A January 2007 Chinese raid on a training camp in Xinjiang killed 18 terrorist suspects and one policeman. Seventeen more suspects were reported captured and explosives were seized. The raid was said to have provided new evidence of ties to “international terrorist forces.”[i] The raid marks the latest clash between Uyghur Muslim separatists and Chinese security services, reflecting a limited challenge to China’s mainland stability.

This clash is the topic of a new paper by APCSS professor Dr. Elizabeth Van Wie Davis entitled “Uyghur Muslim Ethnic Separatism in Xinjiang, China.”

In the paper, Davis states that the “violent outbreaks in Xinjiang occur sporadically, and the groups that claim responsibility are frequently splintering, merging, and collapsing.  Some of the Uyghur groups make claims that are difficult to substantiate.  Nonetheless, the Uyghur grievances against the Chinese government have old roots. Some of the newer elements include Turkey’s unofficial support and Muslim funding and training from abroad.”

However, according to Davis, there is no single Uyghur agenda.  “While some Uyghurs want a separate state, others want to maintain cultural distinction within an autonomous relationship with China, and others are integrating into the Chinese system.”

Aggravating this clash is the heavy-handedness of the multiple “strike hard” campaigns by the central Chinese government in Xinjiang.  This campaign simultaneously reduces violence in the short-run but fuels a sense of injustice and mistrust among the Uyghurs in the long-run, said Davis.

Current U.S. policy on this issue is constrained.  Davis recommends that not only does the US need to work with China on issues of geostrategic importance, but also the Uyghurs who use violence have formed limited associations with groups that are categorized as terrorist organizations.

“The best option for the United States is to continue to encourage China to use the rule of law and to respect human rights,” said Davis.


The views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of APCSS, the U.S. Pacific Command, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

A mosque located in the Xinjiang region. China’s Muslim population is made up of approximately 20 million people in 10 different ethnic groups.




[i] “Police Destroy Islamist Camp, Killing 18” China Daily January 8, 2007.