By unanimously passing a new counter-terrorism law in December 2015, China’s puppet “legislature”, the National People’s Congress, has drawn up a fresh storm. Justifying the new law, chief of China’s anti-terrorism bureau, An Weixing stated: “In recent years, due to the impact of East Turkestan forces and the activism of international terrorism, the threat of terrorism in China is becoming more and more prominent…”
The anti-terrorism law’s Article 18 establishes obligations of technology companies to assist the Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of National Security in investigating terrorism, including providing technical support and assistance with information encryption. This essentially implies that technology firms will be required to install “backdoors” in products or hand over sensitive information including encryption keys to the Chinese government. There is widespread concern of this being a direct assault on companies putting them at a regulatory disadvantage, whilst simultaneously compromising proprietary information.
Perhaps the greatest apprehension worldwide revolving around China’s new “anti-terror law” is the increasing likelihood of Beijing using the latest terror attacks in Paris as a cover to introduce this law and further justify its tight-fisted political crackdown on northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. There indeed is a pattern here. In the follow-up of the 11 September 2001 terror attacks on the US, the Chinese regime took advantage of the international situation to divert attention away from Xinjiang’s core issues and that of its native ethnic Uyghur Muslim minority community. The 10 million resident Uyghurs constituting about 45% of the region’s population faced massive crackdowns thereafter.
By stating, “China is also a victim of terrorism…cracking down on the ‘East Turkestan’ terrorist forces” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is attempting to divert attention away from the larger issues of exercising freedoms of speech, expression, association, peaceful assembly, movement, culture and religion within China, that are being harshly repressed. There is no denying that the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) has been involved in terror-related incidents in Urumqi [capital of Xinjiang] and Kunming [capital of the southwest Yunnan Province]. This, however, can certainly not absolve the Chinese government of its infamous and harsh policies being practised across the restive Xinjiang region. According to Human Rights Watch, since 2012, Chinese authorities, in the garb of “counterterrorism operations” have methodically eliminated hundreds of Xinjiang residents.
There is little doubt that President Xi Jinping is carrying out perhaps the most severe crackdown on free speech—reflecting his obsession with centralisation of power ever since taking over the reins, distressingly echoing the dark days of Mao Zedong. The tightening of control on online social networks and brute crackdown against political dissent and activism is more than visible. The new anti-terror law will further restrict the right of media to report on details of “terror attacks”. China’s official People’s Daily reports that the law includes a provision that media and social media cannot report on details of terror activities.
Incidentally, just a day prior to the passing of this law, the Beijing correspondent for French news magazine L’Obs, Ursula Gauthier, was expelled for writing an essay that questioned the Chinese government’s rhetoric on terrorism. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Gauthier was no longer “suitable” for her job in China in that her reporting “emboldened terrorists”. Apparently, following the terror attacks in Paris, Chinese officials released details about a “deadly attack at a coalmine in Xinjiang”, calling it a coordinated terrorist attack. Gauthier’s report suggested otherwise. She filed that what happened in Paris had “nothing in common” to Xinjiang’s coalmine incident, which according to Gauthier was “…an explosion of local rage…pushed to the limit, a small group of Uyghurs armed with cleavers set upon a coalmine and its Han Chinese workers, probably in revenge for an abuse, an injustice or an expropriation.” The economic marginalisation of the Uyghurs is only too well known. No one employs a Uyghur worker across Xinjiang if a Han alternative is available, thereby highlighting the extent of the subjugation of the community at large. In 2014, a court jailed for life China’s most prominent advocate for the rights of the Uyghur people, economics professor, Ilham Tohti.
Emboldening conservatives and hard-liners, the new anti-terror law shall additionally intensify the actions of Chinese security forces to choke the voice of political activists and ensure that expressions of freedom will be smothered in the name of “terrorism” and “separatism”. The common sight of dozens of armoured trucks around cities including Kashgar, with thousands of heavily armed People’s Armed Police Force only reiterates the erosion of Xinjiang’s traditional culture continuing unabated and a spate of fresh crackdowns in the name of “counter-terrorism” in the offing.