This is not going to end well:
Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network has taken up the cause of China’s Muslim Uighur minority with a pledge to attack Chinese workers in northwestern Africa in retaliation for mistreatment by Beijing of its largest Muslim minority.
Al-Qaeda’s Algerian-based offshoot, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has issued the call for vengeance, according to the South China Morning Post, which quoted an intelligence report from the London-based risk analysis firm Stirling Assynt.
The unrest in China’s westernmost Xinjiang region last week in which 184 people died — most of them Han Chinese killed by Uighurs — has elicited sympathy in much of the Muslim world for the minority Uighurs who face tight controls on their religious practices and discrimination in the workplace.
The report said: “The general situation of China’s Muslims has resonated amongst the global jihadist community. There is an increasing amount of chatter . . . among jihadists who claim they want to see action against China. Some of these individuals have been actively seeking information on China’s interests in the Muslim world, which they could use for targeting purposes.”
The report is based on information from people who have seen the instruction from AQIM, the agency said.
Three weeks ago, AQIM attacked an Algerian security convoy protecting Chinese engineers on a motorway project, killing 24 paramilitary police. While the Chinese were not injured and were not targeted, the assessment notes: “Future attacks of this kind are likely to target security forces and Chinese engineers alike.”
Regions and regional minorities have a right to self government.
Now, it may be that Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups have taken up the cause of the Uighurs. In the United Kingdom, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s front group, the Islamic Human Rights Campaign is presently campaigning on this issue, as has the Muslim Brotherhood aligned Federation of Islamic Student Societies. However, it is very far from clear that Uighur nationalism is predominantly or even significantly Al Qaeda aligned, or even Islamist in nature. China is also, apparently, using the opportunity of the recent “unrest” to crack down on those who are merely democracy activists:
One prominent Uighur intellectual, Ilham Tohti, an outspoken economist, disappeared from his Beijing home last week and a group of 158 Chinese writers, students and intellectuals have now issued a public appeal for his release.
In recent months Mr Tohti had sharpened his critique of problems in Xinjiang. The appeal said: “Professor Ilham Tohti is a Uighur intellectual who devoted himself to friendship between ethnic groups and eradicating conflicts between them. He should not be taken as a criminal.
The letter, drafted by the leading Chinese author and democracy activist Wang Lixiong, who has written about Xinjiang, said that the website founded by Mr Tohti had become a lively forum for discussion of Uighur life and views and was important for dialogue between Han Chinese and Uighurs.
All that said, it now looks pretty clear that what we saw last week in Urumqi was a race riot and that most of the people killed were ethnically Han Chinese. The Uighur people are most certainly subject to the sort of heavy handed, discriminatory and repressive measures which characterise the PRC’s style of government. However, no government can tolerate the massacre of one ethnic group by another.
Likewise, I cannot imagine that China will react to attacks on its engineers, in North Africa, with equinimity.