The untold story behind China’s conflict with the Uyghurs: part 2
In this second article on China’s conflict with the Uyghurs, we will discuss the close ties between Uyghur activist networks in Europe, US and NATO interests, and Uyghur Islamists and jihadists.
Increasing pressure on China
The first part of this article series describes how in 2020, several NATO members (Netherlands, US, and Canada) accused China of genocide against the Uyghurs (a Turkish-Islamic minority in the Xinjiang province). In the most recent NATO Summit Declaration of June 2021 China is mentioned ten times, each time as a threat to global security and ‘international order’. This is a major contrast with the previous ten years, where China was only mentioned once. Geopolitical relations are clearly shifting.
US funding of Uyghur Islamism in Europe
However, most of the media stories about the Uyghur Muslims are so one-sided that they create a cartoon version of reality: bad China is committing genocide against the innocent Uyghurs, and the moral West (NATO) needs to step in. Such one-sidedness should at least raise an eyebrow.
As it turns out, there is a network of Uyghur activist organisations that is trying to shape public opinion about Xinjiang in Europe. The most important one is the ‘World Uyghur Congress’ (WUC), which was founded in 2004 in München (Germany), and has over 33 affiliates in 18 countries. Looking at their funding, one sees that they have received nearly $1.3 million in 3 years from the US ‘National Endowment for Democracy’ (NED), which has donated $8.7 million in total to Uyghur activists since 2004. The NED has been financing anti-communist groups behind the Iron Curtain since the 1980s, and according to an NED insider (Allen Weinstein), the NED is now doing what the CIA was doing covertly in the 1960s, namely undermining regimes that are disadvantageous to the interests of the US.
East Turkestan: an Uyghur Islamist project
With these donations, WUC activists are trained to ‘raise awareness and support for Uyghurs’ human rights in East Turkestan/Xinjiang’. The fact that this US organisation is using the term ‘East Turkestan’ is quite remarkable, because this is the term that Uyghur Islamists are using who want to turn Xinjiang into an Islamic state (East Turkestan). In fact, as the previous article showed, Uyghur activists have already succeeded twice in doing so, between 1930 and 1950. Importantly, these states were theocracies, just like ISIS in Syria.
Uyghur Islamist founded the World Uyghur Congress
One of the leaders of East Turkestan, Isa Yusuf Alptekin, was an undercover agent for the Kuomintang (the rivals of the Communist Party) who received military support from the US. His son, Erkin Alptekin, founded the World Uyghur Congress in 2004. When his father died in 1995, he gave a speech at the funeral, saying: ‘We believe in the not too distant future we will see the fall of China and the independence of East Turkestan. If we did not have such a belief we would not be fighting for it, but our fight is within international law and by peaceful means’. Erkin then worked for two propaganda networks of the CIA (Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty) for over 20 years, which is quite revealing.
Xinjiang and the New Silk Road
The US is therefore directly supporting Uyghur Islamists who want to separate Xinjiang from China. The most likely explanation for this is that Xinjiang is a crucial link in the ‘Belt and Road’ infrastructure project that will strengthen China’s economic and geopolitical position in the world. Undermining that project would safeguard US hegemony against a rising China.
US support for jihadism
History tells us that US intelligence agencies have previously supported jihadists in Afghanistan (the mujahideen) and Syria (Al Qaeda) in order to fight common enemies: the Soviets and ISIS. These programs had far-reaching consequences. For example, the CIA training camps in Afghanistan fell into the hands of Osama bin Laden’s in 1999.
Uyghur jihadists cooperate with Al Qaeda
These same ex-CIA camps also attracted Uyghur jihadists. For example, the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) moved its headquarters to the same region of Afghanistan in the 1990s. ETIM leaders had meetings there with Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and jihadists from Uzbekistan. For this reason, the UN Security Council designated the ETIM as a ‘terrorist’ organisation in 2002. It is therefore not surprising that the flag of the ETIM is simply a blue version of the jihad flag of Al Qaeda, with an added Ottoman symbol.
Professor Philip Potter has also described how a prominent Al Qaeda leader called on Uyghurs to start a holy war (jihad) against the Chinese government in 2009, and that the Chinese should be expecting a ‘sea’ of jihadists, like during the holy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, a.k.a. CIA ‘Operation Cyclone’. According to Potter, the Uyghur jihadist resistance then moved to the Pakistan-Afghan border around 2013, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda were also present. A jihadist magazine (Karachi Islam) even described how an ETIM leader personally commanded Al Qaeda camps in the region. Potter claims that this cross-fertilisation between jihadist groups has greatly increased the terror threat for China.
Uyghur jihadists in Syria
And indeed, there were Uyghur jihadists in Syria. In 2013 there were at least 3,000 fighters of the Turkestan Islamic Party (a front of the ETIM) in Syria, and in 2018 various sources reported about the presence of roughly 18,000 Uyghurs in the city of Al-Zanbaki, near the Turkish border.
Interestingly enough, even ISIS has expressed its support for the Uyghurs and has included Xinjiang in the map of its intended caliphate. Geopolitical analyst William Engdahl claims that NATO intelligence agencies (especially Turkey and the US) collaborated with Saudi Arabia in recruiting thousands of these Uyghurs to join the jihadists in Syria. While we know that jihadists (and their weapons) usually enter Syria through the Turkish border, the specific claim of Engdahl is hard to verify. We do know that Uyghur jihadists have travelled back to China to perform terror attacks.
US and NATO may be spinning the narrative
It seems very likely that NATO is trying to restrict the power and influence of China, and that at least one NATO member (the US) is openly supporting Uyghur Islamism in order to accomplish this. However, this does not mean that all media reports about abuses in Xinjiang are merely NATO propaganda. Strange things are happening in Xinjiang, and the Uyghurs are being treated poorly. The question is rather to what extent the US and NATO are spinning the narrative to their advantage, making it impossible for the public to discern what is really happening. Now, if the geopolitical tensions with China keep rising, it could trigger a (nuclear) war between superpowers. Needless to say, this would be an unimaginable catastrophe.
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 If one reads each of the annual NATO Summit Declarations (or Communiques) since 2010, one finds China being mentioned only once up until 2021.
 Ethnic Identity and National Conflict in China (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), p. 64.
 This region is called Northern Waziristan.
 Analysts: Uighur Jihadis in Syria Could Pose Threat; The 18,000 al-Qaeda Uighurs in Syria; Up Next The Uyghur issue in early 2020; Chinese Uyghur colonies in Syria a challenge for Beijing; The Uyghur Issue in Early 2020 / Analysis | Israel Defense