China holds firm on Xinjiang as neighbouring Afghanistan poses security concerns

·3-min read

China has vowed to press on with its security measures in Xinjiang – which have been criticised by the US and other countries as human rights abuses – amid concerns about the developing situation in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Xinjiang government spokesman Xu Guixiang said on Monday that the security of Afghanistan, which shares a mountainous 74km (46 miles) border with the northwestern Chinese region, had always had a direct impact on the area.

“No matter how the external environment changes, we will firmly hold on to the goal of development and security in our work in Xinjiang, and ensure the big picture – that … society will be stable, all ethnic groups can live in peace and stability, and there will be prosperous development in the economy,” he said.

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“We are unwavering in pushing on with all these measures, especially those on counterterrorism and stability. We will sit tight on our fishing boat regardless of the wind and waves.”

Xu did not respond when asked if the government had increased security or moved more troops to the border with Afghanistan in the wake of deadly suicide bombings at the airport in Kabul last week, and ahead of the Tuesday deadline for the official US military withdrawal.

Beijing has been keen to promote stability in Afghanistan, not least because of its concerns over a terrorism “spillover” across the border by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) – a separatist group founded by militant Uygurs which Beijing blamed for a spate of violent attacks in Xinjiang.

Ahead of the Taliban’s retaking of Kabul, China sought assurances that it would cut its ties with terrorism, especially ETIM which remains present in the country.

In an interview in July with the South China Morning Post, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the group would no longer allow China’s Uygur separatist fighters to enter Afghanistan. He also said the Taliban would prevent al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group from operating there.

The commitment was reiterated by the Taliban leadership during a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin, two weeks before the fall of Kabul.

President Xi Jinping gave a stern warning to party cadres on the need to redouble their efforts against extremism, while stressing the importance of international engagement on the issue.

Speaking at China’s first national ethnic affairs work conference in seven years, Xi said the country should “actively and steadily address the ideological issues that involve ethnic factors, and continue to eradicate poisonous thoughts of ethnic separatism and religious extremism”, according to an official statement published on Sunday.

“International anti-terrorism cooperation should be also intensified, working with major countries, regions, international organisations and overseas Chinese ethnic minorities,” he said, without naming specific countries.

China has been under international pressure over its policies in Xinjiang, where it is accused by human rights groups and a United Nations committee of detaining as many as 1 million Uygur Muslims – the region’s largest ethnic group – in “re-education centres” where they are subjected to indoctrination, torture and forced labour.

China has defended its policies, saying it is trying to manage ethnic tensions, fight extremism and reduce poverty by developing the resource-rich region into a trade route to Central Asia.

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