International

China plays down differences with Pakistan over terror

A man looks at the damaged restaurant, which was attacked last Sunday in Kashgar in China's far-western Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011.   | Photo Credit: David Wivell

China on Wednesday sought to play down reports of differences with Pakistan in the wake of recent violence in Xinjiang, announcing it planned to step up anti-terrorism cooperation with the country.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry in a statement also praised Pakistan’s efforts in combating terrorism, two days after the regional government in Xinjiang blamed a group of extremists, reportedly trained in terror camps in Pakistan, for attacks in Kashgar over the weekend that left more than 20 people dead.

Without directly referring to the weekend’s attacks, spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu said the two countries had “forged excellent cooperation in anti-terrorism”, and would work together to “jointly crack down [on] the ‘three evil forces’ of terrorism, separatism and extremism.”

Mr. Ma said Pakistan was “an important frontline” in the international fight against terrorism.

The Foreign Ministry’s statement came a day after Chinese analysts and the State media here took the unusual step of pointing the finger at camps located in “all-weather” strategic ally Pakistan for the attacks

in Kashgar. Monday’s statement from authorities in Xinjiang, analysts said, marked the first instance of China directly blaming terrorists trained in camps in Pakistan following an attack on Chinese soil.

Following the attacks, five suspects have been shot dead by Chinese police, while at least four others have been taken into custody.

Chinese authorities have said some of the attackers had trained in reported camps of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Reports in the Chinese media said they were all from the Uighur ethnic group and were believed to be residents of Kashgar.

Officials in the Xinjiang regional government would not comment on what ties the suspects had to ETIM outfits, and whether or not they had travelled to Pakistan.

An official said investigations were still underway, but the authorities were treating Sunday's violence as a terrorism case. A team from the national counterterrorism centre had been dispatched to Kashgar, and was handling the investigation.

Kashgar, an ancient Silk Road city on Xinjiang’s western edge, lies close to China’s border with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

The region has seen ethnic tensions between Uighurs and Han Chinese, China’s majority ethnic group, who have migrated to Xinjiang in increasing numbers.

In July 2009, riots in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, left at least 197 people killed, and subsequently triggered protests in Kashgar.

While many locals have blamed disparities for the ethnic discord, the Chinese government says overseas separatist groups have also fanned the flames of unrest and instigated violence.

Last year, Chinese officials said an increasing number of ETIM members, who Beijing blamed for organising the Urumqi riots, were "fleeing to Pakistan and settling down there for future plots”, with several senior ETIM members “hiding in Pakistan”.

Reports in the official media here said Chinese officials also believed the ETIM had been “in close collaboration with the Taliban”, with a “Chinese battalion” of 320 ETIM members joining hands with Taliban forces.

Unconfirmed reports in the Pakistani media said ISI chief Lieutenant General Shuja Pasha was in Beijing this week on "a secret visit", triggering speculation that he was here to address Chinese concerns over the attacks in Xinjiang.

Chinese analysts The Hindu spoke to this week said the two countries would certainly discuss boosting counterterrorism, a "priority area" for the relationship, following the attacks.

They did, however, downplay suggestions of any strains in the relationship between the "all-weather" allies, stressing that China understood Pakistan's challenges in combating terror and the two sides enjoyed "good communication" over the issue.


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