The notion of the Islamic State / Caliphate announced by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi should be viewed as a preview for what the neo-Ottoman Turks want – a Caliphate that will dwarf al-Baghdadi’s version. When it comes to the Ottoman Caliphate these Turks wish to resurrect, there is absolutely an eye on northwestern China.
In particular, the Uyghurs who are concentrated in the northwest region of China known as Xinjiang to the Chinese and East Turkestan to the Uyghurs, are increasingly joining the Islamic State according to a Chinese news report:
Chinese citizens have joined Islamic State, the country’s state media said, as China sought to offer further evidence that its domestic security problems are a global concern.
Radicals from Xinjiang have joined the terror group to receive training in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in Asia, China’s Communist-run Global Times newspaper said in a report Monday. Xinjiang is the sprawling region in China’s northwest that is home to the restive Uyghurs, a largely Muslim population whose freedoms China has heavily restricted in response to a string of deadly attacks it blames on Uyghur terrorists.
By announcing that its citizens have joined Islamic State, China echoed fears expressed by Western countries – that the violence in the Middle East poses a domestic threat because foreign-trained fighters could return to mount attacks in their home countries.
Until now, China has not offered any assistance to the U.S.-led campaign against IS and its sole reaction to the chaos in Syria and Iraq has been to withdraw its citizens. Chinese officials routinely say they do not interfere with the affairs of other nations. But China, as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, may now face pressure to get more involved in global counterterrorism efforts.
The Uyghur history is steeped in connections to Turkey; they are considered a Turkic ethnic group and speak the Turkish language. The neo-Ottomans in the highest levels of Turkey’s current government, to include new President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and new Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, have demonstrated staunch support for the Uyghurs. In fact, that support has been a source of strain between China and Turkey in recent years.
Earlier this year, the World Uyghur Congress applauded Turkey’s call for a transparent investigation into Uyghur deaths at the hands of the Chinese government. The last two paragraphs of this article give China’s version of events:
The violence erupted on July 28 – the last day of Ramadan, during which the Chinese government banned government employees and children from fasting.
According to Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, since the beginning of the holy month the “mob” had had many gatherings in remote places, during which time they made plans for attacks and prepared tools for violent acts.
In light of reports today that Uyghurs are joining the Islamic State, China was most likely dealing with ISIS-minded terrorists. Yet, Turkey was siding with the Uyghurs. Here is how the article opened:
The World Uyghur Congress has praised Turkey’s call on China for a transparent investigation into recent reports of violence in Xinjiang’s Uyghur Autonomous Region.
China revealed that 37 civilians were killed in a disturbance and another 13 injured after a mob attacked a police station and government offices on July 28.
However, a lack of independent monitors in the region has raised suspicions that the death toll could have been much higher, according to Seyit Tumturk, the vice president of the World Uyghur Congress.
In 2012, as a Chinese circus was taking place in Turkey, a gaggle of malcontents ran through the stands waving Turkish and Uyghur flags:
Also in 2012, Erdogan and Davutoglu visited the Uyghurs in Xingxang / East Turkistan and were “greeted like rock stars”. A video that chronicled the visit features the image of a skyward looking Erdogan sailing over a field of white flowers:
The strain between China and Turkey over the Uyghurs is not new but there have been attempts to mitigate it based on economic concerns:
After relations deteriorated between Beijing and Ankara in 2009 over Turkish officials’ criticism of China’s crackdown on riots in Uighur Muslim-dominated Xinjiang province, relations have improved, in large part because of a shift in attitude on the Uighur issue by both governments.
Turkey, hoping to expand its influence in Central Asia, has avoided sharp rhetorical condemnation of Chinese government actions, and Beijing, hoping to attract Turkish investment and desiring a new approach less likely to spark ethnic unrest in the future, has made several policy shifts of its own…
…China’s relationship with Xinjiang’s predominantly Muslim Uighurs has long been fraught due to the strategic significance of Xinjiang on the Chinese border. After riots broke out in 2009 between Uighurs and ethnic Han Chinese in Urumqi and the Chinese government cracked down, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the situation as “violence” and “almost genocide,” while Turkish Trade and Industry Minister Nihat Ergun called for a boycott of Chinese goods. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun rebuffed Erdogan’s remarks as “irresponsible,” and relations between Ankara and Beijing deteriorated.
As reports of Uyghurs joining the ranks of the Islamic State grow, acts of terrorism in the region can expect to grow as well. Should Turkey continue to defend the Uyghurs, the relationship between it and China can be expected to deteriorate.