"Xinjiang:China's Northeast Frontier" | Xinjiang: the pivot of Asia

How India, in dealing with the deteriorating situation in Kashmir Valley, must learn from China’s security arrangements for Xinjiang

Price:   Rs595 |  24 March 2017 7:01 PM GMT  |  Anil Bhat

Xinjiang: the pivot of Asia

Sharing its borders with eight countries including China, Xinjiang’s location can be categorized as highly geo-strategic. With Mongolia in the Northeast, the Central Asian Republics of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in the west and north, Afghanistan south, India’s Jammu and Kashmir in the and southwest, Tibet in the southeast and mainland China in the east, Xinjiang’s location is also unenviable. Covering a vast expanse of land amounting to about one-sixth of China’s total area, Xinjiang is its largest province where Muslims are in majority. 

Named differently during different periods of history, Juwaini, the noted Persian scholar, described it as Kichik Bukhara or little Bukhara so as to distinguish it from the proper Bukhara; Mirza Haidar Dughlat, the celebrated author of Tarikhi-i-Rashidi, called it Mashriqi Turkestan (East Turkestan); in the Chagatay Khans period it was known as Moghalistan and later, named after its famous city and capital – Kashghar – to represent the whole of the Tarim Basin. And thus while several European travelers described it as Kashgharia, it was also known as Alty-Shahr, the land of six cities – Kashghar, Yangi Hissar, Yarkand, Khotan, Ush Turfan and Aksu.

As such, Xinjiang presents a classical example of the synthesis of different cultures – Chinese, Indian, Persian and Turkish, and different religion – ancient nature worship, Buddhism and Islam. The movement of trade and ideas and the reciprocal cultural influences enriched the horizons of human development and left a deep imprint on the political, economic and social life in the entire region. 

It was under the Qings (1644-1911 AD) that Xinjiang was finally absorbed within the Chinese empire, a process which was gradual but continuous. The Qings pursued a calculated policy of military conquest, demographic expansion, political maneuvering and trade concessions as the means to preserve their territorial gains. The Qings not only contributed to the territorial expansion of Chinese empire but also initiated the process of ‘Sino-ising’ of the western border region of China. The history of  Xianjiang in modern times, particularly the contemporary political and ethnic issues, is better understood by getting an insight into the Qing policies in this region. K Warikoo, in one of his chapters, attempts to examine Sino-Xinjiang relations under the Qings with particular reference to their policy practiced then.

Referred to by noted American scholar Owen Lattimore, as the ‘pivot of Asia’, Xinjiang is China’s declared core strategic area, where it brooks no international interferences in its internal affairs.

China has to a great extent influenced the Muslim countries like Iran, Pakistan, Central Asian Republics and in the Middle East by sale of arms and other incentives in return for their dollars and has succeed in securing their political support for its presence in Xinjiang. Several Muslim leaders and high power delegations from Iran, Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics have visited Xinjiang during the past few years. During Iranian President Rafsanjiani’s visit to Xinjiang it was decided to create a direct trans-Asian railway between Beijing and Iran through Central Asia. During the fourth ministerial meeting of China-Arab League Summit held in May 2010, China pressed its position on Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan affairs, seeking Arab support for China’s stand on these issues. 

In 2009, Chinese authorities had to use strong-arm methods to put down a serious burst of Islamist militancy among the secessionist Uyghur population of Xinjiang, which abuts Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK). But they did not point the finger at Pakistan. For over a decade, Beijing’s chosen instruments to cope with the unrest among the Uyghur Muslims have been transplanting the Han population from the rest of the country into Xinjiang with a view to changing the ethnic balance and intensification of diplomacy with Islamic neighbours.

Pakistan had an important role in this. A long time recipient of Chinese largesse in a variety of ways, including the development of civilian and military nuclear facilities, Islamabad is no less than sort of vassal state to China. Among the implied conditions for the Chinese indulgence was respect for Beijing’s concern that Pakistani territory not be permitted to be used as a base for those launching terrorist attacks inside Xinjiang. The arrangement worked reasonably well. The Islamic Movement of East Turkestan, which operates out of Pakistan like many other Islamist groups, was evidently persuaded by Islamabad to go easy. But matters appeared to have taken a new turn, discomfiting Beijing.

Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guonglie, who visited Pakistan on 24 May 2010, worked out an intelligence-sharing mechanism with Pakistan to deal with terrorism. When Pakistan’s former Army Chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, visited Beijing in June 2010, Guonglie pressed him for cutting off links with Uyghur separatists and Islamic fundamentalists groups in Pakistan. China and the Central Asian Republics have taken a common stand against trans-border terrorism, Islamic extremism, ethnic-religious separatism, drugs and arms trafficking. And China has institutionalized this process of cooperation through the setting up of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

On China is seeking Pakistan government’s support to fight Uyghur separatists, it remains to be seen how sincere or effective that support will be, given Pakistan army’s long-standing linkages leading Pakistani terrorist groups, which are bound to have some contacts/connections with Uyghurs. 

When terrorist violence erupted in Xinjiang’s cities of Kashgar and Khotan, Chinese once again sought to crush it with an iron hand. But this time around, there was a difference. Local authorities  insinuated  that the terrorists had been trained in a “neighbouring foreign territory”. Although Pakistan was not named, there was little doubt who they meant.

Also, India, in dealing with the deteriorating situation in Kashmir Valley, which amounts to only 15% of Jammu and Kashmir, must learn from China’s  security arrangements for Xinjiang.

The book’s sixteen chapters covering various aspects, make it valuable for reference.

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