China expressed outrage and frustration Friday after the US officially delisted the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as an official terror organization.
The group is a hardline Islamist group rooted in Muslim Uighur-dominant Xinjiang province that has sent foreign fighters to Syria, where it's been observed cooperating with Syrian al-Qaeda and ISIS over the past years to try and oust Assad. It's also believed the ETIM still has a presence in Idlib. Its ultimate goal is to erect an Islamic state in Western China and Central Asia.
In 2017 China's Foreign Ministry estimated that 5,000 or more Uighur jihadists had gone to wage jihad in Syria, a problem which may have only grown. This brought Beijing into quiet security and defense cooperation with Assad, given China has long been worried about the return of the battle-hardened Islamic fighters.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late last month had ordered the East Turkestan Islamic Movement's delisting, but which was only revealed in Thursday's release of the Federal Register. They had been listed since 2002, which was a moment that Washington sought closer Chinese assistance in fighting the post-9/11 war on terror.
A number of Syria observers and Mideast analysts blasted the move as essentially delisting a radical group whose ideology is not far removed to that of ISIS. Throughout the war in Syria the foreign group was at times dubbed in Western press reports as "Chinese ISIS".
The ETIM seeks an independent state based in Xinjiang govern by Sharia law instead of what it sees as "godless atheistic communism" and has over the past years conducted dozens of terror attacks in Chinese cities like Shanghai and Yunnan.
In Friday statements the Chinese foreign ministry slammed Washington's "double standards" in the fight of global terrorism, underscoring the ETIM is among the world's most brutal Islamic jihadist movements. Spokesman Wang Wenbin told a media briefing that "China deplores and rejects US decision".
Under cover of US election mania, @SecPompeo revokes US terrorism designation of ETIM/ETIP, which has been openly allied with Al Qaeda in Syria's Idlib, in order to turn the heat up on China in Xinjiang https://t.co/hyPK86Lvtq https://t.co/Dh2dvMVNLA— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) November 6, 2020
"The ETIM is a UN Security Council listed terrorist organization and is recognized as such by the international community," he said referring also a UN designation. He described "violent terrorist activities, causing massive casualties and property damage" as a key reason the group is rightfully on the list.
"Fighting ETIM is an international consensus and an important part of the international counter-terrorism fight. The US was a co-sponsor of the listing of the ETIM in the UN in 1267 committee and now it is flip-flopping on its position," he said.
ETIM has also been listed as a terrorist group in the UK since 2016:
"This once again shows those in power at Washington has double standards on counter-terrorism and has ugly two-faced approach to terrorism," Wang added.
He further slammed the US 'whitewashing terrorism' whenever it suits America's geopolitical aims. In this case it appears geared toward keeping continued pressure on Beijing regarding the ethnic Uighur issue. The US has accused China of widescale oppression of the Muslim minority in the country, including establishing a network of communist reeducation camps, which has been subject of widespread media scrutiny and reporting over at least the past year.