China's envoy to UN urges Taliban to take action amid terrorism threat

·3 min read

China is facing a heightened threat from terrorism, its top envoy to the United Nations said, after a UN report that members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement had called for jihad, or holy war, in Xinjiang.

Speaking at a UN meeting on Wednesday, ambassador Zhang Jun also urged the Taliban government in Afghanistan to take further action to combat terrorism.

"In Afghanistan, the withdrawal of foreign troops has created a vacuum in the security situation, providing an opportunity for terrorist forces to take advantage of the chaos," Zhang said at the meeting on threats to international security from terrorism.

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"Any passivity and negligence on counterterrorism, any tolerance of terrorism ... and the use of terrorist forces for geopolitical gains are a betrayal of the victims of terrorism and will have serious consequences," he said, according to the official China News Service.

Beijing is concerned about the Taliban's historic ties to Uygur militants, particularly ETIM, also known as the Turkestan Islamic Party - a Uygur separatist group that Beijing partly blames for ethnic tensions in its far western Xinjiang region.

Weeks after US forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Chinese state tabloid Global Times that many ETIM members had left the country.

But the UN Security Council said in a report last week that 200 to 700 ETIM fighters had remained in Afghanistan. It said they had been relocated from their traditional stronghold in Badakhshan province, on the border with China, to Baghlan, Takhar and other provinces as part of the Taliban's efforts to both protect and restrain the group.

The group remained "active in military training and in planning terrorist attacks against Chinese interests", according to the report. It said members had been encouraged to strengthen their ties to Afghanistan by becoming refugees or Afghan citizens "as a means of more deeply entrenching the group in the country".

Some members had frequently visited the Wakhan Corridor "calling for a return to Xinjiang for jihad", the report said, adding that the group was now working with other jihadist groups "to plan attacks on Chinese interests" in China's neighouring countries, including Pakistan and Tajikistan.

On Wednesday, Zhang called for more efforts to address the threat posed by ETIM and "to cut off its links with Islamic State, eliminating the space in which it breeds".

The UN estimates that 1,000 to 3,000 Uygur militants are fighting for Isis in Syria, where they have cooperated with local jihadist groups to recruit and train foreign fighters as well as the children of ETIM members, according to the report. It warned that Isis had sought to recruit fighters "under the leadership of a Uygur team, in an attempt to expand the organisation and support the group's cause".

China has long been wary that the Wakhan Corridor - a narrow, inhospitable and barely accessible strip of land between China, Afghanistan and Tajikistan - could become a conduit for Uygur militancy in Xinjiang. Concerns that extremism and terrorism in Afghanistan and Central Asia could spill over into Xinjiang and threaten its investments in the region have grown since the Taliban seized power in August.

Regional security cooperation was among the areas discussed when Chinese President Xi Jinping met Central Asian leaders in Beijing last week. He told Tajik President Emomali Rahmon that China was "willing to work with Central Asian countries to strengthen counterterrorism cooperation to jointly tackle security challenges".

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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