More than 100 Chinese citizens from the western Chinese province of Xinjiang are currently in Iraq and Syria fighting for the Islamic State, and Beijing has no current plan to curb rising extremism among China’s western Islamic population.
Chinese President Xi Jingping traveled to a mosque in central china to urge China’s islamic community to “resist illegal religious infiltration and carry forward the patriotic tradition.” China has a complex relationship with its western provinces, who often have cultural traditions that have been actively eroded by the Beijing based government.
Beijing’s proxy Communist parties in western China are officially atheist and have troubled histories with historic muslim communities in Xinjiang. Xinjiang has a Islamic population of ethnic Uighur’s, numbering 10 million, who feel that Beijing’s communist control has erased their sense of identity.
These populations are thousands of miles away from major cities in China and feel little sense of Chinese national identity. The New America Foundation found Beijing centric cultural imposition could “be a push factor driving people to leave the country and look elsewhere for a sense of belonging,” explaining the number of fighters who’ve traveled to fight for ISIS.
China has significant disparities in wealth between Muslims and non-Muslims, along with much lower rates of educational attainment. China has shown unwillingness to address the grievances of western Chinese muslims, and have touted a narrative of collective prosperity. “The CCP seems to have made the decision that just throwing more money, investment and economic development will solve the problem,” Uighur expert Dr. Michael Clarke told Time Magazine. Clarke elaborated “but this misses a core driver of ethnic disputes and identity politics more broadly.”
One ISIS recruiting video revealed the appeal to Uighur muslims with one Chinese fighters saying, “Uighur children in clean classrooms learn religion—forbidden in China—and spout anti-Chinese government slogans.”
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