The Muslim people in east Turkestan (officially the Xinjiang province of China), who have successfully resisted Chinese attempts to assimilate them for centuries, and have in recent years organized a credible struggle for independence - deserve better than to be stabbed in the back by Muslim countries eager to “do business” with Beijing. Chinese president Jiang Zemin returned home from his tour of Arab countries earlier this month with every reason to believe that Algeria and Saudi Arabia have just done that, considering their enthusiastic support for Beijing’s ‘territorial integrity’, as well as their own human rights record, and their blanket condemnation of ‘terrorism’, irrespective of its forms and objectives.
China is engaged in a bloody crackdown on the Islamic movement in east Turkestan, calling the struggle for independence ‘terrorism’ and ‘separatism’. It also maintains strict supervision over Islamic activity throughout the country, suppressing ‘political Islam’ while encouraging ‘moderate Islam’ under the leadership of what it calls ‘national imams’ in charge of ‘national mosques’. The government-sponsored imams are salaried government officials, while others are banned and hunted down.
There is little doubt that this two-pronged attack on the Islam in China has received a boost from the Chinese president’s ‘highly successful’ visit to Algeria and Saudi Arabia. It is not so much the economic agreements signed by Zemin in Algiers and Riyadh, as the support for Beijing expressed by the joint settlements on political and security cooperation. Both Algiers and Riyadh have long-standing economic ties with China, but this is the first time that the two Muslim countries have publicly backed China’s war on its population.
Zemin arrived in Algeria on October 30 for a two-day visit for talks with president Bouteflika, that led to the conclusion of two accords: one for economic and technical cooperation, and the other for increased trade between the two countries. But the sting was in the final joint communiquΘs, in which Algeria supported Beijing’s right to protect its territorial integrity and China backed Algiers’ ‘peace-pact’, a reflection of the two presidents’ fear of political Islam.
Algeria has declared that Taiwan is part and parcel of China and has no right to self-determination, adding that China is entitled to protect its territorial integrity against any attempts to damage it, and that the principle of human rights cannot be invoked to justify interference in the internal affairs of any country. It is true that the communiquΘ does not refer to the Xinjiang Province, but the blanket denial of the right to self-determination and support for China’s right to resist anyone invoking it clearly applies to the east Turkestan Muslims’ struggle for independence.
The Chinese president achieved a similar result in Saudi Arabia, where he arrived late on October 31, also for a two-day visit. Zemin was paid the singular honour of being met at the airport by King Fahd himself, who had not dragged his frail body out of his palace for a state function for some time. But even that honour was nothing compared to the lucrative contracts and the valuable political support he also obtained. Saudi Arabia is China’s biggest trading partner in the middle East and North Africa, with bilateral trade between the two amounting to $1.7 billion in 1998, and the two countries signed several trade and cooperation agreements, including one on oil, on this occasion. But the key political support Zemin was seeking came in the joint communiquΘ issued in Riyadh and Beijing on November 3.
In the communiquΘ, both sides asserted their rejection of “terrorism in all its forms and whatever its objectives and source”. They also emphasised the need for international cooperation and coordination in combatting terrorism, calling for a greater role for the United Nations. And in case there was any doubt this declaration applied to China, its ‘territorial integrity’ was affirmed, though only Taiwan was mentioned by name.
For Beijing, this approval of its war on the Muslims of east Turkestan by two major Muslim countries will be of mainly symbolic importance; it is unlikely that its policies had been tempered by the fear of their disapproval.
The first to feel the heat of this cooperation in concrete terms may be this year’s pilgrims to the Hajj from China, who will come under greater supervision to try to limit their contact with other Muslims, particularly those who are active in the Islamic movement.
Muslimedia: November 16-30, 1999