US-China rivalry, CIA and NED support for terrorist groups and proxies
The “loss” of China in 1949 was perhaps the biggest blow to strike American hegemony in the post-World War II era, and it is felt increasingly to this day. During the past 70 years, Washington's strategy towards China has been to destabilise and fracture one of the world's oldest and largest nations. These imperialist policies have clearly failed to attain their objectives.
Nevertheless US efforts to undermine Chinese power have been steadily growing over the past 30 years, in part spurred on by the Soviet Union's demise in 1991, partially also due to China's increasing clout.
The well informed Brazilian historian, Luiz Alberto Moniz Bandeira, wrote that, “The CIA's operations sought to do the same to China, as they had done to the Soviet Union during the war in Afghanistan: Fight their enemy 'via proxies', i.e., through third parties such as terrorist organisations and countries like Turkey, a 'puppet state' that nourishes pan-Turkish and pan-Islamic ideas”.
Xinjiang is of vital strategic and economic importance to China. It stands as the Chinese government's bridgehead into Central Asia, through which the old Silk Road passed along centuries before, connecting China to as far away as the Mediterranean. Beijing has driving ambitions to link Kashgar, in western Xinjiang, 1,200 miles southwards to the Pakistani port city of Gwadar. Lying on Pakistan's southern coastline, Gwadar is of major significance by itself and is a central component of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – an infrastructural project instigated by China in 2013, and which is undergoing gradual implementation.
The CPEC is a key part of the landmark Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), designed and led by Beijing; the first phase of the CPEC's construction has now been completed in Pakistan.
Gwadar will be part of China's “string of pearls” bases being built elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, primarily for commercial purposes. Beijing wishes to project its strength deep into the lucrative Persian Gulf for the first time in modern history. This would undercut US power, which has weakened appreciably from its high point in the mid-1940s, when Washington owned about half of the world's wealth.
Moniz Bandeira, professor emeritus of history at the University of Brasilia, observed how, “A pipeline from Xinjiang to Gwadar would reduce this distance to 1,600 miles. These initiatives point to the formation of a geopolitical axis, a valuable card for China to play in the Great Game in Central Asia and the Middle East, associating itself economically with Pakistan and Iran, a country which China offered 60 million euros to rebuild the port of Chabahar, 43 miles from Gwadar”.
The Middle East and Central Asia are the most valuable and strategically important regions on earth, containing most of the world's oil or gas reserves. Central Asia, a sprawling, remote landmass bordering China and Russia, holds an abundance of other sought after natural resources like copper and iron ore. If Beijing can increase its influence in the Central Asia/Middle East domains – by continuing to pursue infrastructural investments – there is no doubt this will place China in a particularly strong global position, and lead to further US decline.
America is using its financial muscle in a so far unsuccessful effort to shift Pakistan away from China. US-friendly lobby groups in Islamabad are attempting to undermine the CPEC, by labelling it as a Chinese “debt trap”. Another of Beijing's goals, in linking Gwadar to China, would allow the Chinese government to import oil shipments from the Arabian sea – therefore avoiding altogether the Strait of Malacca, off Malaysia's coast, which is patrolled by warships of the US Navy.
Regarding Central Asia, this region's largest, wealthiest and most important country is Kazakhstan. It shares a broad frontier with Xinjiang to the east. Kazakhstan contains considerable quantities of oil, gas and uranium. It was surely no coincidence that in September 2013 China's new president, Xi Jinping, announced whilst visiting Kazakhstan that a “new Silk Road” was about to be laid through Central Asia.
Early this century, Beijing started assembling the Kazakhstan-China oil pipeline, which has reached 1,400 miles in length. It provides China with around 20 million tons of oil each year, flowing across the border into Xinjiang, rendering US interference impossible. The erection of this pipeline has helped to copper-fasten ties between China and Kazakhstan, who are close allies.
In addition there is the Central Asia-China gas pipeline, a brainchild of Beijing's. Construction began in August 2007, and it now runs across hundreds of miles of remote, pristine land, from Turkmenistan through to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and on to Xinjiang. The Central Asia-China gas pipeline is Beijing's largest source of gas imports, and these projects have enabled China to spread its influence throughout Central Asia.
Long before the September 2001 atrocities against America, the CIA and Pentagon were supporting terrorist operations by extremist Islamic networks with links to Osama bin Laden, in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Balkans. The US was for example using foreign operatives to promote instability in Central Asia, which had been part of the USSR for over half a century until its collapse, with the Americans thereafter moving in.
By the end of the Cold War, Washington was stepping up its backing for secessionist groups in Xinjiang. The US has for decades recognised the critical nature of Xinjiang, due to its position within China's frontiers and proximity to energy rich Central Asia. Control over raw materials, like oil and gas, has been a leading tenet of US foreign policy since the early days of World War II.
As the Soviet Union was disappearing, the CIA in 1990 began sponsoring extremist groups with separatist plans for Xinjiang; like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an organisation led by Uyghur fundamentalists with past ties to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Between 1990 and 2001 the ETIM, later known as the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), committed more than 200 acts of terrorism in China; such as assaults on market places and public transportation vehicles like buses, along with targeting Chinese government officials for assassination.
Although China has internal demographic issues, one decisive advantage it holds over the West is that it has largely avoided the neoliberal onslaught. There are almost 400 billionaires in China, but the government retains much of its control over big business. Unlike in North America and Europe, the majority of corporations in China are state-owned, including the 12 largest which consist mainly of banks and oil companies.
The continued unrest in Hong Kong, a diminutive area in south-eastern China, can be traced to the British takeover of that territory in the early 1840s. Hong Kong was transformed into a British military outpost, and colonised for more than 150 years. For most of that period, London directly ruled Hong Kong by dispatching governors and expatriate civil servants. These policies had a westernising influence on Hong Kong's inhabitants, an imprint which lasts until today. Hong Kong, which is densely populated and has ample wealth, is culturally and economically different from mainland China on many levels.
US governments have sought to exploit this friction. Since 2014 the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has funneled at least $30 million into Hong Kong so as “to identify new avenues for democracy and political reform”. Many hundreds of “pro-democracy protesters” in Hong Kong have been photographed waving American flags and donning other US paraphernalia.
The NED was established in 1983 under the Reagan administration, and receives most of its funding from the US Congress. In March 2018 Stephen Kinzer, an experienced American journalist, described the NED as “the National Endowment for Attacking Democracy”. The long-time NED president, Carl Gershman, said two years ago that China is “the most serious threat our country faces today” and “We have to not give up on the possibility for democratic change in China and keep finding ways to support them”.
For over a decade the NED has funded exile Xinjiang groups, such as the Uyghur American Association (UAA) headquartered in Washington, and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) based in Munich. They call for Xinjiang's complete breakaway from China, to be replaced by an independent state called East Turkestan. This is looked upon by Beijing with grave misgivings.
Returning to Hong Kong, one of its most recognisable figures is Joshua Wong, a 23-year-old student leader and politician. Wong's separatist aims have enjoyed widespread support from Western politicians and the mainstream press. It can be noted that Wong has increasingly been playing into Beijing's hands, by publicly aligning himself with the American government; adding fuel to the fire that Wong has become a proxy tool for the US in its bitter rivalry with China.
Last September, Wong travelled the 8,000 mile distance from Hong Kong to New York and Washington, to seek US political backing. The Hong Kong political party Demosisto, of which Wong is Secretary-General, is thought to have a close relationship with the NED. Wong, in a co-authored article published last month with the Washington Post, claims that China “has revealed its true colours as a rogue state” with its policies towards Hong Kong. Wong again urged “the U.S. government to execute the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” and he called on Washington to “impose sanctions on China”.
Beijing's actions in Hong Kong have been repressive in recent years, but it remains a mostly free and open society. Hong Kong native Sonny Shiu-Hing Lo, a 57-year-old political scientist and professor, wrote recently that Hong Kong's elections are for the large part “quite competitive and run according to democratic procedures. There are also important non-party democratic elements in Hong Kong”. Professor Sonny Lo, who emigrated to Canada as a youngster before returning to work at Hong Kong University, could hardly be described as pro-Beijing. Yet he writes that a “strong civil society” still exists in Hong Kong “representing a wide variety of political views” which “are active and influential”.
Part of American policy in east Asia, is to keep out of Beijing's hands the island of Taiwan, an affluent territory less than 150 miles from China's south-eastern shoreline. The importance of Taiwan to China has similarities to that of Cuba to the United States. Taiwan is a pawn in the US encirclement strategy of China. Again this month a heavily-armed US destroyer sailed provocatively through the Taiwan Strait, mere miles from China's coast. Since 2009, the Obama and Trump administrations have sold around $25 billion worth of military equipment to the US-supported Taiwanese government, from fighter aircraft and tanks to missiles.