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Turkmenistan: President Ends China Visit After Forming Front Against Uyghurs

  • Breffni O'Rourke --> Turkmen President Niyazov (file photo) (ITAR-TASS) Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov is ending a six-day visit to China (April 7) that has seen the signing of a number of economic and security agreements with Chinese leaders. One of those agreements calls for the two countries to combine forces to combat "terrorism in all its forms," including a grouping calling itself the "East Turkestan" movement. That movement seeks greater autonomy or independence for the Uyghur Muslim minority in Western China.

PRAGUE, April 7, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- In a declaration, Turkmen leader Niyazov and Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged their countries will work together to root out what they called the "three evils" -- terrorism, separatism, and extremism.

They agreed to strengthen cooperation of their law-enforcement agencies and security services against extremism "in all its forms."

"We are a Turkic nation. And the Chinese are different from Uyghurs culturally and in faith. We don't share anything in common. We don't want to live under China."

Anti-Uyghur Agreement

But the primary target of this pledge is clear, in that the only grouping specifically named in the declaration is the "East Turkestan" separatist movement, which seeks independence for China's 19 million Muslim Uyghurs in the western Xinjiang Province.

The representative in Sweden of the East Turkestan Information Center, Dilxadi Rexiti, told RFE/RL that Beijing is working to get the movement squeezed out of Central Asia.

"China would like to ensure that not only Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, but all Central Asian countries, not help us," he says. "Turkmenistan is a Muslim country and a Turkic-speaking nation, like the Uyghurs. And China would like to ensure that all the Muslim countries of Central Asia prevent the Uyghurs from undertaking any free political activities."

Fight Against Separatists

London-based expert on Chinese security issues, Christian LeMiere of Jane's military information group, agrees with that assessment. He says Beijing wants to prevent the separatists from undertaking any kind of military training, building a recruitment system, or even having military bases in Central Asia.

"One of China's primary policies in its Western frontier area is to make sure that none of the Central Asian countries, particularly since the end of the Cold War, will offer any financial or logistical support for possible Uyghur separatists, and in order to accomplish this policy it has for approximately a decade now drawn links between the Uyghurs and what it sees as Islamic terrorism," he says.

LeMiere says China's determination to label the radical "East Turkestan Islamic Movement" a terror organization has been strengthened by the U.S. decision in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington to freeze the U.S. assets of this group.

Over the years there have been scores of bomb explosions attributed to Uyghur separatists, as well as deaths of local officials. In turn, Chinese authorities are accused of torturing detained activists.

"East Turkestan" representative Rexiti plays down the violent aspect of Uyghur activism, saying that his people do not seek war. He says they want only the right to decide their own future democratically.

Few Uyghurs In Turkmenistan

"We are Uyghurs," he says. "We are a Turkic nation. And the Chinese are different from Uyghurs culturally and in faith. We don't share anything in common. We don't want to live under China. It's like in a family. If a husband and wife cannot live in the same family, they get a divorce in court. And that is the best option. We Uyghurs would also like a similar decision, so we can decide our own future -- not through war, but through a democratic process."

In practical terms, the China-Turkmenistan joint declaration will have little impact on the activities of the separatists, because as far as is known, Uyghur contacts with Turkmenistan are small. Rexhiti says few Uyghurs go to Turkmenistan from China because it's very hard to obtain a Turkmen visa.

But by contrast, he says, some Turkmen travel to Urumqi in Xinjiang, China, for business purposes. Rexhiti says his view is that the Chinese fear that Uyghur organizations in China could obtain such things as political videos and tapes through these Turkmen traders and Turkmen businesses.

And he adds that China and Turkmenistan understand each other well, because they are both authoritarian, and both "fear a revolution in their own countries."

(RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten contributed to this report.)

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