Beijing is keen to play down terror concerns in the light of its ‘all-weather’ ties with Islamabad
China does not see the rising threats from terror groups as derailing its new “economic corridor” plan linking the troubled western Xinjiang region with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), officials told The Hindu on Monday.
Both countries are planning to accelerate development of the project when Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain arrives here on a three-day visit, starting Tuesday.
The economic corridor, which envisages expanding road links, building railway lines and installing energy pipelines linking Xinjiang with the Gwadar port in Pakistan, was flagged as a priority project by both countries last year.
However, its feasibility has remained a matter of debate. Some Chinese companies have voiced concern about stability and security in Pakistan, while violent attacks in southern Xinjiang, located next to the PoK border, have been blamed by local officials on terror outfits with links to Pakistan-based groups.
Only on Friday, 11 people were killed in Aksu, on an attack blamed by Xinjiang police officials on “extremists”. State media said, after the incident, “overseas separatism forces” had intended to “penetrate” into the southern Xinjiang regions of Kashgar, Hotan and Aksu.
Many local Uighurs and rights groups have, however, accused the government of playing up the terror threat to clamp down on dissent.
Following attacks in Hotan in 2011, Xinjiang’s Governor Nur Bekri said his government had discovered that members of the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and “terrorists in our neighbouring states have a thousand and one links”.
Xinjiang officials had also blamed knife and bomb attacks in Hotan on groups with links to Pakistan-based outfits. But Beijing has appeared keen to play down terror concerns in light of its “all-weather” ties with Islamabad.
Responding to questions from The Hindu, officials on Monday claimed that Xinjiang officials had “never” linked Pakistan-based groups to terror attacks, although Mr. Bekri, the Governor, had specifically done so two years ago.
“We have never heard of similar statements from officials in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China,” the Foreign Ministry said.
“China is a victim of terrorism. Some regions, including Xinjiang, are facing a threat from ‘East Turkestan’ terrorist forces as represented by ETIM. The terrorist activities are not only a severe threat to the national security of China, but also a severe threat to the peace and stability of relevant countries and regions.”
The government said the ETIM was “increasing its usage of the Internet to incite and spread terrorist extreme thoughts” and was looking “to increase collusion with international terrorist forces”.
The Ministry, however, did not directly respond to a question on whether China would discuss the terror problem with Pakistan during Mr. Hussain’s visit, only saying both sides would exchange “in-depth views” in “various fields”.
It said China had “good cooperation with countries like Pakistan” in fighting the ETIM, and had “appreciated” and supported Pakistan’s implementation of anti-terror strategies “according to its own national conditions”.
The Ministry said it believed the economic corridor plan would have a “far-reaching” impact on the region.
Officials said the second meeting of the corridor’s joint cooperation committee will be held this week, to follow up on three working groups that discussed energy links, transportation infrastructure and comprehensive planning projects.