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CHINA AND THE GREAT GAME

Beijing's Strategic Interests in Post-Withdrawal Afghanistan

by Haifa Peerzada, openSecurity

The conflict in Afghanistan is becoming more complex by the day, spreading beyond its borders into south Asia. There are four main parties: the US, Pakistan, Afghanistan itself and the Afghan Taliban. Others, previously remotely involved, are increasingly drawn in—the most prominent being China.

China's growth rate of close to 10 percent per annum makes it a global economic hub with which to reckon, second only to the US. This may not however be socially sustainable as it perpetuates inequality in income, heavily concentrated in China's southern coastal area. Moreover, the country's ethnic cohesion is uncertain: apart from minority tensions, the Han majority is itself fractured among ethno-linguistic communities which have experienced sustained segregation.

Fear of becoming a target of non-state actors has put the authorities in Beijing on their guard. That fear was exacerbated by the recent violent attack in Tiananmen Square, allegedly by members of the Muslim Uighur community from Xingiang province in the north-west. While the Turkish Islamic Party claimed responsibility, the authorities blamed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda. Such incidents exacerbate the socio-economic problems which may in the final analysis prove destructive for the instrumental legitimacy on which the power of the Communist Party rests.

The state has for long has been concerned about the separatist movement in Xingiang—a concern enhanced by a fear of Afghanistan providing safe havens for Uighur militants. China sought to counter this by maintaining good connections with the Afghan Taliban and the Quetta Shura. For their part the Taliban are not keen on isolating China as it is the only non-Muslim country that has promised to give them political recognition and respite from UN sanctions—in return for not allowing any group to conduct any violent activity on its territory. This understanding seems however to be falling apart, with China fearing that Afghanistan may be slipping into another civil war, thereby creating space for militants to launch attacks on it. That may be why China supported the US-Taliban talks in Doha, however unsuccessful they proved.

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