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China and Counter-Terrorism
Radicalization Hitting China's Uighurs Too

The Washington Post published a big piece about the rise of jihadi extremism among China’s mostly Muslim Uighur minority. Nearly half of the population in the Xianjiang province are Uighur, and the success of ISIS and other radical Muslim terror groups in the Middle East is having a predictable ideological spillover effect into the region. The Post reports:

Foreign-trained Uighur militants may not be coming back to China yet — indeed, Beijing believes many have made their way to Iraq and Syria — but their message of jihad is starting to resonate here. Critics say that message is landing on fertile ground in Xinjiang because of Beijing’s repressive policies, but for China it is a terrorist threat that cannot be tolerated.

It is a threat that also has global implications. As its concerns about radical Islam grow, China has joined the United States in trying to force Pakistan to do much more to crush those centers of jihad and to take military action against terrorist training camps. Here, China’s interests are squarely aligned with those of the United States.

Washington hopes the fear of extremists will encourage Beijing to join it in a global coalition against militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, with national security adviser Susan Rice raising the subject in recent meetings with senior Chinese leaders.

“Their concerns about terrorism at home and abroad are rising,” said a senior administration official who was not authorized to speak by name, “and we are interested in exploring what the opportunities are in ways that are consistent with American interests and values.”

We’ll wait and see, but we’re skeptical that the kind of cooperation unnamed Obama administration officials seem to be hoping for is in the offing. Much like the Russians with their Caucasian dominions, the Chinese have a burgeoning homegrown Islamic terrorism problem on their hands. And much more so than the Russians, the Chinese seem to be resorting to sticks rather than carrots: Chinese authorities are “rescuing” children from madrassas, and they have gone so far as to dismantle most of the Uighurs’ internet while stepping up surveillance. Most recently, Beijing showed its intolerance for even small amounts of dissent when it arrested moderate Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti for separatist agitation.

But a shared concern about terrorism proved to be weak glue indeed for the Russo-American relationship, and it’s likely to do so here as well. China has a bigger game in mind when it comes to geopolitics, and is likely to stay the course in using sharp elbows in its near abroad while preaching ultimate respect for “sovereignty” when its own concerns are not directly involved. Working with America to curb Pakistani militants? An easy sell. Going beyond that, however, is much more of a long shot.

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