Five Lessons from
China’s War on Terror
Kunjerab Front Defense Company patrols By m A r t i n i . W A y n e
ethnic minority group—the Uyghurs—and republics, China would have reason enough to
cynically casting the campaign after 9/11 as worry about cross-border problems, yet it claims
part of the war on terror to gain political cover. that it too has suffered from the indigenous
China’s actions in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autono- phenomenon of what it terms “religious extrem-
mous Region are poorly explained by officials, ism, separatism, and terrorism.” Chinese sources
likely because the effectiveness of the campaign claim that over 160 people have been killed and
and its components is poorly understood by 440 injured in more than 200 attacks by forces
the leaders themselves. The actions in Xinjiang seeking to split the Alaska-sized Xinjiang region
ince the end of the Soviet-Afghan are governed by the party-state’s worst fears of from Chinese control.
war, China has been fighting an social unrest removing the final critical pillar Xinjiang, literally “new frontier,” is techni-
increasingly sophisticated cam- upholding the regime: the Chinese people’s cally an autonomous region for the Uyghurs,
paign against violent extremists in belief that the party-state, however ideologically a primarily Turkic Muslim ethnic group that
its northwestern Xinjiang region. China’s “war bankrupt and locally corrupt, is still holding the comprised nearly the entire regional popula-
on terror” there has focused on preempting a country together. tion when Mao and the Communists took over
nascent insurgency before it could militarily In countering Xinjiang’s insurgency, China China in 1949. Today the Uyghurs are officially
challenge the state. While China has kept its acted early, forcefully, and comprehensively and a minority in their own autonomous region
counterinsurgency actions in Xinjiang secret prevented a nascent insurgency from matur- due to decades of Communist-led population
for fear of “internationalizing” the conflict, ing. Chechnya and Kosovo are worst-case movement of Chinese from the east.
Chinese leaders are now seeking to gain scenarios often invoked by Chinese sources,1 Xinjiang’s violence peaked in the late
international acceptance for their counterin- yet Afghanistan and Iraq have now taken over 1990s, with steady small-scale attacks against
surgency campaign as part of the larger war as the unstated but ever-present comparison officials accused of caprice and corruption
on terror. when assessing the threat of insurgency. With at a level similar to the Basque experience.
Critics accuse Beijing of needlessly and borders on both Pakistani and Indian Kashmir, China’s changing use of force in Xinjiang traced
brutally repressing a predominantly Muslim Pakistan, Afghanistan, and several Central Asian through major incidents of unrest is presented
Figure 1. China’s Changing Use of Force in Xinjiang, 1990–2007
BE 1995 2001
RI BR PT LY /1
AP FE SE JU 1996 1997 st
-9 2005 2007
The PLA directly fought against 200 After local officials in Hotan repeatedly Bombings and assassination attempts rocked An estimated 100,000 soldiers moved into
insurgents. Using barbed wire, machine- removed imams, a crowd massed at a Xinjiang. While the party turned to the paramilitary Xinjiang, massing primarily near the southern
guns, and snipers, military forces local government compound to demand Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan to kill Chinese sources reported
reportedly took control of sections of to know the location and condition of to create stability, local police were the primary or capture fighters fleeing the Afghan battle- a PAP raid on a mine being
Kashgar, Xinjiang’s southwestern cultural the most recently arrested imam. “Riot mechanism for stability and consequently the field in order to keep Uyghurs in Xinjiang from used as a training camp.
capital. The PLA engaged insurgents as police,” likely PAP, surrounded the primary targets of violence. Backed by an estimated rising up and to show force to America newly 17 insurgents were killed
they fled into surrounding mountains, compound and reportedly deployed tear 10,000 “troops,” likely PAP, local police arrested 300 operating on China’s doorstep. Spies and and 18 captured. 1 PAP
and police swept through southern gas and beat the crowd until it dispersed. people accused of being separatists or separatist informants reportedly penetrated an increasing official was killed. Impro-
Xinjiang. As many as 3,000 Uyghurs . sympathizers. XPCC units were used to guard number of institutions in society, including vised explosive devices
may have been killed. communications lines against repeated sabotage. greater surveillance of religious gatherings. were seized. The camp
The Public Security Bureau personnel organized was identified through tips
“comprehensive management,” including the provided by locals.
In response to a string of bombings, police reportedly arrested five mobilization of residents street committees—a tactic
Uyghur men. The details of this investigation are unknown. PLA troops that forms neighbors into self-watching organizations.
were positioned at bus and rail stations to guard against attack, and One resident is made neighborhood boss, though all
PLA presence within cities was likely increased. are responsible for group-member’s actions. Xinjiang’s major cities were flooded by PAP
and local police patrols in preparation for
Xinjiang’s 50th anniversary of official “autonomy.”
Arrests of religious students and rumors of executions spiraled When confronted with crowds, these troops were
into violent protests in Yining, which may have been primarily highly disciplined and restrained. While political
perpetrated by security forces upon protestors. The numbers leaders made grand statements about looming
In Yining, an Islamic group had organized a series of traditional of protestors are disputed. Following the uprising, security
Uyghur cultural events in addition to a soccer league. Local terrorist attacks, none materialized.
forces swept through neighborhoods looking for suspects and
XINJIANG UYGUR officials declared the soccer fields would be used for military pressuring residents not to discuss the events. Rioting and
Autonomous Region exercises. When protest arose, paramilitary squads began bombings erupted elsewhere. Guerrilla groups were reportedly
patrolling the streets, blocking key intersections with barbed training in northern Xinjiang. Martial law was declared, curfews
wire and installing snipers atop roofs. Party members distributed imposed, and a PLA rapid response unit was deployed. Political
emergency phone numbers for security forces to locals, likely leaders in Xinjiang announced purges of officials and social
accompanied by other advice and propaganda. leaders. New “loyal” cadres of all ethnicities were brought in,
and renewed emphasis was given to local policing, including
opening or improving stations in localities far removed from
People’s Republic of China major cities.
42 JFQ / issue 47, 4th quarter 2007 n d upress.ndu.edu
in figure 1. Today, because China not only of more radiating out from eastern China whereby the Han should leave Xinjiang to its
employed a mix of security forces but also into the west and from the big cities into the “rightful Uyghur owners”; freedom for reli-
engaged in broad political action, society in countryside. gious practice beyond that sanctioned by the
Xinjiang increasingly if begrudgingly is turning Counterinsurgency requires turning state as not politically threatening; the hope of
away from insurgency as the path forward. societies against the idea that violence can self-determination and perhaps even democ-
From studying the campaign in Xinjiang, achieve political goals. Before analyzing the racy; the goal of Central Asia’s “colored” revo-
including strategy, tactics, and tools, U.S. strategy, tactics, and tools that China employed lutions of the mid 2000s and a hope harbored
military decisionmakers can learn five lessons to varying effect against the insurgents and the in Xinjiang throughout the previous decade;
about the nature of China today and about ideas of insurgency, let us first set the stage by the search for human rights denied by a repres-
crafting more effective counterinsurgency assessing the threat, both potential and actual, sive and brutal regime; and, in some cases, the
policies. of insurgency in Xinjiang. desire to use religious identity as a direct chal-
lenge to state power. With so many grievances
n The response targeted indigenous espoused, searching for one all-encompassing
support for a nascent insurgency with links
while leaders worked to explanation may be fruitless. As counterin-
to the global jihad. While leaders worked to diminish external support surgency scholar David Kilcullen argues, con-
diminish external support for the insurgency, for the insurgency, temporary insurgencies are “complex conflict
they recognized that a counterinsurgency must they recognized that a ecosystems” in which multiple actors, groups,
primarily be locally focused to be effective. counterinsurgency must and ideologies independently pursue their own
n The government acted early, forcefully, agendas without necessarily having a formal or
primarily be locally focused
and comprehensively, employing a new mix of unified organizational structure, or indeed any
security forces and political tools. substantive operational coordination.2
n China crafted a security meaningful Targeting Indigenous Support Insurgency in Xinjiang has been no
to society. Security forces progressively grew While leaders recognized the interna- different from insurgency elsewhere in some
more effective against the insurgency as they tional dimensions of Xinjiang’s insurgency, their respects. While there were many purported
reduced brutality. response focused primarily on the insurgency’s reasons for resistance, perhaps the most impor-
n The government countered the internal components. Since the Soviet-Afghan tant driver of the conflict was state weakness.
insurgency from the bottom up, using deep war began in 1979, China has been effectively The greatest threat for China came as its state
knowledge of local society. Employing society- confronting an indigenous insurgency with institutions were found incapable of responding
centric warfare turned the groupings in society links to the global jihad in its far northwestern adequately. Because the security forces were the
against the insurgents and the idea of insur- Xinjiang region. The government has used only institutions capable of moving effectively
gency itself. political and military tactics, which together within society, brutality was perceived to be the
n China’s priority on stability engendered turned society against the idea of violence only option. Brutality is a recipe for alienating
an effective counterinsurgency in Xinjiang. influencing politics. While political violence, and inflaming society, resulting in strategic
Leadership took the threat seriously. Of neces- including revolts, rebellions, and jihads, has failure. Xinjiang’s governance, social, educa-
sity, the response to instability had to be not rocked Xinjiang throughout history, the latest tional, and religious institutions similarly were
only quick but also complete. unrest flowed directly from the lessons of the deemed to be infiltrated with separatists. These
Soviet-Afghan war, which included the idea key institutions were purged and filled with
Some of these lessons might be uncom- that men with the help of Allah and armed with loyal cadres, an increasing number of which
fortable for decisionmakers because they often AK–47s could defeat a superpower. If the Soviet were and are Uyghurs.
contradict previous views. Nevertheless, this occupiers were expelled from Afghanistan, the Xinjiang’s insurgency is not isolated from
article reflects the perspective of people across struggle elsewhere must also be possible. State developments beyond its borders; indeed, while
China today—especially those in Xinjiang. power no longer seemed so great, and commu- the activities there are carried out by local actors
Simply put, the country is changing due to nism had proven itself bankrupt at governing based on local societal and political circumstances,
internal policies aimed at creating a modern across China. the region fits into the contemporary global
and powerful state. It is also changing inter- In eastern cities, dissent flowed out jihad that has evolved at least since the Soviet-
nally because it is following the example set by from the universities or up from families, Afghan war. Explicitly, concerning Xinjiang’s
the United States and Europe, however slowly neighborhoods, villages, and workforces place in the global jihad, the threat today is
and incompletely. While China’s political swindled by corrupt and capricious local officials. diminished because of an increasingly effective
evolution appears glacial to outside observ- In Xinjiang, dissent gained additional traction counterinsurgency campaign.
ers, a key reason Xinjiang’s insurgency has through the mosques and religious social groups. Al Qaeda was once a group of individuals
been greatly reduced in scope and scale is the Causes espoused in Xinjiang are many: joined by common beliefs and motivated to
positive pull-factor of relative freedom and the search for autonomy promised but never violently press their political views and multiply
increased living standards, with the promise truly delivered; simple ethnic nationalism, their power through instilling fear and awe.
Today it is the vanguard organization of like-
Dr. Martin I. Wayne was a China Security Fellow in the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National minded groups and individuals internationally.3
Defense University. In 2005, Dr. Wayne conducted extensive fieldwork in Xinjiang. He is the author of China’s Moreover, it has become an inspirational base
War on Terrorism: Counterinsurgency, Politics and Internal Security (Routledge, forthcoming). upon which a global jihad can rise. This social
ndupres s.ndu.edu issue 47, 4th quarter 2007 / JFQ 43
FORUM | Five Lessons from China’s War on Terror
movement is likely to shape life for the worse different officials, this variation is more easily Acting early, Forcefully, and
globally for at least a generation and probably explained by “misstatement” than by deliber- Comprehensively
more. Training in Afghanistan and Pakistan, ate recalibration. To date, Western scholars Raw brutality alone is not what has
at first against the Soviets and later in camps at have been unable to account for the majority prevented the insurgency from embroiling and
home and abroad, has provided tactical knowl- of these figures using open-source reporting dissolving China’s control of Xinjiang. Even
edge on weapons, intelligence, surveillance, or fieldwork. The White Paper intended to the most brutal force can achieve ephemeral
reconnaissance, and small group skills. explain China’s terrorism problems and the tactical victories, yet strategic effectiveness is
Two types of training occurred in government’s response did little to reduce the ultimately achieved through political measures
Afghanistan’s camps, terrorist and insurgent. arena’s obscurity for the rest of the world. that deeply reshape society. Scholars looking
This tactical distinction divides the minor- Beyond attack statistics, the potential back through history’s long list of failed coun-
ity of fighters, who honed the skills to blend for insurgency can be discerned through terinsurgencies highlight the need for dealing
into societies either in their home country or at least two other measures: the number of with insurgencies before they take hold and
abroad and prepare methodically for spectacu- fighters receiving training, and the support before society perceives that the forces of order
lar attacks, from the vast majority, who trained in society for insurgency as a viable path might lose.8 China’s early efforts against the
to fight as warriors in irregular battles against forward (or the only path, chosen by appro- nascent insurgency in Xinjiang were military
security forces. bation, fear, or both). China asserts that affairs because no other forces existed which
While formal connections to established over 1,000 Chinese Uyghurs were trained in were seen as capable of responding to the
terrorist organizations (al Qaeda foremost Afghanistan’s camps in the 1990s. Addition- threat.
among them) were important to the first ally, East Turkestan Islamic Movement leader As the insurgency progressed, China
generations of extremists, a rising generation Hasan Mahsum was reportedly killed in a quickly built up forces capable of moving
shows less need for such formality. Today, ter- firefight in northwest Pakistan in December down the spectrum of violence—away from
rorists are increasingly able to wrap themselves of 2003 along with other al Qaeda and mili- military actions in favor of paramilitary and
and their local fights in al Qaeda’s banner tant suspects. According to press reports, then police forces more capable of moving in
without formal institutional links. After suc- China continues to press Pakistan to elimi- society. The government acted forcefully and
cessful attacks, al Qaeda’s leadership can then nate or repatriate Uyghur militants taking found more appropriate and effective levels
take credit—even postmortem. While we refuge across its southern border.5 of force to interact with society. Political tools
struggle for the appropriate vocabulary to While the reliability of this informa- were implemented that fundamentally altered
categorize our current threat, al Qaeda has tion is difficult to assess from open sources, the social environment. Consequently, society
placed itself at the forefront of a global social 22 Chinese Uyghurs were imprisoned at in Xinjiang today is far less receptive to insur-
gency. In short, China drove change in society
through a bottom-up approach.
Xinjiang’s governance, social, educational, and religious At first China responded brutally, using
institutions were deemed to be infiltrated with separatists military force directly against society, suppress-
ing riots and protests with the People’s Libera-
movement building on many local insurgencies Guantanamo, according to the Congressional tion Army (PLA). As the campaign progressed
as well as sympathetic individuals and societies Research Service.6 Of these, five were report- through the 1990s, the People’s Armed Police
abroad. Insurgencies are primarily indigenous edly determined to be there by mistake. After (PAP), the paramilitary Xinjiang Production
affairs, and the contemporary global jihad is lengthy international diplomacy and Chinese and Construction Corps (XPCC), the Public
no exception. Whatever the cause, security condemnation, they were released not to Security Bureau (PSB), and local police were
forces and political leaders often assert external China but to a United Nations refugee camp stood up and became able to assert their pres-
support for their local problems. External con- in Albania. The fear, and not an unreasonable ence not only throughout the region’s cities but
nections are present in nearly every insurgency, one, was that China would likely torture and also in towns and villages. These organizations
but these fights will have no traction or signifi- then execute them if they were repatriated, increasingly recruited Uyghur cadres, though
cance without the support of the local popula- even though reportedly they were abducted by Uyghurs assert that trust, responsibility, and
tion, solicited through approbation or fear. bounty hunters and sold to American forces as promotion to higher ranks have been slowed if
In Xinjiang, insurgency and counter- “terrorists” for the equivalent of $5,000. After not outright prevented because of racist fears
insurgency simultaneously evolved; as the long denying any training in Afghanistan, the and Chinese worries about training future
insurgency changed character, the counter- Albanian five now say they went to a Uyghur insurgents (as in Chechnya and numerous
insurgency adapted. However, the Xinjiang camp outside of Tora Bora because the food was other insurgencies where resistance leaders
counterinsurgency differs from others in that free. They learned to fire an old assault weapon were once members of the security forces).
it evolved along its own trajectory, separated and did not ask questions.7 Ten of the Chinese Chinese sources speak of a “four-in-one
from the influences of the insurgency’s tactical Uyghurs at Guantanamo were deemed to be defense” of Xinjiang: the PLA, PAP, XPCC,
ebb and flow. receiving military training in order to return to and the Chinese people (see figure 2).9 Here
The official statistics for casualties in China and put their new paramilitary insurgent the term Chinese people refers primarily to
Xinjiang between 1990 and 20014 have not been skills to use. The remaining seven were deemed Xinjiang’s growing Han population that moved
amended since 2001. While there are slight fluc- to be hardcore al Qaeda operatives, willing to in from the eastern provinces. When the
tuations in particular numbers when recited by fight wherever the next jihad might take them. Communists took control of China circa 1949,
44 JFQ / issue 47, 4th quarter 2007 n d upress.ndu.edu
ethnic Han represented about 6 percent of the Crafting Meaningful Security separatists and their ideology. While bombings
population in Xinjiang; by 2005, an estimated Security is more than military force can powerfully motivate society against a state
50 percent of the population was Han. In 2005, alone. For a campaign to be more than through fear or approbation, the campaign in
there were roughly 10 million Han in Xinjiang, momentarily tactically effective, the coun- Xinjiang was perceived as heavily weighted
9 million Uyghurs, and a few million of other terinsurgency must both use the least force in favor of political-ideological penetration
predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups of society and grass-roots institutions. If suc-
including Hui, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Mongol, Tajik, cessful, this would effectively have severed
and Uzbek. scholars looking back the state from local society. Feeling itself in a
China’s mix of security forces in Xinjiang through history’s failed precarious situation, China’s military presence
expanded and improved in quality. They grew counterinsurgencies highlight in Xinjiang purged its institutions not only of
more professional and locally knowledgeable, the need for dealing with those suspected of separatism but also of ideas
and the presence of these improved forces considered separatist. Thus, the soft policies in
insurgencies before they
was expanded into more localities, thus giving Xinjiang ranged from coercion through coopta-
prestigious employment to local men in service
take hold tion to genuine incorporation, a project still in
of the state’s project. These tools moved down process.
the spectrum of violence from military through possible to dominate the battlespace and Governance in Xinjiang is achieved at
paramilitary to internal intelligence agencies engage and reshape society into an environ- each level with paired government and party
and finally local police. Together, China’s mix ment inhospitable to the insurgency. Beyond officials where, locals explain, the official with
of security forces grew more capable of dealing building more capable forces, China initiated a overriding weight to make policy will be Han
effectively with society without escalating levels comprehensive campaign to transform society Chinese and the lesser official will be an ethnic
of violence. Security forces are inherently imper- using governance, educational, religious, and minority, primarily Uyghur. For example, at a
fect; brutal excesses occur in even the freest soci- economic tools. university, the president might be a Han and
eties, and Xinjiang’s forces today stand accused As the insurgency escalated and reached the party secretary a Uyghur; a prefecture
of torturing suspects even over petty theft. Stra- its high-water mark in the late 1990s, China would have a Uyghur governor and a Han party
tegically, keeping these excesses to a minimum found its grip on Xinjiang increasingly threat- secretary. The key to knowing who holds the
is a key to preventing escalation from incident to ened, not from raw violence but from the power at each level, locals in and out of leader-
protest to repression to riot or bombing. perceived infiltration of local institutions by ship say, is looking at which post is controlled
by the Han. Though Xinjiang is a deeply and
Figure 2. Xinjiang’s Four-in-One Defense fundamentally racially divided society with
self-perceived discrimination ever-present, the
1. People’s Liberation Army (PLA)—50,000 to 100,000. China’s party-state has been making a concerted effort
military in Xinjiang is of questionable quality and readiness.
Missions include backing the People’s Armed Police if necessary to incorporate “loyal” Uyghurs increasingly into
AIR FORCE NAVY in internal security and border defense missions. the governance structure since the purges of the
1990s. These cadres are largely university edu-
2. People’s Armed Police (PAP)—50,000 to 100,000. Paramilitary
police primarily responsible for internal security and border cated within the region and secularly minded.
defense. Many PAP units were demobilized from the PLA. In Today, Uyghur officials hold power
Xinjiang, the PAP’s most visible units are more professionalized
greater and more genuine than at any time since
than elsewhere in China; PAP troops can be seen marching in units
as small as five men through Xinjiang’s cities. Like the PLA, the the founding of the People’s Republic. Neverthe-
PAP in Xinjiang engages in construction and other activities that less, minority officials fear that if they use this
are not strictly military. power they might overstep and suffer severe
3. Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp (XPCC)— consequences. The actions of minority cadres in
2,453,600 (933,000 workers). Paramilitary farming group
established under Mao to populate Xinjiang, cultivate the land, government and in the party will determine the
and provide a loyal population in case the region was invaded by strategic longevity of China’s hold on Xinjiang;
the Soviet Union, making People’s War necessary. The XPCC ran the greater the power devolved to capable local
prison labor camps.
minority cadres, the more effective the effort
4. Han Residents and Immigrants—9,000,000 to 10,000,000. In 1949, ethnic Hans represented will become. In the wake of the Tiananmen
an estimated 6 percent of Xinjiang’s population; today, Hans likely constitute a solid 50 percent.
era, loyalty to the party-state was relatively easy
to assess: in many cases the individuals later
Unmentioned in China’s Accounting of Xinjiang
Uyghurs in Xinjiang—8,000,000 to 9,000,000. While the last census was in 2000, the
judged to be loyal had remained noticeably
demographic shift in Xinjiang has been pronounced. The year 2005 may be the first time that silent when protests rocked Xinjiang’s universi-
Hans outnumbered Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. ties and government centers.
Public Security Bureau (PSB)—Strength in Xinjiang unknown. The vanguard policing and Education is a primary concern for coun-
domestic intelligence organization, the PSB in Xinjiang is reputed to resort to violence against
terinsurgents, for a society’s view of its history
suspects first and, perhaps, ask questions later. In 2005, China announced the creation of 36
antiterrorism groups in key cities, likely within the PSB. Other prominent PSB missions include and its future is at stake. In Xinjiang, local
counternarcotics, countersubversion (political and religious, including countering nonviolent schools were opened offering education in either
challenges to state power), and acting as antiriot shock troops. The PSB is perceived to have Uyghur or Han (Mandarin) languages, where
penetrated all of Xinjiang’s above-ground social institutions with spies and informers.
educated Uyghurs could find prestigious work
ndupres s.ndu.edu issue 47, 4th quarter 2007 / JFQ 45
FORUM | Five Lessons from China’s War on Terror
teaching Beijing’s lessons in their local languages. staffed nearly completely by Han, and the most forces if a husband, father, or son failed to turn
In China’s perspective, this campaign was materially developed towns have the largest himself in after an incident of unrest.
perceived to be so successful at incorporating percentages of Han. Thus, where population-centric warfare
Uyghurs into the system that in 2004 the use of can be (perhaps mis-)construed as working to
their language in higher education was curtailed Countering Insurgency Bottom-up protect the population from external actors,
in favor of the next step: education primarily in “Responsibility begins at home” might bad apples, or evildoers, a society-centric
Hanyu (the Chinese name for Mandarin, literally be China’s counterterrorism motto if its system approach targets those who act violently, as
the language of the Han). The content of educa- allowed critical investigation and analyses of the well as the idea of violent resistance by creating
tion is similarly controlled by the party-state, campaign and its effectiveness. While the most multiple, often overlapping consequences for
and spies and informants are believed to police recent U.S. counterinsurgency manuals, mili- resistance. In China, the social power structure
classroom compliance. tary and civilian alike, rightly highlight the non- is designed around geographic, familial, and
Religious practice in Xinjiang is far less military aspects of counterinsurgency, China economic groups. While the groupings in every
constrained than is popularly reported by implemented what is here termed society-centric society are different, an approach that focuses
Western media accounts. Mosques abound warfare. Beyond the population-centric on turning the groupings of society against an
and attendance is reportedly unhampered approach advocated in U.S. counterinsurgency insurgency can be implemented broadly.
for normal people. Constraints are placed on doctrine, China’s approach assigned respon- Beyond the military, PLA, and PAP,
individuals in positions of authority because, sibility for working against the insurgency to China increasingly stood up security forces
China argues, nonreligious cadres can repre- all of the groupings in society. Internationally capable of moving within society, before and
sent everyone while those who openly espouse and internally, China holds groups accountable during incidents of unrest. The Public Secu-
particular religions will represent only that for the actions of its members. Through the rity Bureau and local police forces together
religion. The content of religion is similarly Shanghai Cooperation Organization as well as found spies and informers for every occasion.
curtailed: while spirituality may be expressed, bilateral relationships, Beijing pressures Central Schools, mosques, workplaces, and neighbor-
when the content of religion is perceived as Asian countries to control their Uyghur popula- hoods were all perceived to be penetrated,
political, the offending leader or group is pres- tions and prevent them from working against under the state’s watchful eye.
in Xinjiang, using society-
All photos: PLA Daily
centric warfare, every grouping
of society is held accountable
for its rank and file
Left to right: Xinjiang Production and Construction Corporation members on patrol; PLA memorial service
Pervasive surveillance has an exponen-
for policeman killed in raid on terrorist camp in Xinjiang; People’s Armed Police train in Xinjiang; People’s
Armed Police guard train station in Xinjiang tial effect on society beyond the simple collec-
tion of information: reporting to authorities
sured or removed—at times through heavy- its interests. China reportedly has intelligence is additionally driven by individuals afraid of
handed measures. Locals assert that mosques operatives working within these countries, yet being accused of participating or supporting
and other religious settings, like educational primary responsibility rests with the governing illicit activities because they failed to report.
ones, are infiltrated and monitored for political authorities to police their own domain. Furthermore, China’s security forces held
dissent by security forces. In Xinjiang, using this strategy of society- social groups responsible for the actions of
Economic development is, President Hu centric warfare, every grouping of society is their members. Not only were these negative
Jintao asserts, “the key to solving all of China’s held accountable for its rank and file. The tools implemented, but also the positive policy
problems.” Nevertheless, while Xinjiang radi- region’s government, as well as prefectures, vil- tools of governance, education, economic
ates visible material development from city lages, neighborhoods, and families, are respon- development, and religion described above
centers outwards, locals perceive that they are sible for their members. Employers, especially drew society’s support away from the insur-
receiving none of the benefits and are largely those directly controlled by the government, gency and opened a path, however slow and
shut out of the economy due to pervasive must account for their employees. The limited bitter, toward a better future incorporated into
ethnic discrimination. Even though economic opportunities for moving or for obtaining new a new, evolving China.
development is a statistical reality in Xinjiang, employment in Xinjiang throughout the 1990s
its effects on society’s support for insurgency greatly facilitated this strategy. Consequences engendering Counterinsurgency
are inflammatory: Uyghurs perceive this for failing to prevent problems or respond The counterinsurgency in Xinjiang was
development as an increasingly visible sign of appropriately range from stigma and stern enabled by seemingly infinite political will:
Han invading from outside the region to take warnings from the seemingly ever-present the Chinese people demand internal stabil-
local natural resources and jobs. Spot surveys security forces, in uniform or plain clothes, ity and give the regime freedom of action
made while traveling through Xinjiang confirm to loss of employment (to which the entire to remove threats from the periphery. The
this perception. For instance, road construc- family’s housing, health care, and income may Communist Party, concerned primarily with
tion crews in several locations were almost be tied) and perhaps worse. Some families self-preservation of its position atop the one-
entirely composed of Han workers, banks were reportedly have been threatened by security party-state, drives and assists state responses
46 JFQ / issue 47, 4th quarter 2007 n d upress.ndu.edu
to instability on the periphery. The state, this trend more than continued, spiking at Policy, ed. Yong Deng and Fei-Ling Wang (Boulder:
directed by the party, must produce the per- 74,000 “mass incidents” in 200411 and 87,000 Rowman and Littlefield, 2005); Yitzhak Shichor,
ception of stability that the people demand. “social order” crimes in 2005.12 Officials’ “The Great Wall of Steel: Military and Strategy,” in
Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland, ed. S. Fred-
Internal stability is primary among China’s statements and Chinese media reports assert
rick Starr (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2004).
strategic interests because it enables all other that the statistics may have dropped nearly 20 5
For example, see Daily Times (Pakistan),
goals, including prospects for economic percent in 2006, yet this numerical change is “China Demands 20 Insurgents Hiding in Paki-
development.10 likely produced by altered methodology for stan,” March 17, 2007.
The priority on stability facilitated an counting and reporting by officials and the 6
Shirley A. Kan, U.S.-China Counterterrorism
effective counterinsurgency in two ways. media, and not from social changes created Cooperation: Issues for U.S. Policy (Washington,
Firstly, the regional leadership quickly under- by deliberate policy. Furthermore, open DC: Congressional Research Service, updated June
stood that they had to quiet the unrest quickly source data on incidents of unrest13 correlate 27, 2006).
and completely, and that they had the full closely with the spectrum of press access 7
Tim Golden, “Chinese Leave Guantanamo
support of national leaders along with the core across China and may thus reflect access for Albanian Limbo,” The New York Times, June 10,
population silently backing official actions— rather than facts on the ground. 2007.
Bruce Hoffman, “Does Our Counter-Terror-
whatever they might be. Secondly, like peoples Fundamentally, Chinese leaders must
ism Strategy Match the Threat?” Statement before
elsewhere in China, the population of Xinjiang enable and produce substantive changes in
the Committee on International Relations Subcom-
increasingly if grudgingly bought into the idea society before the spell wears off—before the mittee on International Terrorism and Nonprolif-
that stability across China leads to a better older generations’ fears of unrest fade and eration, U.S. House of Representatives, September
future. Acceptance of this vision of Xinjiang new generations rise to maturity, fearless. 29, 2005.
benefiting from increasing incorporation into Threats from the periphery (for example, 9
Xinhua News Agency, “Role of Xinjiang
China undercut passive support for insurgency Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan) are subsiding as Production, Construction Corps Important: White
and drew Uyghurs and Uyghur society into dissent and unrest are beginning to shake the Paper,” May 26, 2003.
active stabilizing roles in governance, business, core in myriad localities. In Xinjiang, China 10
Phillip C. Saunders, China’s Global Activism:
religion, and education. has purchased time with a firm hand accom- Strategy, Drivers, and Tools, Occasional Paper 4
The prospect of unrest in Xinjiang panied by the promise of a great and prosper- (Washington, DC: National Defense University
Press, October 2006); Michael D. Swaine and
shook the regime’s veneer of stability and ous future; the next national challenge is to
Ashley J. Tellis, Interpreting China’s Grand Strategy:
catalyzed government action with the full if reform local governance before corrupt and
Past, Present, and Future (Santa Monica: RAND,
uninformed backing of the Chinese people. capricious officials discredit and undercut the 2000); Suisheng Zhao, A Nation-State by Construc-
Simply put, the Chinese people demand entire Chinese project. JFQ tion: Dynamics of Modern Chinese Nationalism
stability because they survived the bad days (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004); Suish-
of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural NOTeS eng Zhao, ed., Debating Political Reform in China:
Revolution. For the core, these self-inflicted Rule of Law vs. Democratization (Armonk, NY:
wounds of the past buy today’s regime time
Chinese Communist Party, author unknown M.E. Sharpe, 2006); Xinhua News Agency, “Build-
(2005), Zhongguo Gongchandang Yu Xinjiang ing of Political Democracy in China.”
as it attempts to build a new economic and
Minzu Wenti. 11
Murray Scot Tanner, “China Rethinks
political order across the country. China’s 2
See, for example, David Kilcullen, “Counter- Unrest,” The Washington Quarterly 27, no. 3 (2004),
reform strategy is east, then west; economics,
insurgency Redux,” Survival 48, no. 4 (Winter 137; Edward Cody, “A Chinese City’s Rage at the
then politics. 2006–2007), 117, 122. See also James Millward, Rich and Powerful,” WashingtonPost.com, August
“Violent Separatism in Xinjiang: A Critical Assess- 1, 2005; Howard W. French, “Land of 74,000
While the Communist Party’s concern ment,” Policy Studies, no. 6 (Honolulu: East-West Protests (But Little Is Ever Fixed),” The New York
is for self-preservation atop the state, the state Center, 2004), 9–10; Omar Nasiri, Inside the Jihad: Times, August 24, 2005.
must produce the perception, and perhaps the My Life with Al Qaeda (New York: Basic Books, 12
The Military Power of the People’s Republic
reality, of internal stability. The party-state is 2006); John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, Networks of China in 2006 (Washington, DC: Office of the
operating on time purchased by the negative and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Mili- Secretary of Defense, 2006) asserts that these
push of previous sociopolitical tumults and tancy (Santa Monica: RAND, 2001). figures may not be directly comparable; however,
See Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror media reporting asserts otherwise. For example,
the positive pull of the gradual but significant
Networks (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylva- see Chris Buckley, “China to ‘Strike Hard’ Against
changes perceived by society. Paradoxically,
nia Press, 2004); Michael Scheuer, Through Our Rising Unrest,” Reuters, January 26, 2006; Sarah
while society craves stability and credits
Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam and Jackson-Han, “China Struggles to Keep Lid on
the current national leadership for positive the Future of America (Washington, DC: Brassey’s, Popular Unrest,” Radio Free Asia, January 31, 2006;
works, the local application of power is often 2002); Rohan Gunaratna, Inside Al Qaeda: Global Anthony Kuhn, “Inside China’s Angry Villages,”
unchecked, capricious, corrupt, and caustic. Network of Terror (New York: Columbia University The Los Angeles Times, February 11, 2006.
Riots, often violent and large, arise across Press, 2002); Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism 13
For example, Open Source Center, “Statistics,
China as local officials clumsily and heavily (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006). Summaries of PRC Civil Disturbances in 2006,”
assert themselves, in many instances needlessly 4
Information Office of State Council, “‘East March 5, 2007; Open Source Center, “Highlights:
escalating property disputes and family-plan- Turkistan’ Terrorist Forces Cannot Get Away with Reports on PRC Civil Disturbances for 2005,”
ning practices into social unrest. Impunity,” January 21, 2002; Andrew Scobell, February 2, 2006; Foreign Broadcasting Informa-
“Terrorism and Chinese Foreign Policy,” in China tion Service, “Highlights: PRC Civil Disturbances 1
Across China, political protests
Rising: Power and Motivation in Chinese Foreign Jan–15 Dec 04,” December 23, 2004.
increased dramatically during the 1990s and
ndupres s.ndu.edu issue 47, 4th quarter 2007 / JFQ 47
FORUM | 2007 Report on the Chinese Military
plans, these preparations do not necessarily decade—and U.S. deterrence theory would not units most closely resemble state-based U.S.
reflect national strategic intentions. disagree. From Beijing’s perspective, however, National Guard units and, to a lesser extent, U.S.
Former Secretary Rumsfeld’s disingenu- this threat does not contradict its official pref- Reserve units, though U.S. Reserve forces are much
more interchangeable with Active duty units than
ous assertion that “no nation threatens China” erence for peaceful reunification.
are their PLA counterparts.
is inconsistent with the reality of American Military professionals can operate in 10
The PLA marine force is part of the navy and
global military capabilities. Chinese civilian an environment of deterrence and potential consists of two brigades. Technically, these marines
and military leaders have long understood threats, seeking to lower the possibility for are not part of the ground force. The army, on the
that U.S. military deployments and capa- conflict while preparing for the worst. The other hand, has two amphibious mechanized infan-
bilities have the potential to threaten their Pentagon report does not characterize the try divisions, which add up to at least twice the size
country. This point was made specifically by United States as a potential threat to China, of the marine force.
Colonel Larry Wortzel, USA (Ret.), in a recent but there is no doubt the potential is well 11
“Introduction to Gong’an Frontier Defense
monograph published by the U.S. Army War understood in Beijing. Units,” Ministry of Public Security Web site,
College: “China’s leaders and military think- July 18, 2006, available at <http://www.mps.gov.
ers see the United States as a major potential The modernization of the Chinese armed cn/cenweb/brjlCenweb/jsp/common/article.
threat to the PLA and China’s interests forces is a topic of utmost importance to the 12
People’s War is called a “strategic concept”
primarily because of American military United States, its allies, and Asia. The U.S.
in the 2006 White Paper and “a fundamental strat-
capabilities, but also because of U.S. security Congress and public deserve a reliable, compre- egy” in The Science of Military Strategy, ed. Peng
relationships in Asia.”30 hensive evaluation that can be used as the basis Guangqian and Yao Youzhi, English ed. (Beijing:
Wortzel bases his conclusion on for informed discussion about a subject that Military Science Publishing House, 2005), 117. All
information that was available long before will be critical to the course of history in Asia quotations from The Science of Military Strategy are
Rumsfeld’s speech in 2005. The U.S. Govern- for the 21st century. While this year’s report from the English edition.
ment would categorize America’s potential to was an improvement over previous efforts, the 13
Science of Military Strategy, 426.
use military force as part of its overall deter- Pentagon can do much better. JFQ 14
rence posture. This year’s report illustrated
the continuing relevance of U.S. deterrence
China’s National Defense in 2006.
Science of Military Strategy, 224.
in a textbox entitled “Factors of Deterrence,”
The requirements for the report are found in
Ibid., 213–215, 228.
which begins: “China is deterred on multiple
Section 1202 of the National Defense Authoriza-
Ibid., 222. The book’s use of the term limited
levels from taking military action against nuclear deterrence would probably be more accu-
tion Act for Fiscal Year 2000 (Public Law 106–65),
Taiwan. First, China does not yet possess the rately described as “a credible nuclear deterrent
October 5, 1999, available at <www.dod.mil/dodgc/
military capability to accomplish with con- force” as stated in the 2006 White Paper.
fidence its political objectives on the island, 2
Department of Defense, Military Power
Al Pessin, “U.S. Commander Calls Chinese
particularly when confronted with the pros- of the People’s Republic of China 2007, Annual Interest in Aircraft Carriers ‘Understandable,’”
pect of U.S. intervention [emphasis added].” Report to Congress (Washington, DC: Office of Voice of America, May 12, 2007, accessed at <http://
At the same time, the Pentagon report the Secretary of Defense, 2007), available at <www. voanews.com/english/2007-05-12-voa5.cfm>.
actually describes a parallel approach by defenselink.mil/pubs/pdfs/070523-China-Mili-
China’s National Defense in 2006.
China toward Taiwan, but without using the tary-Power-final.pdf>.
“PRC Law on National Defense,” Beijing
Science of Military Strategy, 258.
Xinhua Domestic Service, March 18, 1997, trans.
Open Source Center (OSC).
“JFJB: Promote Innovation in Military Work
Beijing appears prepared to defer unification as Using Scientific Development Concept,” Jiefang-
Percentages are based on estimates found in
long as it believes trends are advancing toward jun Bao (Beijing), August 6, 2006, 1, trans. OSC
the International Institute for Strategic Studies, The
that goal and that the costs of conflict outweigh (CPP20060811720002).
Military Balance 2006 (London: Routledge, 2006),
the benefits. In the near term, Beijing’s focus is 264. The PLA does not control the Chinese civilian
“JFJB: Scientific Development Concept as
likely one of preventing Taiwan from moving defense industrial complex, which is overseen by Guidance for Building Modern Logistics,” Jiefang-
toward de jure independence while continuing the Commission of Science, Technology and Indus- jun Bao (Beijing), August 6, 2006, 1, trans. OSC
to hold out terms for peaceful resolution under try for National Defense. (CPP20060814715022).
a “one country, two systems” framework that 5
The PAP and militia have no direct equivalents
The United States–China Policy Foundation,
would provide Taiwan a degree of autonomy in in the U.S. Armed Forces. The PAP is similar to the “Defense-Related Spending in China: A Prelimi-
French Gendarmerie or the Italian Carabinieri. nary Analysis and Comparison with American
exchange for its unification with the mainland
Information Office of the State Council of Equivalents,” May 2007, 30.
the People’s Republic of China, China’s National
China’s National Defense in 2006.
Defense in 2006, December 29, 2006.
Edward Cody, “U.S. Aims to Improve
Instead, the report categorizes the PLA’s Military Ties with China,” The Washington Post,
Xinhua News Agency, “CMC Promotes 28
“sustained military threat to Taiwan” as part of May 16, 2006, A14, available at <www.washing-
Armed Police Officers to Major General 28 Aug,”
an “overall campaign of persuasion and coer- Beijing Xinhua in English, August 29, 2006, trans. tonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/15/
cion.” By China’s own definition, deterrence OSC (CPP20060829057005). AR2006051500413_pf.html>.
includes the threat of force through demon- 8
The Military Balance 2006, 264.
Larry M. Wortzel, China’s Nuclear Forces:
stration of actual military capabilities, which 9
PLA reserve units and militia are known Operations, Training, Doctrine, Command, Control,
is exactly what has been observed over the past collectively as China’s “reserve force.” PLA reserve and Campaign Planning (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S.
Army War College, May 2007), vii.
54 JFQ / issue 47, 4th quarter 2007 n d upress.ndu.edu