[lg policy] India and China: Strange Bedfellows

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Sep 1 19:17:17 UTC 2009

Strange Bedfellows
China's problems in Xinjiang are forcing it to reach out to India. But
does India care?

In its attempt to stomp out the pro-Uighur movement in its restive
western autonomous region, Xinjiang, China might be looking for help
from a surprising partner: its major rival in the region, India,
according to a recent report in the South China Morning Post.

 More... The two countries don't have a history of ground-level
cooperation on counterterrorism -- far from it -- but they could end
up moving in that direction as the anarchy in the North Waziristan
area of Pakistan begins to spill over into China as well as India. But
major questions remain: How far will China go to win India's help? And
is Beijing sincerely looking for advice, or just fishing for
intelligence from the other rising powerhouse in Asia?

Before attempting to answer these questions, it's important to note
that the pro-Uighur movement in Xinjiang is actually two distinct
movements. First, there's Western media darling Rebiya Kadeer's
Munich-based group, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), which has been a
major irritant to the Chinese, launching demonstrations that led to
July's riots in Urumqi. But the Chinese government is also contending
with a lesser-known, but more threatening Uighur group -- the East
Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which draws its funding and
membership not from the West, as with the WUC, but from the Uighur
diaspora in Pakistan, the Persian Gulf, and Turkey.

The ETIM labels itself an agitator for the religious rights of
Xinjiang Muslims. It looks upon Xinjiang, which the Uighurs call East
Turkestan, as a traditionally Muslim land that has been occupied by
non-Muslims. Unlike the WUC, which focuses on Uighur ethnicity -- not
religion -- the ETIM's ideology is pan-Islamic, and it claims to fight
for the restoration of Eastern Turkestan to the ummah, or the
worldwide Muslim community.

The Chinese claim that more than 1,000 ETIM members had been trained
by al Qaeda in Afghanistan before the September 11 terrorist attacks,
but their claim is treated with some skepticism by the United States
and refuted firmly by the ETIM leadership. Still, the U.S. State
Department said in 2005 that the two groups were linked, and the
United States has listed ETIM, which is based in North Waziristan, as
a terrorist organization since 2002.

Because of the ETIM's suspected links with al Qaeda and the Islamic
Movement of Uzbekistan, another terrorist group operating from North
Waziristan, China has reached out to its ally Pakistan for help. But
repeated requests to Pakistan for action against the terrorist
infrastructure of the ETIM have not produced satisfactory results.
Pakistan arrested and deported to China some identified anti-Beijing
Uighurs, but it has not been able to dismantle the ETIM's terrorist
infrastructure, as China had hoped. Nor has Pakistan been able to
offer much help on the intelligence front, due to the government's
weakness in Waziristan.

After China's striking out with Pakistan, then, it seems only logical
that Beijing should move on to India -- asking not for operations
against the ETIM infrastructure, but for intelligence. There has so
far been no reliable information that India has received such a
request. But a request to New Delhi would probably not bring the
results Beijing wants. For one thing, the focus of Indian intelligence
is Pakistani Punjab and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the source of most
terrorist threats to India. Thus Indian intelligence is not
particularly well-informed on the Waziristan area. Second, China has
never criticized Pakistan-sponsored terrorism against India. There is,
therefore, no built-up reservoir of goodwill that would induce India
to help China with its ETIM problem.

Still, the request itself, if correct, is part of a larger movement
toward greater cooperation between the two countries on
counterterrorism efforts. Since 2002, China has welcomed meetings
between Chinese and Indian counterterrorism experts to exchange views
and assessments on the state of jihadi terrorism in the region, hoping
to benefit from India's experience and expertise on this subject.

India has responded positively to the general Chinese interest, and
the cooperation has been expanding through mechanisms such as a joint
working group on terrorism that periodically exchanges views and
assessments and the joint counterterrorism exercises by the countries'
armies that allow each country to learn from the other's tactics.

This new partnership only goes so far, however: Although cooperation
against acts of terrorism will continue to expand, the chances of
China and India working together against terrorist organizations are
remote. The two countries agree on what constitutes an act of
terrorism, but not on which are the terrorist organizations of the
region. China, for example, agrees with Pakistan's view that the
violence in Kashmir is a freedom struggle and not terrorism. It has
also blocked a consensus in the U.N. Security Council on declaring
certain Pakistani organizations terrorists, against India's wishes.
And China -- hoping to maintain good relations with Pakistan in order
to keep the threat of a two-front war hanging over India's head -- is
unlikely to change its mind on these positions, no matter how unhappy
it gets over Pakistan's failure to stamp out the ETIM in North

Working with China on ground-level counterterrorism is also difficult
for India because India has the second-largest Muslim population in
the world after Indonesia, and members of this community might not
want India to help China in what they see as repression of their
coreligionists. What's more, the pro-West Uighurs led by Kadeer are
close with the Dalai Lama, who is based in India and commands
considerable respect there not only as a Buddhist leader, but also as
a thorn in the Chinese side. He and the large Tibetan refugee
population in India would oppose helping the Chinese out in Xinjiang.

More broadly, relations between China and India in most other areas,
though improving, still have their problems, which act as speed bumps:
the ongoing border dispute, Indian allegations of the dumping of cheap
Chinese goods, competition for oil and gas, and naval competition in
the Indian Ocean. However, cooperation over counterterrorism, if it
comes about, could bring the two Asian giants closer together.

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