A new jihadist magazine published in English by al-Qaeda's media arm, al-Sahab ("The Cloud"), says that Beijing is waging a "war by proxy against Muslims" in China's northwestern Xinjiang region.

The inaugural issue of Resurgence, with a particular focus on the Asia-Pacific region, describes East Turkistan (the name used by Islamic Uyghur separatists for Xinjiang) as an "occupied Muslim land" to be "recovered [into] the shade of the Islamic Caliphate." An infographic entitled "Did you Know? 10 Facts about East Turkistan" claims that China's communist government has murdered 4.5 million Turkish Muslims in Xinjiang since 1949, including 120,000 Islamic religious figures. It also indicates that Beijing is responsible for burning 30,700 Islamic religious texts – copies of the Quran among them – and has converted 28,000 mosques into bars.

It is not clear how the magazine arrived at its figures, but many observers question their veracity. Nevertheless, the underlying message imparts a clear challenge to Beijing:

"Historically, East Turkistan has never been a part of China. It is one of the territories colonized by the Han Chinese. It lies beyond the Great Wall, which was built to defend China from invasions, and west of the Jade Gate, which is described by most historical sources as marking the western limits of China. Naming the region Xinjiang/Sinkiang (New Dominion) does not change this historical reality."

The article stops short of calling for jihad against China. But the implication is there, as the article follows directly after another article encouraging Muslims to support jihad in Syria and Iraq through words, money, and physical deeds. That article, entitled "The Land of the Prophets Awaits You," praises the role Syria has played in jihad against the enemies of Islam and professes that "disbelievers of the East and the West" are one and the same.

For several months now reports have circulated widely in Chinese media suggesting that the Islamic State has laid plans to seize Xinjiang within five years. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s reclusive leader, spoke in July of "Muslim rights [being] forcibly seized in China, India, and Palestine."

China, meanwhile, has stepped up efforts to track down Islamic extremists in Xinjiang and prevent them from leaving the country through Southeast Asia to receive training from militants in Syria and Iraq. Beijing has ordered intensified border checks and patrols, and increased intelligence sharing with neighboring countries while trying to close jihadist propaganda channels in Xinjiang, especially those using the internet.

Paul Nash
Toronto-based Correspondent Paul Nash is a frequent China commentator and serves as a Senior Contributing Editor at Diplomatic Courier.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.