State Sponsorship of Uyghur Separatists: the History and Current Policy Options for East Turkestan (Xinjiang, China)

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

A 1922 map of China. Source: John Bartholomew, The Times Atlas, London, 1922.

This article is a slight revision of a talk given on March 25, 2019, in Oxford, England. The associated university is not named at the request of the host organization’s president, who was concerned about possible repercussions.

I would like to thank the Terrorism Research Society (TRS) for kindly hosting this event. 

The historical map shown here is from 1922, and shows what China looked like when the Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921 in Shanghai. It shows East Turkestan and Tibet in the west as autonomous regions — much more autonomous than they are today.

East Turkestan is now occupied militarily by China and officially called the Xinjiang region of northwestern China. In Chinese, “Xinjiang” means “new frontier”. But Xinjiang has an ancient history as a culturally diverse crossroads of trading on what the Chinese call “the silk road”, but which was actually more Iranian than Chinese. It was central to the ancient Persian trading areas called the Sogdian network by historians. It has been home to Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, to Mongolians, Indians, Greeks, Koreans, Buddhists, and Christians. Since at least the First East Turkestan Republic of 1933 is has been called East Turkestan by Turkic Muslim residents. The Chinese Communist Party in Beijing has indiscriminately labeled Uyghurs who support an independent East Turkestan today, as separatist and terrorist in their goals and means. The acronym of the Chinese Communist Party is the “CCP”. The CCP seeks to colonize and extinguish all linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity in Xinjiang today, in order to assimilate the territory under its own preferred Han Chinese race, and their own atheist communist ideology.

In the face of such extreme repression, some Uyghurs have indeed advocated separatism and utilized terrorism and violence, including street riots, as a means.

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How to bring Russia into INF compliance — without triggering a war

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019  

By Anna J. Davidson

Russian S-400 air defence missile systems roll at Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9, 2016.
AFP / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV / GETTY

ABSTRACT   For all intents and purposes, the prevailing wisdom in both East and West suggests that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is lost. On 4 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree officially terminating his country’s participation in the INF “until the United States of America rectifies its violations of the said Treaty or until it expires.” This action mirrors that by the United States in early February that accused Russia of violating the Treaty and instigated the six-month withdrawal process. Both of these steps follow five years of continuous effort by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to compel Russia’s compliance with the stipulations of the INF to no avail. As the August deadline approaches, the United States and Russia face three options: reach a mutual agreement on one another’s compliance to preserve the INF, draft a new arms control agreement, or allow the INF to expire and risk a renewed arms race as both countries continue developing their defense capabilities. Despite the wide acceptance of the latter, a potential incentive for Russia to return to INF compliance, and thus preserve the Treaty, exists in the Kremlin’s relationship with Ankara. As a NATO member state, Turkey finds itself in a unique position with the United States as an ally and Russia as a strategic partner. Turkey’s desire to purchase both the American Patriot and the Russian S-400 missile defense systems presents an opportunity to increase the value of Turkey’s partnership with Russia and decrease the significance of Russia’s need to develop missiles noncompliant with the INF. Turkey insists that it will proceed with the purchase of Russia’s S-400 systems regardless of Washington’s willingness (or lack thereof) to offer the American Patriot systems, as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act currently obstructs the purchase of Russian S-400s by Turkey. Yet, Turkey and Russia are proceeding with the exchange while simultaneously deepening cooperation in the Syria crisis, particularly Idlib. If the United States and NATO leverage Turkey’s request for the Patriot systems and take advantage of Russia’s urge to sell its S-400s to Turkey, the opportunity for a renegotiation and recommitment to the INF Treaty remains within reach.  Continue reading

Trump’s Unfair Ban:  An Iranian View 

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 2, February 2017

By Nabi Sonboli

On January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Executive Order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorists”. The order reflects three critical concerns regarding immigrants and those who come to the US in the new administration: Security, ideology, and contribution. These concerns are valid for any country, but the questions remain, which one of these concerns are legitimate with regards to Iran and Iranians? and what is the main target in this order? 

Iran Interview: the Shia-Sunni Conflict, Israel, Nuclear Weapons, and Investment

Iranians wave Islamic flags while chanting against the al-Qaida inspired Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, ISIL, during a rally in central Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Iranians wave Islamic flags while chanting against the al-Qaida inspired Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, ISIL, during a rally in central Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 2, No. 7, July 2014.      

In this July 20 interview with the Journal of Political Risk, Dr. Yeganehshakib discusses how the present conflict in Iraq will affect Iran’s role in the Middle East and its relations with the United States.

Reza Yeganehshakib  holds a Ph.D. in history with a specialization in World and Middle Eastern history at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). He received a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering from Iran Azad University, and an M.A. in history from UCI, where he serves as a Research Associate at the Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies. Dr. Yeganehshakib is a member of the Middle East Studies Association and the International Society for Iranian Studies. He is affiliated with the Persian Language Institute at California State University, Fullerton and was previously affiliated with the National Iranian Oil Company. Continue reading

Investment implications of President Rohani’s economic opening

Iranian car workers assemble a car at the state-run Iran-Khodro automobile manufacturing plant near Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 29, 2014. Iran began exporting automobiles to Russia for the first time in five years on Sunday, after meeting upgraded emission standards, the country's largest auto manufacturer said. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iranian car workers assemble a car at the state-run Iran-Khodro automobile manufacturing plant near Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 29, 2014. Iran began exporting automobiles to Russia for the first time in five years on Sunday, after meeting upgraded emission standards, the country’s largest auto manufacturer said. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 2, No. 7, July 2014.

By Reza Yeganehshakib

After the election of Hasan Rohani as the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, there has been hope among Iranians and the international community for change in Iran’s economy and foreign policy.[1] Hasan Rohani, who is known for being relatively moderate particularly in comparison with his conservative predecessor, made several promises during his campaign regarding his government’s efforts to lift foreign sanctions, restore Iran’s relationship with the West, and decrease inflation, for example. The supreme leader’s approval of Rohani’s election can also be interpreted as an indicator of a potentially major shift in Iran’s policies. Considering Iran’s economic and strategic massive capacities, the incorporation of Iran into the global market and the possibility of further security cooperation between the U.S. and Iran will contribute to a more secure Middle East that can be used as a safe pool for investments. As Iran already proved in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, its cooperation with the U.S. could contribute to the security of the volatile Middle East and an increase in foreign investment in the region. Likewise, the Syrian conflict and recent turmoil in Iraq have shown that Iran and the U.S., as well as Israel and other U.S. allies, have one enemy in common, the jihadists and Islamist radicals.[2] It seems that if Rohani can overcome the obstacles to Iran’s entering the global economic system such as sanctions, lack of a sustainable relationship with the West, and unresolved nuclear issue, Iran could become an investment hub in the Middle East, especially in the oil and gas industry.

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Effects of terrorist veterans returning to the West from foreign wars

Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment recently found that most terrorists originating in the West (Europe, Australia, or the US) conduct their terrorism in conflict zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan. These terrorists are defined as “foreign fighters”. When these foreign fighter veterans return to the West, they are more likely to complete attacks, which are more likely to be lethal (American Political Science Review, volume 107, no. 1, Feb 2013, “Should I stay or should I go? Explaining variation in Western Jihadists’ choice between domestic and foreign fighting.”)

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, we can expect countervailing effects on terrorism in the West. On the one hand, there presumably will be less reason to conduct terrorism, as terrorists use these wars as justification for their actions. On the other hand, foreign fighter veterans will be returning to the West, increasing the quantity, militancy, and experience of the pool of potential domestic terrorists. New justifications for terrorism — for example Western intervention in Mali and Syria — can always be found by those so inclined.