zimbabwe, the African Union, and Namibia praised the Chinese government for ensuring stability in the region.
The African diplomats, who visited the region before making their assertion, said that the region had suffered from several thousands of violent incidents, and religious extremists and overseas separatists trying to split the region from China are behind these attacks. "Some developed countries criticized China for using forced labor in the cotton industry, which is not true and is not what we saw in Xinjiang. When we left Xinjiang, we believe that the only fight in Xinjiang is the government's battle against extremists planted by overseas separatists in the region," said Guinea-Bissau Ambassador to China, Antonio Serifo Embalo. The visit by the African diplomats to the region follows several invitations by Beijing for foreign government officials to visit the region and experience the progress instead of consuming misinformation heralded by countries with ulterior motives against China. “Seeing is believing.
The door to Xinjiang is always open,” adds Amb. Ran. “In 2019, Xinjiang received more than 200 million tourists. We welcome friends from all over the world to have the opportunity to visit Xinjiang to learn more about and experience a real and beautiful Xinjiang without being deceived by the "centenary lies. “We also call on all media that uphold an objective and fair stand and abide by professional ethics to respect the truth and refrain from spreading false information on Xinjiang-related issues.”