China Power

China’s Growing Jihadist Problem

With recent arrests in Xinjiang, increasing anger on the internet and Chinese firms a possible target, Beijing faces a rising threat.

On August 2 2012, security forces arrested 20 individuals from various cities in Xinjiang on charges of terrorism and secessionist activities. The regional government is attempting to take pre-emptive measures against Uyghur groups in the province to ensure that no major terrorist incident occurs before the leadership transition in Beijing in October 2012. While the ability of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) to conduct a major attack in China remains limited, jihadist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan are increasingly likely to view Chinese assets and personnel as legitimate targets.

Exclusive Analysis’s monitoring of social media and jihadi websites indicates an increase in jihadist rhetoric against China. In the past two months, references to Chinese “excesses” in Xinjiang, and maps denoting the region as a part of an Islamic caliphate, have increased in circulation. The situation is further aggravated by the anniversary of the Hotan and Urumqi protests falling in July and social media reports of regional authorities enforcing a ban on fasting during Ramadan in Xinjiang. The police are reportedly offering food and water to drivers at checkpoints and arresting anyone refusing for “illegal fasting.”

Chinese firms in Pakistan do not only face risks from jihadist groups. Baluch nationalist insurgents view any Chinese activity in mining and infrastructure projects in Baluchistan as an infringement upon their sovereignty, while Sindhi nationalist groups detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) near the Chinese Consulate in Karachi on July 23 to protest against Chinese involvement in the Zulfiqarabad Port project in Thatta district.

In light of this, Chinese assets and personnel in Pakistan and Afghanistan are likely to become opportunistic targets in the one year outlook. Risks to Chinese personnel and companies in these countries have been perceived to be much lower than to westerners. As a result, Chinese companies like Jiangxi Copper, Sinopec, Great Wall, BGP and CNPC have been able to work on projects that were not feasible for western firms due to the security risks. This is likely to change as jihadists will realize that attacking Chinese firms carries the extra benefit of embarrassing the Pakistan government, which is keen to maintain its close ties with China, whom it sees as a benefactor. Attacks will most likely be in the form of IED attacks on project sites and kidnappings of Chinese personnel.

O. Hamid is Deputy Head of Asia Forecasting at Exclusive Analysis