China accuses US of double standards as it drops ETIM from terrorism list

Liu Zhen
·3-min read

The US State Department has removed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) from its list of terrorist organisations, a move a Chinese analyst says could encourage attacks against China.

ETIM, founded by Uygur jihadists from China’s far western Xinjiang region in 1993, was designated as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US in 2002, in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States.

The decision to revoke that designation was announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an order dated October 20 and made public on Thursday.

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Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin expressed Beijing’s “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to the move during a regular press briefing on Friday.

“ETIM is an internationally recognised terrorist organisation that seriously threatens the safety of China and the world,” Wang said. “The US backtracking on its designation shows double standards – they are using the terrorist organisation to promote their own interests and holding back international cooperation on counterterrorism.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused the US of using the group to promote its own interests. Photo: EPA-EFE
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused the US of using the group to promote its own interests. Photo: EPA-EFE

The militants behind ETIM are seeking an independent Islamic state in Xinjiang called East Turkestan, a name preferred by Uygurs for the region. Beijing has accused ETIM of carrying out a number of deadly terror attacks across China and in other countries, and claims it has ties with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The group has been on the United Nations Security Council’s list of terrorist organisations since 2002, and it has been blacklisted by the European Union, Britain and Turkey among others.

The US move comes amid a growing international outcry – and pressure from Washington – over Beijing’s repressive policies in Xinjiang, where it is believed to have detained at least 1 million Uygurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities in internment camps. Beijing officials say the detention facilities are “vocational training centres” and they have sought to defend the crackdown in the region as part of counterterrorism efforts.

Li Wei, a counterterrorism expert from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a government-backed think tank in Beijing, said the US move would “send a message” to ETIM and encourage its activities against China.

“Against the current backdrop of increasing terrorist attacks in Europe, the US is applying double standards here,” Li said. “Not only is this decision irresponsible for international counterterrorism efforts, it’s also irresponsible in terms of its own national security.”

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The US government imposes sanctions on organisations it designates as terrorists. Now that ETIM has been removed from the list, these sanctions – such as US-related financial transactions being blocked and travel restrictions – will no longer apply.

With relations between the US and China at their lowest point in decades, Li said Washington’s move was likely aimed at creating problems for Beijing, which it sees as a strategic rival.

“By delisting the organisation, the US is trying to encourage, support and indulge activities that could threaten China’s national security,” Li said. “But terrorists are terrorists – they won’t limit their targets as the US hopes.”

But he said China’s counterterrorism measures in Xinjiang and continued sanctions on ETIM from the UN and other countries would limit the effect of the US decision.

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