Updates on China’s Security and Militancy in Asia
Over the last two weeks, there has been a notable amount of anti-China messaging emanating from official and pro-Islamic State media groups as well as the movement’s online supporters.
• In late November, China reportedly sent than 1,000 tons of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan by rail, and Islamic State supporters reacted by asserting the shipment is further proof of the growing alliance between the Taliban and Beijing. In response to an article on the transfer, one user complained of the “secular” Taliban’s friendly relations with a communist power that oppresses Uyghur Muslims in “East Turkistan” (Xinjiang). Strikingly, he referenced organ harvesting, the desecration of mosques, and the crackdown on religious practice and expression. In another instance, the pro-IS media group Tafakkur released an image asserting the necessity of jihad and the religious obligation to resist those who oppress Muslims. It depicts an IS fighter elevated above tattered American, Chinese, Pakistani, Iranian, and German flags.
• Two new publications were released this week that each included criticism of Beijing — one is a magazine issue published by a pro-Islamic State Pakistan Province (ISPP) group and the other is a book by an official Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP) network. On December 5, the second issue of the pro-ISPP Urdu language magazine Yalghar (Invasion) was released and criticized Pakistan’s government for its inaction in helping Chinese Muslims, while the ISKP book criticizes the Afghan Taliban for its cordial relations with China and, in turn, its betrayal of their coreligionists.
• Other notable mentions include the posting of documentary videos about Xinjiang, an interview with a Taliban representative about China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, imagery linking the Taliban government to the great powers (China, America, and Russia), and — as become routine — photos of the October meeting between Taliban Mullah Baradar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
• For added perspective and context, I asked Riccardo Valle, an expert on militancy in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, about why official South Asia IS media networks, pro-IS propaganda groups, and online IS supporters are criticizing and threatening China in their propaganda and if he sees an increase in anti-China narratives since the Taliban took power.
Generally speaking, ISKP/ISPP are briefly mentioning China in their official propaganda outlets in order to discredit the Taliban and Pakistan. So, it is not an attack to China per se, but it is an additional reason to criticise them. These mentions are extremely brief and are not limited to China, but often include a longer list of countries with which Pakistan and the Taliban have relations (India, Iran, Russia, China, US, etc).
However, at an unofficial level, in both pro-ISKP and pro-ISPP unofficial channels, we see many supporters criticising China-Taliban relations in greater detail. I think this is more related to the fact that while ISKP/ISPP leadership wants to keep the focus primarily on the Taliban, US and Pak, supporters are “freer” to express their hatred for China. And I see anti-China comments from unofficial channels more often than any other country, except Pakistan and the US of course.
So, while I don't see from official propaganda any sign of an increase in anti-China propaganda, I see potential within the ranks of supporters and militants as they frequently address the issue of China-Taliban relations. And, since the Taliban took Kabul, anti-China propaganda has increased.
You can read more about it in his Militant Wire article on the new pro-Islamic State Pakistan Province magazine:
Turkistan Islamic Party
• The early news of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan and its eventual progression to become a global pandemic is a distinctly identifiable period in terms of the history of anti-China Islamist propaganda and sentiment. Researcher Daniele Garofalo published an excellent study titled “The Propaganda of Jihadist Groups in the Era of Covid-19.” Garofalo’s findings indicate that the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) was one of the first groups to capitalize on the issue for propaganda purposes. In February 2020, the TIP, through its official Islam Awazi media organ, released “The Perspective of the Mujahedeen Regarding the Corona Outbreak in China.” The production’s narrator claimed the outbreak in Wuhan was a direct “punishment from Allah” for China’s harsh oppression of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. More specifically, he claimed that China “destroyed mosques and turned them into places of dancing, vice and insolence, they trampled on the Koran and burned them, transgressed honour and raped women […] God’s vengeance came against these criminals and sent them the deadly coronavirus […] the whole world knows that what happened in China, is simply part of God’s punishment.”
• After reading the paper (again), I decided to ask Daniele for his take on why the Turkistan Islamic Party decided to move so quickly to exploit the issue using propaganda.
To which he replied:
The TIP was the first, in my opinion, because when the Covid epidemic broke out, it initially only affected China and was thought to be a Chinese-only 'problem'. Although the TIP operationally is in Afghanistan and Syria, its ultimate goal is to create an Islamic emirate in Xinjiang, and the Covid outbreak in China was extraordinarily useful to their anti-Chinese propaganda.
• Since the Taliban took Kabul, the Turkistan Islamic Party has been cautious to avoid attracting any unnecessary attention that may potentially hinder their hosts and allies in Afghanistan. Thus, they have refrained from posting visual materials showing their fighters present on Afghan soil but have continued to regularly post propaganda content from Syria. In November, the TIP shared two instructional weapons training videos, with the latest being released last Wednesday. At a shooting range somewhere in Syria, the gunman provides demonstrations on proper technique and gives tips on shooting. Interestingly, the videos are focused on how to use a weapon with one arm in the event of an injury to the other.
• On December 5th, the Taliban’s Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi met with Chinese Ambassador to Afghanistan Wang Yu. Taliban Spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi stated that “the meeting focused on bilateral relations … joint trade & particularly export of Afghan pine nuts to China.” He added how “in response to request H.E. Muttaqi, the Chinese Ambassador pledged to facilitate necessary visa services for Afghan traders.” The two sides reportedly also discussed humanitarian aid, economic development, and the provision of technical education to Afghan students.
Senegal Requests Chinese to Intervention in Sahel Anti-Jihadist Operations
• During last week’s China-Africa Summit, Senegal's Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall expressed his hopes that Beijing will provide support against jihadi insurgents in the Sahel. Sall said she looks for China to be a “strong voice” in the fight against terrorism in the region. The report notes that China is Africa’s largest trading partner and, according to the Chinese embassy in Dakar, did over $200 billion in direct trade with the continent in 2019.
• On November 11th, the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) separatist group claimed two attacks on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). They said the first attack was conducted against a security check post guarding a CPEC route which killed one and injured two others. They claim their second operation killed one and injured another.
• On December 3rd, the BRA took responsibility for another attack against a CPEC checkpoint, alleging two security personnel were killed and several others injured.
• In the past month, there have been two major attacks on Chinese nationals working in the mining sector. On November 21, gunmen killed a policeman, wounding another, and kidnapped five Chinese mineworkers, and, on November 25th, an army spokesman of the DRC reported that two Chinese nationals were killed and eight others kidnapped after a militia raided a mining camp in the country’s east. Beijing strongly urged the DRC to find a way to free the captives, and the Chinese embassy directed its nationals to evacuate immediately from three provinces of the DRC. Additionally, top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi met with DRC President Denis Sassou Nguesso on December 5th to discuss a number of issues, presumably including the security environment and attacks on Chinese nationals in the country.