Overview: China's attention to counterterrorism is increasing, both domestically and abroad. China experienced several terrorist and other violent incidents in 2014. As a result, China tightened its security in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) to prevent additional domestic acts of terrorism, including by implementing stricter government controls on religious expression and practice. The main focus of China's counterterrorism efforts is the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a terrorist organization that China alleges maintains influence in Xinjiang. China tightened its security clampdown in the XUAR, characterizing it as an effort to prevent additional domestic acts of terrorism.
The Chinese government has claimed that Chinese citizens operated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Middle East, and has taken action to prevent its citizens from traveling to Syria and Iraq.
Counterterrorism cooperation activities between the United States and China remained limited, though the two countries continued to discuss ways to enhance cooperation. These included efforts aimed at stemming the transnational flow of foreign terrorist fighters, countering terrorist funding networks, increasing information sharing on terrorist threats, and assisting the Government of Iraq in its rebuilding efforts.
China held 12 bilateral dialogues on counterterrorism in 2014, including one with the United States in July. China remained engaged on counterterrorism in the Asia-Pacific region and Central Asia, conducting bilateral and multilateral joint exercises.
China has criticized the U.S. response to some domestic incidents of violence that China characterized as terrorism, alleging that U.S. expressions of concern over the treatment of China's ethnic minorities and the U.S. failure to label all such incidents as terrorism represented a double standard. China frequently refers to Uighur activists abroad – including those in the United States – as complicit in supporting "terrorist" activity, but has not provided credible evidence to support those claims.
2014 Terrorist Incidents: The lack of information provided by China about alleged terrorist incidents in China made it difficult in some instances to verify details of those and other violent incidents. In many of the domestic incidents that China labeled as terrorism, China alleged that ETIM influenced or directed the violence through its online propaganda. China also generally prevented foreign journalists and international observers from independently verifying official media accounts, which are often the only source of reporting violent incidents in its territory.
Among the violent incidents in China over the year, the U.S. government identified sufficient evidence to consider the following incidents terrorist attacks:
On March 1, 33 people were killed (including four perpetrators of the attack) and 141 injured when eight knife-wielding men and women attacked passengers at a railway station in the city of Kunming.
On April 30, an explosion at Urumqi South Train Station in Xinjiang killed three people, including two attackers. Chinese officials attributed this attack to ETIM.
On May 22, four men attacked a crowded market in Urumqi with a car bomb, killing themselves and 39 others, while wounding more than 90 other individuals.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In October, China's National People's Congress reviewed draft legislation for the country's first counterterrorism law. The draft included proposals to establish a counterterrorism intelligence center aimed at improving international cooperation and better coordinating information sharing across the government, military, armed police, and law enforcement authorities. The draft legislation also stipulated measures on tightening internet security management, inspection of dangerous materials, prevention of terrorist financing, and border controls. Some aspects of the draft CT law, including its broad definition of terrorism and trade-related requirements for foreign telecoms and internet service providers have elicited human rights and business concerns from many foreign observers. At the end of 2014, the CT law had not been passed.
Over the year, there was an increase in the number of stories in Chinese media of operations targeting alleged terrorists. Following the March 1 knife attack in Kunming, China's leaders arrested and tried hundreds of people in Xinjiang. However, because of the Chinese government's tight control of information, it remained difficult to determine whether particular raids, detentions, arrests, or judicial punishments targeted individuals who were seeking political goals, voicing local grievances, or orchestrating criminal or terrorist acts. For example, according to state media, 37 civilians and 59 individuals labeled as terrorists were killed after a July 28 incident in front of a police station and government offices in Kashgar Prefecture's Shache (Yarkand) County. While the police arrested 215 people in connection with the incident and sentenced a dozen individuals to death for their alleged involvement in the attack, some residents reported that the incident stemmed from local protests against the detention of women and girls who had refused to remove their headscarves. According to state media, law enforcement authorities in XUAR eliminated what they considered to be 115 terrorist cells in 2014. These reports claimed that about 40 percent of the 115 terrorist cells were found through clues authorities obtained during intensive interrogation of detained suspects.
In May, a mass trial was held at a sports stadium in Xinjiang where three people were sentenced to death and another 53 received lengthy jail terms after being convicted of terrorism charges. Three individuals accused of organizing the October 2013 Tiananmen car crash were executed in August 2014 on terrorism charges. In 2014, Chinese authorities sentenced ethnic activists to imprisonment on terrorism-related charges, exhibiting what appeared to be a failure to distinguish between peaceful dissent and violent extremism.
Hotan's city government mobilized over 30,000 volunteers in massive terrorist searches following violence in late July. The Xinjiang government offered substantial cash rewards to the public for providing information that led to the arrest of terrorists.
China continued to stress the importance of counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, but Chinese law enforcement agencies generally remained reluctant to conduct joint investigations or share specific threat information with U.S. law enforcement partners. Despite several requests to Chinese law enforcement officials for more detailed background information on Chinese media-reported arrests and operations, U.S. law enforcement agencies received little new information. Overall, China's counterterrorism cooperation with the United States remained limited.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: China is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), as well as the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering and the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing, both of which are FATF-style regional bodies. The Chinese government has strengthened its preventive measures to counter terrorist financing, with an emphasis on requiring financial institutions to collect and maintain beneficial ownership information, and making Suspicious Transaction Reports more comprehensive. Additional issues remain to be addressed, including guidance for designated non-financial businesses and professions; delisting and unfreezing procedures; and defining the rights of bona fide third parties in seizure/confiscation actions. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Regional and International Cooperation: China continued collaboration on UNSC counterterrorism issues and voted for UNSCRs 2170 and 2178. China is a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), and in November hosted in Beijing the GCTF Symposium on "Strengthening International Cooperation to Prevent and Counter Terrorists' Use of the Internet."
China cooperated with other nations on counterterrorism efforts through military exercises and assistance. In August, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan held a counterterrorism exercise (Peace Mission 2014) within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In October, China and Indonesia held a bilateral counterterrorism exercise. Following the 2013 inaugural joint exercise, China and India held a counterterrorism exercise in November 2014. Also in November, China and Russia carried out a regularly scheduled China-Russia bilateral exercise. China also held separate dialogues and consultations with the AU and 12 countries, including Afghanistan, the United States, the UK, France, Turkey, the Republic of Korea, and Uzbekistan.
Countering Radicalization to Violence and Violent Extremism: While China does not have an official strategy or program in place to counter violent extremism, the government implemented a number of programs aimed at countering radicalization and violent extremism, concentrating much of its efforts in Xinjiang. Local counterterrorism working groups have been established at the county, municipal, and provincial levels across China to coordinate "stability maintenance," law enforcement, ethnic and religious affairs, and a propaganda campaign countering the so-called "Three Evils" of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism. Xinjiang government officials required imams to take political education classes as a means of persuading them to discourage extremism and condemn violence. In Xinjiang, authorities placed restrictions on private religious practices, and closely monitored Uighurs returning from madrassas overseas. In March, the Xinjiang government announced a crackdown on videos and audio recordings that the government defined as promoting terrorism, religious extremism, and separatism. According to the notice, it was forbidden to disseminate such materials on the internet, on social media, and on online marketplaces.
Chinese public security authorities released a strategic communications brochure in July in an attempt to educate the public about how to respond to various forms of violent attack. Copies of the brochure, called the "Citizens Anti-Terror Handbook," were handed out in Xinjiang, as well as in other major cities throughout China. The pamphlet advises people to look out for "terrorist suspects" who dress or act suspiciously. Similarly, in December, Xinjiang police issued a list of 75 "specific signs" that might indicate someone is a religious extremist, which included wearing Islamic veils in public, reading religious books, and abstaining from alcohol.
Many Chinese government policies may exacerbate ethnic tension in Xinjiang and contribute to increased radicalism and violent extremism. In China, official government accounts of terrorism focus almost exclusively on Xinjiang-related violence. For further information, we refer you to the State Department's 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom at: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm.
Hong Kong continued its effective security and law enforcement partnership with the United States through the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department's successful joint operation of the Container Security Initiative; through participation in U.S. government-sponsored training in related topics; and through engagement with U.S. counterterrorism agencies.
Counterterrorism remained an operational priority for the Hong Kong Police Force, as demonstrated by existing policies on prevention, protection, and preparedness. The Police Security Wing coordinates potential terrorist threat information with relevant counterterrorism units. The Police Counterterrorism Response Unit provides a strong deterrent presence, assisting police districts with counterterrorism strategy implementation, and complementing the tactical and professional support of existing police specialist units – such as the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau, Special Duties Unit, and VIP Protection Unit. Hong Kong's strategic trade regime buttresses U.S. efforts to restrict commodities, software, and technology to terrorist organizations or individuals. Hong Kong law enforcement officers attended U.S. government-sponsored capacity building training at the International Law Enforcement Academy on advanced post-blast investigations, personnel and facility security, law enforcement techniques to combat terrorism, and financial investigations.
Hong Kong is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the Asia/Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body, and the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. Terrorist financing is a criminal offense in Hong Kong, and financial institutions are required to continuously search for terrorist financing networks and screen accounts using designations lists provided by the United States under relevant authorities, as well as the UN 1267/1989 (al-Qa'ida) and1988 (Taliban) Sanctions Committees' lists. Filing suspicious transactions reports irrespective of transaction amounts is obligatory, but Hong Kong does not require mandatory reporting requirements for cross-border currency movements.
Macau's counterterrorism cooperation with the United States included information exchange as well as regular capacity building through participation in U.S. government-sponsored training. The Police Intervention Tactical Unit (UTIP), which falls under the Macau Public Security Police Force, is responsible for protecting important installations and dignitaries, and for conducting high-risk missions, such as deactivation of IEDs. UTIP's Special Operations Group's mission is counterterrorism operations. Macau law enforcement officers attended U.S. government-sponsored capacity building training at the International Law Enforcement Academy on personnel and facility security, financial and crime scene investigations, combating terrorism, computer investigations, and evidence protection.
Macau is a member of the Asia/Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body, and the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. Terrorist financing is a criminal offense in Macau, and banks and other financial institutions are required to continuously search for terrorist financing networks and screen accounts using designations lists provided by the United States under relevant authorities, as well as the UN 1267/1989 (al-Qa'ida) and 1988 (Taliban) Sanctions Committees' lists. Filing suspicious transactions reports (STRs) irrespective of transaction amounts is obligatory, but Macau does not currently require mandatory reporting requirements for cross-border currency movements.
Macau cooperated internationally on counterterrorism efforts through Interpol and other security-focused organizations, including through FATF and APG. On December 15, Macau's Financial Intelligence Unit signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network that allows the two jurisdictions to exchange information on STRs.