How Xinjiang Has Transformed China’s Counterterrorism Policies

"The Xi Jinping administration has sought to transform Xinjiang; but has Xinjiang transformed China instead?"

Since ascending to power in November 2012, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chairman Xi Jinping has supported a wide range of directives, regulations and policies in his quest to bring long-term stability to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Of particular importance is the Party-State’s ideological assault and security crackdown on the so-called “three evil forces” of ethnic separatism, religious extremism and violent terrorism. Yet, although foreign analysts are gaining a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Beijing’s hardline security and religious policies in Xinjiang [East Turkestan], it’s also important to consider how the central leadership’s focus on combating the “three evil forces” in the western PRC has consequently shaped elite thinking on how to prevent, manage and respond to threats nationwide.

Building a National Framework to Combat Terrorism

The National Security Commission is playing a prominent new role in the formulation and execution of the central leadership’s overarching national security strategy, policies and legal infrastructure in Xinjiang. Announced during the CCP Third Plenum in November 2013, the Commission places “a highly empowered group of security experts” at Chairman Xi Jinping’s disposal to “work the levers of the country’s vast security apparatus.” It leads and coordinates efforts among various domestic, intelligence and foreign-affairs organs to more effectively respond to critical security and counterterrorism challenges. “The maintenance of internal cohesion and stability is the indispensable core of Chinese national security,” argues political scientist David Lampton. To thwart internal or external acts of subversion in the name of stability maintenance and perpetuation of regime longevity, the state “requires a broadly conceived central foreign and security policy coordination mechanism of increasing sophistication, a mechanism that can provide top leaders with options, help establish priorities, evaluate costs and gains, and enforce implementation on a fractious bureaucracy and society.” Given an official reemphasis on “maintaining social stability and an enduring peace” over all else—including economic development—in the XUAR, the Commission’s ability to manage and mitigate the effects of ethnoreligious tensions and unrest will serve as a litmus test for its effectiveness.

Following a deadly market bombing in Urumqi that left forty-three dead and ninety-four injured, China launched a national counterterrorism campaign on May 25, 2014. Vice Public Security Minister Yang Huanning stated that while Xinjiang is the “main battlefield” in the fight against terrorism, security personnel should view “the entire country as one chessboard.” Authorities consequently began to establish counterterrorism working groups at the national, provincial/regional, local and district levels. China already cooperates internationally through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and other bodies. By creating these vertically and horizontally linked groups, leaders hope to prevent or manage emergencies by enhancing coordination, implementing central directives more effectively, gathering and disseminating timely intelligence to thwart potential attacks, conducting drills and training exercises and responding decisively to attacks through the rapid mobilization and deployment of counterterrorism teams.

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