China Policy Institute: Analysis



Yuepao apps and casual sex culture

Written by Haiqing Yu.

“Every technological innovation creates deviant as well as respectable possibilities.” So opens an essay written by Charles Edgley and Kenneth Kiser in 1982. The invention of instant photography represented by the Polaroid Camera facilitated homemade pornography, known in its day as “Polaroid sex.” Polaroid sex allowed young women, who were identified as “bad girls”, to pose for “naughty” pictures and engage in more egalitarian sexual pursuits. It also facilitated casual and commercial sexual relationships among strangers. Fast forward to China in 2016, where the availability and immense popularity of social media services and mobile phone apps has rendered casual sex “mobile,” on-the-go, and at one’s finger tips. They have enabled all kinds of young adults to explore their sexuality, set new trends, and pose new questions about the linkage between technology and sex, “deviance” and respectability. Continue reading “Yuepao apps and casual sex culture”

Attitudes to sex and hook-up culture in China

Written by Jue Ren.

Kris Wu, a Chinese-Canadian pop star, was recently exposed by female fans who accused him of infidelity. Contrary to the scandal involving Hong Kong-Canadian pop star Edison Chen in 2008, when intimate images of Chen and his numerous partners were leaked, Wu’s female partners were responsible for going public rather than having images posted online without their consent and subsequently suffered a ‘slut shaming’ backlash. The difference illustrates how attitudes toward sex have changed in the last eight years.

The Chen scandal was the first time dating culture among Chinese celebrities was exposed to the public. Intimate photos of Chen with various women, including a number of actresses from Hong Kong, were illegally distributed via the Internet. Although both Chen and his female partners were affected, the women had trouble convincing the public that they were also victims of having their sex lives maliciously exposed online. The scandal broke during Chinese New Year, which made it a main topic of conversation among families and friends who were meeting for the festivities. Many of the Millennial (九零後) students that I taught at Shantou University in 2014 clearly remembered discussions during that holiday gathering. For some of them it was the first “sex education” they received.

Continue reading “Attitudes to sex and hook-up culture in China”

Precious Little Space for Uyghur or Tibetan Grievances.

Written by Elliot Sperling.

It’s already been many years since anyone seriously asserted that continuing political liberalization would be the certain result of economic growth in post-Mao China. One might propose, however, that we are seeing something somewhat opposite: as economic indicators turn downward the post-1989 idea that if left to its authoritarian ways the CCP will continue to deliver economic progress and better lives is no longer taken for granted. In this environment, the lashing out at scapegoats and the tightening of the space available for dissident speech and action in the PRC is unquestioned. The indications are so numerous as to make any doubts risible: human rights lawyers arrested, Hong Kong booksellers abducted, and on, and on, and on.

If this sort of reaction is now familiar, it has long been evident in the way the most aggrieved of China’s “minority nationalities” (or, if one wishes to use the newer mandated terminology, “ethnic groups,” the status to which they’ve been rhetorically relegated, lest someone take the term “nationalities” too seriously) have been treated. The troublesome incorporation of Uyghurs and Tibetans into the PRC has been particularly fraught since the inception of the PRC, essentially as a result of the late-19th-early-20th centuries’ structuring of Chinese identity in such a way that Uyghurs, Tibetans and Mongols have come to be viewed as indisputably Chinese (rather than subjects of China). Thus, their centrifugal impulses—real or perceived—invariably seem threatening to a regime for which the unification and of China has, since 1949, been infused with legitimating significance.

In this environment dissent and grievances from Uyghurs and Tibetans are not seen simply as expressions of discontents that might be redressed. They are, rather, threats to the stability of the regime and the nation. And these grievances are very substantive: demographic marginalisation; internal travel restrictions (for Tibetans); blatant discrimination in employment and other areas; harsh restrictions and monitoring of religious and social practices; and even (particularly with Uyghurs) restrictions on clothing and grooming. This is not to mention the particularly severe nature of political imprisonment visited on Uyghur and Tibetan dissidents. Given all this, it would be surprising if there weren’t widespread resentment of the Chinese state. But the official response is not to ask what policies and conditions are behind the discontents being expressed. It is to ask who is doing this to China; who is behind it all. It is to demand scapegoats. This ought to seem reasonably clear when recourse is made within China proper to the plotting of foreign anti-China forces. Uyghur and Tibetan protests and dissent are respectively and reflexively ascribed to Islamic terrorism and the machinations of the Dalai Lama and his clique. The former claim, regarding the Uyghurs, may yet become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For over two years one of the most prominent Uyghur intellectuals, Ilham Tohti, has been in prison (now under a life sentence) for voicing Uyghur grievances and publicising violations of their basic human rights. Almost uniquely moderate (he does not advocate independence), his persecution and imprisonment exemplifies how China feeds and bolsters extremism: by sweeping up moderates who work and speak openly, it leaves only extremists, who by necessity are below the radar, to speak to the grievances that afflict large numbers of Uyghurs.

Inside Tibet the use of the Dalai Lama as a scapegoat has a history of decades and has had no success (except, perhaps, in increasing veneration of and allegiance to him on the part of the Tibetan population). The greater visibility of the Tibet issue has generated a greater degree of attention to Tibet as an international issue impacting China’s image than has been the case with the Uyghurs and a greater amount of ink in official publications and pronouncements has been given over to vehemently asserting the correctness of China’s policies and actions in Tibet. But in spite of the repeated rhetoric about the Dalai Lama plotting to split China, his stand against Tibet’s independence is known to a number of those who deal with the Tibet issue inside Chinese officialdom. Similarly, Ilham Tohti’s rejection of independence for the Uyghurs is also not unknown.

The Uyghur opposition outside China has advocated self-determination as a goal (and it would be the height of political cynicism—as far as both Uyghurs and Tibetans are concerned—to assert that, given what has been done to them since 1949-1950, they should have no voice in their future), while the Tibetan exiles, whose political base is in Dharamsala, India, have been following a chimerical China, based on the Dalai Lama’s assessments, and offering compromise after compromise.

Expectations of any sort of Chinese accommodation with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exile community (whose discontents with China are shared with large segments of the Tibetan population inside Tibet) have been misplaced since the 1990s. The authorities in China are effectively counting on the Dalai Lama’s death to end the Tibet issue. They’re now confident that this end is near and remain certain that there is no further need to deal with him. The exile authorities (under the Dalai Lama’s tacit leadership; he has ostensibly relinquished political leadership, though his name is invoked by exile politicians with authority and none seem willing to treat him as less than infallible) have fecklessly made repeated concessions while China has retained its position. In the upcoming exile leadership elections, the two remaining candidates have been speaking disproportionately about welfare and other issues pertinent to exile life and have had few words for addressing the dead end into which their fantasy image of China has led them.

The various negotiations that have engaged Chinese representatives and exile delegates have come to a halt and there is little to indicate that this will change. Since the 1990s China used the talks as busywork for the Tibetan exiles: something to keep them otherwise diverted while China waited for the demise of the Dalai Lama. And the exile side accommodated this, periodically asserting that their chimera was real. Now, more powerful than ever, China sees no need to budge. Indeed, it constantly pushes back and now lobbies (with growing success) to prevent high-level visits and meetings between the Dalai Lama and foreign leaders.

Professor Elliot Sperling is an Associate Professor of Central Eurasian Studies and  the history of Tibet and Tibetan-Chinese relations at Indiana University. Image credit: CC by Bob Witlox/Flickr.

The “Terror” Angle in China’s Domestic “Stability Maintenance.”

Written by Tom Cliff.

The foremost aim of Chinese authorities’ “Uyghur terror-threat” mobilisation outside Xinjiang is stability among the Han majority. Initially confined to Xinjiang, China has significantly expanded “anti-terror” mobilisation across the country. Urban police forces are rapidly being augmented with paramilitary units, and equipment including armoured cars and semi-automatic weapons. The Chinese authorities employ a discourse of “anti-terror” to justify the militarisation of the streets in Han-majority regions. Taking such assertions at face value is, I believe, problematic. There are, in my view, much better explanations for such mobilisation at this time.

At the very least, such displays of force are used to back up state claims that they are “striking hard at terror” in defence of the Chinese civilian population, and to make that same population feel at once grateful and uneasy. The discourse of Uyghur instability has spread beyond Xinjiang not least because the need for a discourse of Uyghur instability has spread beyond Xinjiang.

That is, this is not simply about preventing terror attacks on Han civilians—it is primarily about rapidly or even pre-emptively “harmonising” potentially unstable elements of the Han population itself. People feel less uncomfortable when they are told that the police on the streets are there to protect them from dangerous “others,” rather than to protect the state from them or other Han. All forms of traditional and non-traditional media pound home this message within China.


IMAGE: CCTV frame of black-hooded Uyghurs

The chilling image of black-hooded Uyghurs being repatriated to China from Thailand in July 2015 is a case in point. The image was first broadcast China-wide on prime-time television, and quickly went global. Unverified reports of imprisonment and torture followed just days afterwards. China’s official media responded immediately with a flurry of stories apparently showing that the repatriated Uyghurs were remorseful about being led astray (by outside separatist forces and Islamic extremists), but otherwise living happy lives back in Xinjiang. This was in turn met by predictable international scepticism. From the perspective of the Chinese government, however, what outside observers like the Western world and media think about what happened to these Uyghurs after they were repatriated is, at best, of only secondary importance.

In terms of political aesthetics, “illegal emigrants” returning home in black hoods is a sinister form of shanzhai (copycat product, like a fake Prada bag) through its very clear association with Guantanamo Bay and the US war on terror. These aesthetics help to deliver a clear statement to people inside China that their own domestic war on terror has not only spread beyond Xinjiang, it has spread beyond the borders of the nation-state.

This nationwide threat alert began with the Urumqi riots of 2009, but it has really taken hold since the middle of 2014. By that time, violent incidents in Xinjiang were becoming commonplace, and there had been two high-profile violent protests by Uyghurs outside of Xinjiang. Moreover, increasing numbers of Uyghurs were attempting to flee China through the South, or simply find work outside of Xinjiang, raising their visibility in Han-majority regions.

Uyghur “terrorism” provides a ready-made frame for securitisation. In Xinjiang this has long been the case, but the nationwide expansion of this frame now justifies displays of state power that are also, even primarily, intended to warn off Han people. Among the most protest-active Han groups are rural migrant labourers, pensioners, and laid-off workers who have been underpaid what they feel they are owed.

Guangdong hosts the most migrant workers of any province in China, and these workers have taken their calls for social justice to the streets more often, and more successfully, than workers anywhere else in China. The economy of Dongguan city, in Guangdong, shrank by 10% in 2014, so officials stopped taking statistics altogether in 2015. A colleague’s extensive interviews with migrant workers in the province revealed that they are only working four days per week and are permitted to take leave (without pay) whenever they want. Alongside—and conceptually connected to—this piece of economic news, the workers proffered the information that they try to avoid contact with Uyghur people. Uyghurs are “very dangerous,” they asserted.

Heilongjiang province has a high proportion of pensioners and laid-off workers, and has been a site of continual social unrest since the early 2000s. Most ordinary people’s economic situation has become significantly worse since the beginning of 2013. The plunge in demand and the price of coal, in particular, has driven one of the north-eastern region’s major industries to the wall, and their workers home “to rest” – or onto the streets. Popular discontent is on the rise, and that has already begun to manifest in actual protest. Under these conditions, I do not think it is coincidental that the “Uyghur terror threat” is being given such prominence in the media and official statements.

The media barrage has had a marked effect on public discourse in Heilongjiang. A foreign visitor to the region in mid-2015 was warned: “There are lots of police around. Security is tight.” The taxi driver told the foreign visitor to be careful and to carry their passport at all times so as not to be mistaken for one of the Uyghurs that the newspaper had reported were “on their way here.” A few days later, a local businessman explained the heightened tension in society by saying, “Uyghurs…are not happy with the central government and they want to make trouble. Be very careful.” Driving around, the visitor encountered checkpoints in the most remote locations. But that visitor did not see, or even hear confirmation of, a single Uyghur in the region.

In the last days before Beijing was closed for the military parade in early September 2015, inbound flights were packed with officials who were headed to the capital specifically to do “stability preservation” work. Each prefectural-level city in the Northeast dispatched their mayor or vice-mayor, high-level internal security personnel, and the leaders of key state enterprises—a significant proportion of the region’s governing elite. But it was not Uyghurs who were threatening to be unstable, despite the rumours flying around the Northeast. Asked why so many officials had to personally go to Beijing for the period of the military review, one official confided that “each has to look after their own children.” Those potentially disruptive “children” were Han people from the enterprises and administrative areas that those officials were responsible for.

With armoured police patrols becoming normalised across urban China, Han people who are considering “making a fuss” to draw attention to their own cause will think again, and are likely to think better of it. If facing down “stability preservation” is difficult and dangerous, encountering an “anti-terror” response is often fatal.

Dr Tom Cliff is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Culture, History and Language at the Australian National University. Tom’s book, Oil and Water: Being Han in Xinjiang, will be published by The University of Chicago Press in early 2016. Image credit: CC by Dennis Jarvis/Flickr.

The Current Status of Ethnic Policy in China

Written by Wenshan Jia.

This post discusses China’s Ethnic Policy since the 18th Party Congress. Analysis of literature on evolving theoretical and policy discourses on ethnic relations in China between the founding of PRC in 1949 and the 18th Congress in 2012 reveal the following:

The so-called “first generation” of ethnic policy discourse represented by scholars such as Hao Shiyuan, can be most accurately described as a Stalinist-Maoist model of political-economic empowerment for minority nationalities and their regions. This model begins to reveal its limitations and inadequacies, such as excessively materialistic reinforcement of the sense of uniqueness (and thus separateness) of the ethnic minorities with scant cultivation of their sense of national identification in the contexts of the emerging market conditions of contemporary China, the global rise of China, and globalization in general.

The model has subsequently been challenged by a group of Chinese scholars including Ma Rong, Hu Angang, Hu Lianhe, who have created an alternative “second-generation” model that proposes ethnic blending, the removal of ethnic area autonomy, the reduction of minority nationality-based privileges, and the thinning of ethnic consciousness in order to reinforce the ethnic minorities’ identification with the Chinese nation-state.

However, neither model alone can maintain a dynamic balance between unity and diversity, as illustrated in the unpublished case study of Gannan, an autonomous Tibetan region of Gansu Province, Northwest China by Jia Wenshan and Wei Mengzhi. A dynamic balance between unity and diversity is an essential feature of multiculturalism commonly embraced in today’s international society. It is suggested that a hybrid model resulting from a creative integration of the “first generation” ethnic policy and the “second generation” ethnic policy be adopted in China’s current and future efforts to effectively manage inter-ethnic relations. This hybrid model of ethnic relations, I argue, is more valid and reliable as it is more holistic and capable of addressing a whole range of issues with regard to ethnic relations in China, and indeed elsewhere in the world.

This policy maintains the political autonomy of ethnic minority areas and provides economic equity and empowerment as the “first generation” ethnic policy does. In addition, the hybrid model also embraces the social, cultural and psychological integration of the ethnic minorities into the Chinese nation-state while respecting ethnic diversity.

The fifth generation of Chinese leadership since the 18th Party Congress appears to have adopted such a hybrid model. First, as a sign of political empowerment, national leaders of ethnic minority backgrounds have been promoted to higher and more critical ranks of national government. Nur Bekri, a Uyghur, was appointed Vice-Chairman of China National Commission for Development and Reform and Chief of National Bureau for Energy in December 2014. Yang Jing, an ethnic Mongol, was promoted to the positions of Secretary of the Secretariat of the Communist Party of China, State Councilor, and Secretary General of the State Council in 2014. Bayangqolu, another ethnic Mongol, was promoted to the position of Party Secretary of Jilin Province in 2014. He is currently the only ethnic-minority official serving as a provincial level Party Secretary, a phenomenon which did not exist during the fourth generation of Chinese leadership.

Secondly, according to, between 2011-2013 the central government allocated a total fund of 27.75 billion RMB for 136 border counties (78.7% of which are ethnic minority counties) for infrastructure development, ethnic industries and livelihood programs and achieved a total GDP of 809.7 billion RMB, a 58% increase over that in 2010. Besides the regular financial allocations provided by the Chinese government, the nationwide programme ensured that more economically developed coastal cities, provinces, companies and universities provide special free assistance to ethnic minority areas such as Xinjiang and Tibet. This has been rigorously implemented since 2002, and by 2011 a total amount of 10 billion RMB had been provided to narrow the wealth gap. Since the 18th Party Congress, this program has continued.

Third, the fifth generation of Chinese leadership led by Xi Jinping has been promoting five kinds of identification among ethnic minorities in order to realize the “Chinese dream”. President Xi stated: “We must carry out the Party’s ethnic policy and religious policy, reinforce interethnic unity, and cultivate all ethnic minority members’ identification with the Great Motherland, Chinese Nation, Chinese culture, Chinese Communist Party, and Chinese socialism.” He calls for all ethnic members of China, including Han, to be as united as “seeds of a pomegranate”.

Last but not least, besides being more focussed on unity than their predecessors, the fifth generation of Chinese leadership has been staunchly anti-separatist, particularly with regard to Xinjiang.

While I applaud the adoption of this hybrid model of ethnic relations, I expect further maturation and refinement by accepting these suggestions: To achieve the five kinds of identification is no easy and quick fix. It should not rely upon top-down moral persuasion. Rather, I suggest that more freedom of thought, discussion, and innovation at the grassroots level be afforded so that identification can take root and bear fruit. I also suggest that elite designs be done scientifically. For example, all ethnic minority members could carry a hyphenated identity such as Mongol-Chinese with Mongol as the label for ethnic identity and Chinese as the national identity just like informal conventions in the US. Laws could be passed to use such labels in official documents, media, and formal occasions. Last but not least, the Chinese education system is advised to rethink and redesign its mission to incorporate harmonious interethnic relations as an inseparable part of its mission and thus as a core part of the entire curriculum at all levels of schooling.

Wenshan Jia (Ph.D., University of Massachusetts Amherst) is Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Intercultural/Global Communication, School of Journalism & Communication, & Research Associate, The National Academy of Development & Strategy (NADS), both at Renmin University of China.  Jia is also tenured Professor of Communication & China Studies at Chapman University, California, USA.  He serves on the Board of Directors of the International Academy for Intercultural Research and a standing council member of All China Association for Intercultural Communication . He is the recipient of both the Wang-Fradkin Professorship for 2005-2007, the highest award given by Chapman University for faculty research, and the Early Career Award from the International Academy for Intercultural Research. He served on the National Communication Association’s Task Force of Internationalization and has a publication record of 10 books and more than 60 research articles and book chapters mostly  on intercultural communication and Chinese as well as ethnic relations in China. He is currently working on a book titled Global Communication for an Inclusive World Order with Routledge/NY. Image credit: CC by KittyKaht/Flickr.

Cracks in China’s New Silk Road

Written by Michael Clarke.

Francis Fukuyama recently argued that President Xi Jinping’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) strategy ‘represents a striking departure in Chinese policy’ whereby Beijing is ‘seeking to export its development model to other countries.’ The OBOR’s emphasis on ‘on massive state-led investments in infrastructure’ to facilitate trans-Eurasian economic interconnectivity, he notes, contrasts with the largely neo-liberal development model espoused in the West (and by international institution such as the World Bank and the IMF). For Fukuyama, the OBOR, if successful, will determine ‘the future of global politics’ by transforming ‘the whole of Eurasia from Indonesia to Poland’ and generating ‘immense prestige’ for China’s form of authoritarianism.

Fukuyama briefly notes that ‘there are important reasons to question whether One Belt, One Road will succeed’. Most notably, while China’s infrastructure-led development model has succeeded domestically as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ‘could control the political environment’, Beijing will not have this luxury across broad swathes of Eurasia ‘where instability, conflict and corruption will interfere with Chinese plans.’

What is striking about Fukuyama’s analysis is his failure to acknowledge the fundamentally problematic nature of Beijing’s infrastructure-led development model within China itself. In particular, the practice of the model in Xinjiang and its implications for the non-Han Chinese ethnic groups that inhabit it should give pause for thought. Xinjiang, as Owen Lattimore famously argued in 1947, historically constituted (along with Tibet and Mongolia) the ‘marginal Inner Asian zone’ of Chinese expansion). The region’s geopolitical liminality between the civilizational zones of East, South and Central Asia combined with the ethno-cultural dominance of Turkic and Mongol peoples to ensure only intermittent periods of Chinese control.

With the region’s “peaceful liberation” by the PLA in 1949, however, Beijing sought to negate such qualities that had oriented the region away from China-based states through encouragement of Han settlement and extension of the institutions of state power and control (e.g. the bingtuan) into the region. After the return of Deng Xiaoping and the launch of ‘reform and opening’ Beijing fundamentally transformed its approach to managing Xinjiang’s liminal qualities. From the 1980s onward, the approach has been defined by an attempt to turn Xinjiang’s geopolitical position to China’s advantage through instituting a “double opening” strategy to simultaneously integrate the region with China proper in economic terms and to establish security and cooperation with China’s Central Asian neighbours.

The core assumption has been that the delivery of economic development and modernization will ultimately “buy” the loyalty of such ethnic groups as the Uyghur – a strategy that was intensified with the institution of the Great Western Development campaign (GWD) in 2000. Under the GWD the region was envisaged as becoming an industrial and agricultural base for the national economy and a trade and energy corridor linking China to the energy and resource states of Central Asia and the Middle East.

This has been amplified with the OBOR. Indeed, the State Council’s National Reform and Development Commission’s (NDRC) March 2015 policy document on building the ‘belt and road’ explicitly identifies Xinjiang’s ‘geographic advantages and its role as a window of westward opening-up’ as key to the success of the OBOR.

While this approach has delivered economic development to Xinjiang it has not alleviated the underlying causes of Uyghur (and other ethnic minority) disaffection with rule from Beijing. Using state-led development to pacify restless frontier regions is not only not unique to China but has also proven to be ineffective in either quelling dissent or assimilating minority groups. Frequently it has had the reverse result of aggravating already discontented populations and such negative results are predictable when the development efforts do not take into consideration local people’s attachment to their historical homelands, to their cultural traditions (including religion), and to their language.

In Xinjiang it has been a long standing grievance of Uyghurs that their cultural traditions and language have not been adequately protected. This has only been compounded over the past three decades by a perception of widening inter-ethnic socio-economic inequality between Uyghurs and the Han Chinese majority and the often harsh repression of Uyghur religious practice.

A further disjuncture between the theory and reality behind the OBOR is to be found through an examination of the ‘new Silk Road’ narrative itself. The narrative that Beijing has constructed around initiatives such as the OBOR purposefully envisage these new ‘Silk Roads’ as establishing ‘a regulated, structural interconnectivity between Eurasian states’ with China at the centre due to ‘its location, economic clout, insatiable thirst for energy, and increasing geopolitical leverage.’

Yet, the core challenge for Beijing is that such transnational connectivity, while holding the potential to enhance China’s influence across its Eurasian frontiers, is also likely to create opportunities for the transmission of unregulated currents antithetical to its core goal of integrating Xinjiang. Moreover, the manner in which Beijing may choose to respond to such challenges may result in unforeseen consequences for its foreign policy.

Two issues loom particularly large here: Uyghur terrorism and its connections to radical Islamism in Central and South Asia and the Middle East.

Chinese authorities have long claimed that Uyghur separatism and opposition has been inspired and supported from external sources with, for instance, Beijing directing such charges during the Cold War at the largely secular Uyghur nationalist exiles based in Turkey and the Soviet Central Asian republics. The 9/11 attacks and the US-led ‘War on Terror’ however fundamentally changed this narrative with Beijing inevitably linking violence or unrest in Xinjiang to regional and transnational terrorist organizations  based in Afghanistan, such as Al Qaeda.

In Afghanistan, it has been clear since the early 2000s that a small number of Uyghurs have been aligned with the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) along the Af-Pak frontier. Beijing has generally sought to utilise its close relationship with Pakistan and a pragmatic approach to the Taliban (including encouraging a political settlement between Kabul and the group) to prevent the potential spill-over of Islamic radicalism into Xinjiang.

With the rise of Islamic State (IS) and the crises in Syria and Iraq since 2012, China has claimed that hundreds of Uyghurs have travelled to Syria, often via people smuggling networks via South East Asia and Turkey, to fight with various anti-Assad groups. More recently it has been reported that the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), a group China has blamed in the recent past for attacks in Xinjiang, has a battlefield presence in Syria and is aligned with Al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al Nusra.

China has seized on such linkages as proof not only that Uyghur terrorism is “spiritually supported and commanded by foreign terrorist organizations,” but also to firmly embed counter-terrorism as a pre-eminent national security priority. Indeed, China’s concerns about terrorism in Xinjiang and Uyghur links to conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan played a major role in the creation of China’s first counter-terrorism legislation on 27 December 2015.

The law provides legal basis for the country’s various counter-terrorism organs, including in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and People’s Armed Police (PAP), to identify and suppress individuals or groups deemed to be “terrorists” and requires internet providers and technology companies to provide technical assistance and information, including encryption keys, during counter-terror operations. The law also includes a provision by which the PLA or PAP may seek approval from the Central Military Commission (CMC) to engage in counter-terrorism operations abroad.

Under President Xi two of the CCP’s core interests – the security of the one-party state and “stability” in Xinjiang – have increasingly intersected. The former has received enormous attention through nation-wide wenwei or “stability maintenance” campaigns, while the latter has been addressed through renewed yan da or “Strike Hard” campaigns against manifestations of the “three evils” of “separatism, extremism and terrorism” amongst the Xinjiang’s Uyghur population.

Significantly, some of the key elements of China’s national counter-terrorism strategy, as embodied in the new legislation with its emphasis on a nation-wide, inter-government coordination of counter-terrorism operations and expanded electronic surveillance, (ncluding monitoring of cell phones and internet “firewalls”), have been implemented in Xinjiang for some time.

A major problem for Beijing however is that many of the counter-terrorism policies it has implemented in Xinjiang, and which now appear to be the blueprint for a nation-wide counter-terrorism strategy, have been counter-productive and played a role in stimulating instability in the region. The law’s provision for the PLA or PAP to conduct counter-terrorism operations abroad also holds the potential to embroil Beijing in a range of hotspots around the globe (many of which lay within regions lying astride the OBOR) and tarnish its much-touted principle of “non-intervention”.

The problematic nature of the OBOR, then, lies not only in Beijing’s efforts to construct an alternative vision of world order (as alluded to by Fukuyama) but how that dynamic intersects with ongoing challenges to the party-state in such liminal frontier zones as Xinjiang.

Dr Michael Clarke’s research focus is on the history and politics of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, People’s Republic of China (PRC), Chinese foreign policy in Central Asia, Central Asian geopolitics, and nuclear proliferation and non-proliferation. For the past two years he has also provided advice and testimony to the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission on Chinese policy in Xinjiang and China’s foreign policy in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Image Credit: CC by Martha de Jong-Lantink/Flickr.

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