Is there anything more to be said about China? If the twentieth century was "The American Century," then this twenty-first century, by general acclamation, has been assigned to The People's Republic of China. What more needs to be said?
Since 2009, the Chinese Party-state has increasingly suppressed the Uyghur community in its northwest province of Xinjiang. However, in the last year, three new concurrent trends have emerged: the situation for Uyghurs both in Xinjiang and for the Uyghurs living abroad has gotten much worse; academics and journalists have been working extremely hard to document and expose the human rights violations against the Uyghurs; and, the international community has finally started to take notice of the abuses inflicted on a Muslim minority population by the Chinese Party-state in a remote region of the People’s Republic of China.
Chinese leaders think they can imprison hundreds of thousands of Muslim citizens, attempt to eradicate their religion and culture, and maintain good relations with Central Asian countries and other Muslim-majority societies. The test of this breathtaking proposition is Kazakhstan.
Why is China taking desperate actions toward the Uyghur and the spread of radical Islam in the vast western region known as Xinjiang? Experts find little evidence directly linking jihadist-inspired radicalism to specific terrorist attacks and acts of violence in the region, which have been growing over the last decade. Beginning in early 2017, China began establishing innumerable “re-education centers,” sweeping up nearly 1 million Uyghur and other Muslim minorities, by some estimates, almost 1/10th of their population.
Cairenes are not modest about their beloved city. It is Umm al-Dunya, they say, the mother of the world. They also call it simply Masr, the Arabic term for Egypt, suggesting, of course, that there is really nothing worth noting in the vast country beyond their grand city on the Nile.
Around 22 million Muslims live in China (PRC) today. The Hui, the majority Muslim group in China, are fully integrated into all echelons of Chinese society, and are allowed to practice their religion with almost no interference from the authorities. The dominant minority group, the Uyghurs (roughly 10 million people), are a Sunni Turkish-related population who speak a Turkish dialect and live in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. Other Muslim minority groups are Kazakhs, Dongxiangs, Salar, Tatars, Bonans, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Utsul, Kyrgyz, and Tibetans.
The Middle East, a region once embroiled in the Cold War struggle of east and west, is now bearing witness to new geopolitical shifts. The emergence of Beijing on the Middle Eastern landscape where it is quenching its thirst for energy resources and forging regional relationships through its One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR) with countries as diverse as Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) comes at the expense of Washington’s longstanding primacy. Many American strategists find China’s encroachment to be a troubling threat to U.S. national interests.
Will a new wave of Islamist violence threaten China’s national interests over the coming decades? Good planning does not dismiss worst-case scenarios as unlikely; it asks, instead, how such a scenario might come to pass, thereby illuminating ways to avoid it. A combination of environmental stress and China’s deepening footprint abroad might well produce Islamist terrorism directed at Chinese across the world and at home. Avoiding this requires a strengthened commitment to environmental protection and to policies that mitigate Muslim discontent.
Since its founding in 1949, the Chinese communist government in Beijing has long considered a northwestern region on its vast political map a primary troubled spot for the regime and has systematically implemented various measures to seek total control of this important territory. Of the four non-China Proper areas, the other three, i.e. Manchuria, Mongolia and Tibet have longer, and more complicated historical connections with China.
China’s relationship with Islam goes back to the 7th century, when Arab merchants and envoys traveled to Canton (Guangzhou) to discuss trade ties with the Tang dynasty. Building mosques and madrassas, hosting preachers, and creating largely homogenous enclaves within China, Muslim communities persisted throughout repeated disintegration and reformation of Chinese dynasties.
Problems in China’s restive northwest province of Xinjiang have long been simmering, but recent developments point to growing troubles, as news reports and statements by international organizations have significantly raised public attention. Beijing is engaged in programmatic efforts to suppress the ethnic identity of the Uighur people, a population of 11 million, while combatting their aspirations for political autonomy or even independence.