Following the tragic attacks in Paris that have killed more than 120 people, Chinese officials have announced their plans to strengthen their role in the international fight against terrorism; however, they say that an “important part” of that conflict lies in northwestern China, fighting against separatists in Xinjiang.
In a speech over the weekend, China Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that there should be no “double standards” when it comes to terrorist attacks and he called for a “united front to combat terrorism,” according to The Paper.
Wang is asking for more international support in Beijing’s fight against Uighur separatists, who they say are led by a group called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) with ties to al Qaeda.
“China is also a victim of terrorism, and cracking down on ETIM should become an important part of the international fight against terrorism,” Wang added.
Hundreds of people have died in Xinjiang over the past few years due to unrest. Uighurs have been executed for last year’s deadly Kunming Train Station attack, as well as rumored to be connected with this summer’s bombings in Bangkok.
However, while the ETIM was listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. in 2002, it is no longer included on the State Department’s main list of Foreign Terror Organizations. Critics see Beijing’s heavy-handed tactics in Xinjiang as the reason for its problems with the locals.
Domestically, state media has reported that China will step up its counter-terrorism measures following the Paris attacks. On Saturday, the Ministry of Public Security issued a statement that said that China may soon be a target of an attack and must “be on high alert to combat terrorism.”
To fulfill this objective, on Sunday, Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun said that extra patrols would be instituted in public places, such as airports, railway stations, shopping malls, schools and entertainment venues. “Police officers should assume their responsibilities to fight terrorism,” said Guo.
On Saturday, China further tried to tie itself to the global conflict against terrorism by publishing pictures on state media microblogs of its armed forces on a mission to root out militants in Xinjiang. The series of nine pictures shows nine armed police preparing to storm a house in a rural region.
“France’s Paris was hit by its worst terrorist attack in history, with hundreds dead and injured. On the other side of the world, police in China’s Xinjiang, after 56 days of pursuing and attacking, carried out a full attack on the terrorists and got great results,” reads the text accompanying the pictures, according to Reuters.
China Daily quotes Li Wei, anti-terrorism expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, to further the connection. “China is facing the same threats from IS as France and must prepare for similar terror attacks, which were well-planned and targeted multiple locations at the same time with different firearms and equipment, resulting in devastation in the target city,” said Li Wei.
However, an editorial in the Global Times warned about how best to fight against terrorism:
The anti-terrorism fight has to be both determined and rational to avoid facilitating a clash of civilizations. People across the world must be able to tell the majority kind Muslim from a small number of brutal terrorists. All countries will strengthen security following terror attacks in Paris, but these measures need to consider Muslims’ feelings. Ordinary Muslims shouldn’t be treated differently along the security-check line. The Muslim population should also actively participate in the anti-terrorist campaign, including adapting to the post-attack social atmosphere and the difficulties it may bring to them, so in this way, the social structure won’t be severely impacted.
On Saturday, Xi Jinping called French President Francois Hollande to give him his “strongest condemnation” on the attacks, offer his condolences to victims and family members and show his willingness to work with France in combating terrorism, via The New York Times:
This is a traumatic time for the French people, and on behalf of the Chinese government and people, and in my own personal capacity, I condemn this barbarous action in the strongest possible terms, express my profound grief for the victims, and offer my sincere condolences to the injured and to the bereaving families of victims. China has consistently opposed all forms of terrorism, and is willing to work with France and the international community to strengthen security cooperation and to fight terrorism together, safeguarding the lives of people of all countries.
Shanghai’s Pearl Tower lit up with the colors of the French flag on Saturday evening, in a display of international solidarity: