Uyghur Militants Respond to New Chinese List of “Terrorists”

Andrew McGregor

May 4, 2012

The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) released a response in late April to the latest list of Uyghur “terrorists” prepared by China’s Ministry of Public Security. The TIP communiqué was entitled “A Statement Regarding the Declaration of a ‘Terrorists’ List for the Third Time by the Chinese Government” (Islam Awazi, April 23).

Seal of the Turkistan Islamic Party

The Chinese list of six suspects, complete with descriptions, aliases and photos, is consistent with previous Chinese statements that describe Uyghur militants as members of the now defunct Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) rather than members of the TIP. [1] Leading the list of suspects is Nurmemet Memetmin, who is described as the “commander of the ETIM.” [2] According to the Chinese list, Memetmin was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in a “South Asian country,” (i.e. Pakistan, which is always described this way in statements with possible implications for Chinese-Pakistani relations), but had escaped in 2006 to take up the planning of new attacks against China, including the July 30-31, 2011 attacks on civilians in Kashgar allegedly led by the late Memtieli Tiliwaldi (see Terrorism Monitor, April 26).

The TIP used the statement to reject their categorization as “terrorists” by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security:

No doubt those who were accused of terrorism by the oppressive Chinese government are the martyrs who died in the torture chambers defending their religion, honor, and all their rights deprived by the aggressive Chinese…

Let everyone know that the jihad in Turkistan is not a terrorist act but rather it is an aqida [belief] and religious obligation and responsibility that is laid on our shoulders because of the aggressions of the Chinese against us… It is a legitimate right for the Muslims of Eastern Turkistan and it is prohibited for any person to describe it by another name.

The Uyghur Islamists see in the latest list an effort to create divisions within the Islamic community in Xinjiang:

The purpose of the Chinese government in [making] these lists is to cut the link between the mujahideen and the Muslims morally and materially, and safeguard its rule in Eastern Turkistan, but how could they do that, since our proud Muslim Turkistani people, who have intelligence and foresight, knows the cunning of communist China and the extent of its crimes?

The TIP concluded their statement with a call to the international Muslim community to “answer the call to jihad and join the ranks of the mujahideen” in the struggle against the “atheist communist government of China.”

China’s Ministry of Public Security also announced that the suspects’ funds and assets would be frozen, though this was likely to be little more than a formality given the unlikelihood any of the six have funds or investments of any significance in Chinese financial institutions. 

Given the arms used in many of the attacks recently attributed by China to the ETIM (knives, agricultural implements, etc.) and the apparent lack of planning or coordination in these attacks, the remark of a Ministry of Public Security spokesman that the ETIM was “the most direct and real safety threat that China faces” can only be interpreted as an indication that Beijing believes there are no other significant threats to China’s security (Xinhua, April 6).  Nonetheless, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, Hong Lei, did not refrain from suggesting the Uyghur militants posed a major international threat: “The evidence is incontrovertible that this organization’s violent terror activities seriously threaten not only China’s national security, but also the peace and tranquility of the region and the world” (Reuters, April 6).

Meanwhile two Uyghur prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp have been freed after ten years imprisonment without charges and four years after a U.S. court ordered their release. China has demanded their extradition though the United States, which has determined Uyghur prisoners will suffer persecution at Chinese hands, has banned the prisoners’ entry to U.S. soil. The Uyghurs will thus be settled in a willing third party nation, in this case El Salvador, following earlier resettlement of released Uyghur prisoners in small nations such as Switzerland, Bermuda, Albania and Palau (Reuters, April 20).


1. For the list, see: The Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China, April 6, 2012, For an earlier list, see Terrorism Focus Brief, October 20, 2008.

2. Other transliterations of the name from the Chinese version of the Uyghur name include Memtimin Memet,Memetiming Memeti and Nurmamat Maimaitimin.

This article first appeared in the May 4, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Will Xinjiang’s Turkistani Islamic Party Survive the Drone Missile Death of its Leader?

Andrew McGregor

March 11, 2010

Though it appears to have occurred on February 15, the death of the leader of al-Hizb al-Islami al-Turkistani (Turkistani Islamic Party – TIP) was reported only in recent days (Geo TV, March 1; Dawn [Karachi], March 1; The News [Islamabad], March 2). Abdul Haq al-Turkistani was one of three militants killed by a missile launched from a CIA-operated unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Abdul HaqLate TIP Leader Abdul Haq al-Turkistani

The men were reported to have been in a vehicle near the village of Tappi in the North Waziristan district of Miramshah. While the strike took place on February 15, Pakistani security officials did not release the news until March 1. The death of the leader of the radical Uyghur group was confirmed by a Taliban spokesman (Dawn [Karachi], March 1). Eastern Turkistan was occupied by troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1949 and the subsequent mass migration of non-Muslim Han Chinese to the renamed province of Xinjiang (New Territory) has rendered the native Turkic Muslim Uyghurs a minority in the region.

Despite the amount of international attention the TIP garnered through threats to the 2009 Beijing Olympics, the group’s relative inactivity and proclivity for claiming responsibility for incidents they clearly had nothing to do with raises questions about the very existence of the TIP as an active jihadi front.

Is the TIP the same as ETIM?

Many commentators seem happy to repeat Beijing’s assertion that the TIP is a new manifestation of the earlier East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), but no evidence has been provided to prove a direct link between the two groups. The ETIM never issued a statement regarding a change of name or organizational restructuring. Indeed, the ETIM seems to have faded out with a whimper rather than a bang after the death of its leader, Hasan Mahsum (a.k.a. Hasan Makhdum; a.k.a. Abu Muhammad al-Turkistani) at the hands of Pakistani security forces in 2003. [1] The uncertain origins of the ETIM’s so-called successor group, the TIP, have led to speculation that the TIP may be a splinter group of the ETIM or even a false-flag operation designed to establish ties between Uyghur separatists and al-Qaeda. TIP literature tries to establish a pedigree for the organization by substituting the TIP moniker for the ETIM name in descriptions of Hassan Mahsum’s earlier organization in Afghanistan (see the TIP eulogy of Hasan Mahsum, Shumukh al-Islam Network Forum, April 1, 2009). The traditional Muslim name of the Uyghur homeland is “East Turkistan,” not simply “Turkistan,” which refers to a much larger physical area of Central Asia. Xinjiang (New Territory) is a Chinese name and is never used by Uyghur opposition groups.

Although the TIP was unknown before it began issuing threats of biological, chemical and conventional attacks on the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Abdul Haq claimed the movement began as part of the military wing of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) under the late Uzbek jihadi commander, Juma Namangani (killed in a U.S. aerial bombardment in November 2001). Uyghurs were present at IMU training camps in Afghanistan prior to 9/11.
Under the name Memtimin Memet (or Memetiming Memeti), Abdul Haq was identified in 2008 by China’s Ministry of Public Security as the successor of Hasan Mahsum and next leader of the ETIM (Xinhua, October 21). The statement, which named eight wanted Uyghur militants in connection with plots against the Olympics, made no mention of the TIP. The Ministry maintained that all of the Uyghur plots had been foiled by Chinese security forces. Though a series of bombings and attacks occurred in Xinjiang in August 2009, none were related to the Olympics (except through timing) and no claim of responsibility was issued by the TIP or ETIM. It is possible that the attacks were inspired by TIP videos, but this link has never been confirmed.

Tying Uyghur Militants to al-Qaeda

ETIM leader Hassan Mahsum always denied any connection between the ETIM and al-Qaeda, though there is no question a small group of Uyghur militants fought alongside their Taliban hosts against the Northern Alliance. According to China’s Foreign Ministry, the ETIM was a “terrorist organization with links to al-Qaeda,” but the scores of terrorists Beijing claimed that Bin Laden was sending to China in 2002 never materialized (, December 9, 2002). Likewise, the training and financial assistance that the U.S. State Department maintains al-Qaeda provided to the ETIM seems to have had little impact on ETIM’s inability to mount operations of any significance in China. The TIP’s “strategy” of making loud and alarming threats (attacks on the Olympics, use of biological and chemical weapons, etc.) without any operational follow-up has been enormously effective in promoting China’s efforts to characterize Uyghur separatists as “terrorists” with almost no material loss to China.

A videotaped biography of Hassan Makhdum carried by jihadi websites in 2009 claimed that “the leaders of the Turkistan Islamic Party nominated a new military leader, brother Abdul Haq, by consensus” to replace Hassan Makhdum after his death in 2003 (Shumukh al-Islam Network Forum, April 1, 2009). Despite his alleged role as leader of the al-Qaeda and Taliban-associated ETIM (or TIP) since 2003, Abdul Haq did not find his way onto the U.N. and U.S. Treasury Departments’ lists of terrorists “associated with Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda or the Taliban” until April 2009. [2] Where was Abdul Haq between 2001 and 2008? He is known to have been an instructor at IMU training camps in Afghanistan before 9/11, but disappears from the record until his sudden reemergence as leader of the TIP in 2008.

An ambitious and no doubt expensive media campaign including internet magazines and video productions has little counterpart in actual TIP operations. Through articles in its internet journal, TIP appears to claim the mantle of Hasan Mahsum’s ETIM. Many of these articles appear to be an attempt to create an organizational connection between the TIP and the earlier ETIM, going so far as to retroactively rename the ETIM.  Despite this, there is a chronological gap between the apparent demise of the ETIM, with the death of its leader in 2003, and the sudden emergence of the TIP in 2008. A few very minor militant actions in this period were attributed to the ETIM, though by this time Chinese authorities were using “ETIM” as an all-purpose descriptor for those responsible for any militant activity. There are scores of different Uyghur nationalist groups, which run the gamut from peaceful secularists to militant Islamist jihadis.

Promoting a Lost Cause in Xinjiang?

A video released in August, 2009 by the TIP’s own “Voice of Islam” media center and al-Fajr media center featured Abdul Haq and a number of TIP leaders discussing their jihad against “Chinese colonialism.” The video has an Arabic translation of the original Uyghur language remarks by the TIP leaders. A look at some of the leaders’ rhetoric shows a movement at odds with its time; its anti-communism decades too late to interest the West; its stated affinity to global jihad winning it no friends while doing nothing to actually further the cause of global jihad; their armed nationalism out of touch with young Uyghurs educated in Chinese and ready to seek economic opportunity at the expense of nationalist pride; and threats of terrorism not even winning them the head-pats given to Tibetan nationalists in an age of global economic integration in which China is a major player. Taking on China’s massive military on its own turf is also unlikely to make any priority list for global jihadists engaged in bitter struggles over South Asia and the Middle East. The following video excerpts give some indication of the stated motivation of the TIP:

Shaykh Uthman Umar Haji: “When we ask the Chinese people about the reason that brought them to our country, they say: ‘Turkistan is our land, it is a part of the Republic of China’… The Chinese are cowards and they fear death, but they did not find anyone to confront them and stop their march against Islamic East Turkistan. The Muslims will see how the Chinese Army will flee and leave Turkistan and its people alone…  What good comes to a man who lives under the Chinese colonies like an animal? It is really shameful for us to be enslaved by China and accept humiliation and deprivation as an alternative to carrying out Islamic rulings in all aspects of our lives.”

Shaykh Abdul Haq: “The Chinese people are forcing the Muslims to achieve complete apostasy under the slogan of ‘The law is above all.’  They are forcing Muslim children to learn the Communist doctrine and they are afraid that the mujahideen influence the youth. When the Chinese could not apply an idea, they start to distort the image of the mujahideen and jihad through the media. They wanted the Muslims not to wake up from their long slumber and not to be able to recognize their sons, the mujahideen, or to realize the reality of the Communist campaign.”

Shaykh Abdullah Mansur: “We have to conquer our own country and purify it of all infidels. Then, we should conquer the infidels’ countries and spread Islam. The infidels who are usurping our countries have announced war against Islam and Muslims, forcing Muslims to abandon Islam and change their beliefs.” [3]

Among the TIP’s main complaints are government restrictions on the number of children, the demolition of historical Muslim urban areas and the imposition of equality between men and women “in rights and duties” by the communist regime.

Struggling with the Chinese Behemoth

The apparent hopelessness of a military struggle against China was addressed by Commander Abdullah Mansur, who drew on the communists’ own experience:

The Communist Chinese knew the power and effectiveness of weapons more than us, because they practiced fighting before and reached this level. The Communist Red Army was not formed or assembled overnight, but they were formed one individual after the other until it became a massive army. When they started fighting against Japan and their allies, they fought without tanks or warplanes. However, they managed to deter the Japanese and expel them from their lands in spite of the fact that their enemy was equipped with tanks and warplanes…  We can say that confronting the Chinese enemy does not require possessing thousands of warplanes and tanks or thousands of soldiers, but it requires the first condition, which is faith in Almighty God and working according to His commands concerning preparation and jihad. [4]

Following the July 2009 riots in Urumqi that saw the loss of nearly 200 lives, Abdul Haq “appeared” (his face was digitally blurred) in a video urging Uyghurs and other Muslims to broaden the violence. “[The Chinese] must be targeted both at home and abroad. Their embassies, consulates, centers and gathering places should be targeted. Their men should be killed and captured to seek the release of our brothers who are jailed in Eastern Turkistan.” (Voice of Islam; July 31; Reuters, August 1, 2009; The Standard [Hong Kong], August 3, 2009). Despite Abdul Haq’s claim that “all the Islamic umma, especially the mujahideen in the world, are entirely ready to fight with their Muslim brothers in East Turkistan against the Chinese,” there were no takers in the jihadi community and the TIP again failed to follow words with operations.

Riot in Urumqi

Rioting in Urumqi, 2009

Having sentenced 26 people to death for their role in the Urumqi riots, China has now declared public security funding would be doubled for 2010 (al-Jazeera, January 28). Beijing has also announced plans to recruit 5,000 new special police officers to deal with unrest in Xinjiang. After a month of training, these new officers will serve in mixedunits with police from other parts of China (al-Jazeera, February 5). The security initiatives and additional spending suggest Beijing views 2010 as an opportunity to crush Uyghur separatism.

What was behind the decision to target Abdul Haq?

The United States designated the ETIM a terrorist organization in August 2002 after intense diplomatic pressure from China at a time when Washington was trying to prevent a Chinese veto at the U.N. over action against Iraq. The designation also followed a pledge by China to restrict missile technology transfers to nations like Iran. Though Uyghur militants had never targeted U.S. nationals or interests, the arrest of two Uyghurs in the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek in May 2002 became the justification for Washington’s action. The Uyghurs were alleged to have a map of the capital’s embassy district in their possession. This was quickly transformed into a plot to bomb the U.S. embassy and the men were deported to China, never to be heard from again. This incident is still used as “proof” of a Uyghur threat to America.

Amir Mir, a Pakistani journalist and security analyst who is usually well-informed on defense matters, said discussions with diplomats in Islamabad suggested China was pressing Pakistan for the right to conduct its own military operations against Uyghur militants in FATA and the NWFP, similar to American operations in the region (The News, March 3). The CIA and the U.S. government do not comment on the process used in targeting attacks by UAVs in Pakistan, but there is wide speculation that Islamabad has negotiated a say in identifying targets on its territory in return for allowing U.S. drone operations to continue. Pakistan has no interest in antagonizing China, a major economic and military partner, and may have called for a strike on the TIP leader to relieve intense pressure from Beijing to do something about Uyghur militants in northwest Pakistan.

Following the strike on Abdul Haq, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister travelled to Beijing to convince China of Pakistan’s sincerity in ridding the frontier region of TIP members and other Uyghur militants. On March 7, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi expressed satisfaction with Pakistan’s efforts; “I believe the government of Pakistan has effective control over the situation” (The Hindu, March 8).

Hasan Mahsum’s ETIM appears to have collapsed following his death in 2003. With the security forces of Pakistan, China and the United States aligned against it, it remains to be seen if the more “virtual” TIP will survive the death of Abdul Haq al-Turkistani.


1. See Andrew McGregor, “Chinese Counter-Terrorist Strike in Xinjiang,”  Johns Hopkins University Central Asia – Caucasus Institute Central Asia Caucasus Analyst (March 7, 2007),
2. U.S. Department of the Treasury Press Release TG-92, April 20, 2009,
3. Excerpts from “The Duty of Faith and Support,” Voice of Islam/al-Fajr Media Center, August 26, 2009.
4. Ibid

This article first appeared in the March 11, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Chinese Navy Conducts Independent Operations against Somali Pirates

Andrew McGregor

April 24, 2009

A second Chinese naval taskforce under Rear Admiral Yao Zhilou has arrived in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia to combat piracy in the area (Jiefangjun Bao Online, April 8). The new taskforce replaces the Chinese Navy’s earlier taskforce, consisting of the multi-purpose missile destroyer DDG-169 Wuhan, the destroyer DDG-171 Haikou (equipped with phased-array radar and the latest long-range air defense missiles) and the Qiandaohu class supply ship Weishanhu (Xinhua, December 26, 2008; China Daily, December 26, 2008). Since their arrival on January 6, the Chinese ships rescued three ships from pirates and drove off more than 100 suspicious vessels while providing naval escorts through the region (Xinhua, April 5).

Chinese Navy 1Chinese Frigate FFG-570 Huangshan

The second taskforce consists of China’s most advanced missile destroyer, the DDG-167 Shenzhen, and the FFG-570 Huangshan, the navy’s latest model frigate, which has a structural design intended to reduce its radar profile (Xinhua, April 2). The new task force also includes two helicopters and a contingent of navy Special Forces. Like the earlier taskforce, all the ships are modern products of Chinese naval yards. The ships belong to the South China Sea fleet, based in the port of Zhanjiang in Guangdong Province. The supply ship Weishanhu will remain in the Gulf to service the newly arrived ships.

More than 1,000 Chinese merchant ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year. Before the Chinese deployment began, as much as 20% of Chinese shipping in the Gulf was attacked in the previous year. Chinese authorities were no doubt alarmed by the hijacking of a Saudi oil tanker earlier this year off the coast of Somalia. Chinese tankers carry the output of the Chinese oil operations in Sudan from Port Sudan on the Red Sea Coast into the piracy zone in the Gulf of Aden. Chinese oil firms have also signed deals with the autonomous government of Puntland (the base of most pirate activities) to exploit potential oil reserves in Somali waters off the Puntland coast (Financial Times, July 13, 2007; AFP December 19, 2007).

According to Rear Admiral Yao Zhilou, the second mission, expected to last six months, may expand its zone of operations in response to adaptations made by the pirates, including greater coordination, upgraded arms and wider areas of operation (China Daily, April 18).

Huang Jiaxiang, political commissar of the South Sea Fleet of the Chinese Navy, outlined the objectives of the Chinese naval deployment;

• Fulfilling international obligations.

• Protecting national interests.

• Demonstrating the “good image of the People’s Army and the Chinese Navy.”

• Raising the navy’s capacity to carry out a variety of assigned duties (Xinhua, April 5).

The Chinese warships operate independently of the 20-nation Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151), a UN-authorized anti-piracy naval force. China has pledged to share information with CTF-151 ships and provide humanitarian help to foreign vessels in danger of attack (Xinhua, December 26, 2008). The main concern of the mission is the protection of Chinese merchant ships as well as any ship from Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan that appeals for protection (Xinhua, March 31; China Daily, December 26, 2008). There was initially some political concern in Taiwan after Chinese authorities reported a tanker belonging to Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Group had requested an escort from the Chinese naval group, but Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council later reported the Formosa Products Cosmos was registered in Liberia and no Taiwanese ships had been authorized to seek protection from the Chinese navy (China Post [Taiwan], January 14).

The Chinese naval deployment offers the opportunity to train naval crews in real-life conditions, gain familiarity with the operations of the foreign naval forces comprising CTF-151 (including American ships) and increase their knowledge of African coastal waters in an area of increasing strategic importance for Beijing. The latter, combined with Chinese involvement in a number of African peacekeeping missions, is resulting in a steady supply of intelligence on areas of Chinese interest in the region.

Chinese Navy 2Admiral Zheng He

The importance of the return of the Chinese Navy to African waters after an absence of 600 years was celebrated in a music video produced by the Chinese Navy’s political art troupe ( ).  The song, entitled “Make Haste to Somalia,” makes reference to the 15th century Muslim Chinese Admiral Zheng He, who took a Chinese fleet of hundreds of ships to the East African coast:

Make haste to Somalia, cruise the Gulf of Aden
With lofty sentiments, the Chinese navy heads for the deep blue
Braving wind and waves, the warship’s flag flutters,
The Chinese navy, a bright sword to harmonize the ocean.

Chinese warriors, valiant men with iron wills,
Intrepid journey, 600 years after Zheng He.
Heroic sailors, forge bravely ahead,
Bearing heavy responsibility, the motherland will see our triumphant return.

(Translation by, 2008).


This article first appeared in the April 24, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Kordofan Oil Operations at Risk as Killings Continue

Andrew McGregor

November 5, 2008

Right on the heels of the death of five Chinese oil workers in Sudan’s South Kordofan province came news of the murder of three Sudanese oil workers and the abduction of two Yemeni workers in neighboring Unity State. The latest ambush is blamed on individuals from Sudan’s Baqqara (cattle-owning) Arabs, who are also held responsible for the abduction and killing of the Chinese workers (Sudan Times, October 30).

Kordofan oil 1Murdered Chinese Oil Workers are Returned to China

Nine employees of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) were abducted on October 18 while doing contract work for the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC). Three were killed on October 27 in an incident described by Chinese authorities as a botched rescue attempt by the Sudanese Armed Forces and by Khartoum as an accident caused when the kidnappers became nervous after a military helicopter began monitoring their movements. Two more workers were found dead in the following days (AFP, October 31). Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi is reported to have told his Sudanese counterpart, “It is one of the most serious killing cases of oversea Chinese workers in recent years and we are very shocked by it” (Sudan Times, October 29). Four remaining workers were hospitalized after being rescued.

Identification of Arab Misseriya tribesmen as the responsible parties seems to have been confirmed by the arrival of a delegation of Misseriya leaders to negotiate the workers’ release and a claim of responsibility from Abu Humaid Ahmad Dannay, a Misseriya who also claims to be the leader of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in Kordofan (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, October 24). Though JEM has repeatedly stated its determination to drive out China’s oil operations, it has denied any participation in the latest abductions through recognized spokesmen. Dannay refuted Khartoum’s description of the abductions as terrorism, stating, “The government is terrorizing us and we will respond in a similar manner.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry has also denounced the kidnappings as “terrorism” while calling for “severe punishment” of those responsible (China Daily, October 29; Xinhua, October 28). Sudanese security forces report they have the names of 25 individuals involved in the abductions, while local reports say the kidnappers are suffering from shortages of food and drinking water (Miriya FM, October 32; November 1).

The government continued to claim that Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) was responsible for the abductions until November 1, when Sudanese Foreign Minister Deng Alor identified the suspects as former members of the government’s Popular Defense Forces (PDF) militia who were not integrated into the regular army after the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) (Sudan Tribune, November 1). The PDF in South Kordofan have suffered from a recent decline in funding and numerous defections to the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA).

Kordofan oil 2Misseriya Leaders

Misseriya grievances against Sudan’s growing oil industry include the destruction of pasture land and a preference for employing imported Asian workers instead of hiring locally. Having fought for years on the frontline of the north-south civil war, the Misseriya now feel abandoned by Khartoum. The Misseriya feel that the oil fields of the north-south border region were secured through their efforts, only to now see oil revenues used for the reconstruction of Khartoum while the poverty of South Kordofan remains unchanged. The leadership of the Misseriya is in a state of flux after government efforts to replace traditional leaders who supported Sadiq al-Mahdi’s Umma party with inexperienced individuals willing to support the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), which is dominated by Arab Islamists from north Sudan. Misseriya gunmen also abducted four Indian oil workers and their Sudanese driver last May.

Continuing attacks on oil workers threaten the development of the petroleum industry in Sudan just as a decline in oil prices and demand is creating a sharp drop in current revenues. The continuing militarization of the oil-producing regions is unlikely to inspire further investment, though China has stated its close economic involvement with Sudan will stay unchanged despite this latest in a series of attacks on Chinese facilities (AP, October 21).

This article first appeared in the November 5, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

China Releases List of Olympic Terrorism Suspects

Andrew McGregor

October 30, 2008

China’s Ministry of Public Security announced the names of eight Uyghur militants charged with Olympic games-related terrorist activities on October 21. While no actual terrorist incidents were reported during the August games, a Ministry spokesman claimed all the various Uyghur plots were foiled by Chinese security forces (Xinhua, October 21).

xinjiang olympic 1Chinese Security Forces Clamp Down in Xinjiang

The suspects are alleged to be members of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM -East Turkistan is the Uyghur term for the western Chinese province of Xinjiang). In the weeks prior to the Olympics, there were video threats from a previously unknown Uyghur Muslim group called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), which claimed responsibility for a number of older incidents they were clearly not involved in before making outlandish threats of massive attacks on Olympic facilities using conventional and chemical weapons. The TIP has not been heard from since. Though a series of bombings and attacks occurred in Xinjiang in August, none were related to the Olympics (except through timing) and no claim of responsibility was issued by the TIP or ETIM.

There has been little ETIM activity since the death of its leader Hasan Mahsum at the hands of Pakistani troops in October 2003. According to a 2002 Chinese government report that gave exaggerated figures for the size of the movement, the ETIM received training in camps run by al-Qaeda or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. Chinese security forces claimed Hasan Mahsum received funding from Osama bin Laden, though the late ETIM leader denied any connection to al-Qaeda. The movement received a U.S. designation as a terrorist organization after intense diplomatic pressure from China in 2002.

The new report charges Memtimin Memet (“Memetiming Memeti” in the Xinhua transliteration) with being the successor of Hasan Mahsum as leader of the ETIM. Memet is charged with organizing fundraising and military training before issuing orders in January for terrorist attacks on the Beijing Olympics.

Xinjiang Olympic 2Another alleged militant, Emet Yaqub (“Emeti Yaquf”), seems to be identified as the “Commander Seyfullah” who issued the TIP video threat that was dated July 23 and appeared on the U.S. IntelCenter website on July 25. The Ministry document makes no mention of TIP and cites only a “June 2008” video that threatened the Olympic games with chemical and biological weapons. Most of the suspects are reported to have trained with explosives and poisons, though no actual attacks are claimed.

The Ministry document is extremely vague on locations, dates and other details of the terrorist plots, but attempts to compensate for this with less relevant details, such as aliases, birthdays, education levels and official identification numbers. The report avoids identifying locations for the ETIM’s external activities, referring only to “a South Asian country” and “a certain Middle East country.” The “South Asian country” is most likely Pakistan, which is currently seeking financial and nuclear aid from Beijing.

China is seeking international support in apprehending and extraditing the ETIM suspects, who are believed to be out of the country. The release of the statement comes as China is lobbying the U.S. to “avoid double standards” and extradite 17 Uyghurs currently held in the Guantanamo Bay prison (Xinhua, October 21; Hsin Pao [Hong Kong], October 23). The men have been found innocent of terrorist activities and were recently ordered released by a court order, though the U.S. administration is appealing the ruling (AP, October 9; LA Times, October 8). Uyghur expatriates claim China is mounting a new campaign of repression against Xinjiang’s Uyghurs now that the Olympic games are over (Sherqiy Turkistan Axbarat Merkizi [East Turkistan Information Center, Munich], October 15).

 This article first appeared in the October 30, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Identity of Kidnappers of Chinese Oil Workers in Sudan Still Unclear

Andrew McGregor

October 22, 2008

Nine Chinese oil workers were abducted on October 18 from a small oil field in the South Kordofan region of Sudan. It was another example of the insecurity that plagues oil operations in Sudan and is the third abduction of petroleum industry employees this year. The men are employees of Chinese oil giant China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and were doing contract work at the time for the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), a consortium made up of Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and Sudanese elements (al-Jazeera, October 19; Reuters, October 19; Sudan Tribune, October 19). Security forces are reported to be scouring the area but have been hampered by rain and the thick bush and forest of the area.

China KordofanChinese Oil Workers in South Kordofan  (Radio Tamazuj)

Sudan and China have agreed to joint efforts to obtain the release of the kidnapped oil workers (SUNA, October 20). A crisis cell has been formed within the Chinese embassy to deal with the issue (Sudan Vision, October 20).

A spokesman for Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a Darfur rebel group with national ambitions, of carrying out the abductions (SUNA, October 20). The Chinese embassy has not yet had any contact with the kidnappers (AFP, October 20). Despite government claims of JEM involvement, there is a strong possibility the kidnappers are members of the local Arab Messiriya tribe. Part of the cattle-owning Baqqara Arab group of western Sudan, the Messiriya are angry over the inequitable distribution of jobs and oil wealth from industry facilities located on their traditional grazing lands. JEM claims the Messiriya have joined their operations against Kordofan oil facilities in the past in reaction to a government disarmament campaign (see Terrorism Monitor, August 11). Four Indian oil workers and their Sudanese driver were kidnapped by the Messiriya last May (Sudan Tribune, July 27). Though it has warned Chinese oil companies to leave the region in the past, JEM has neither confirmed nor denied participation in the current kidnapping – JEM units are often far-flung and operate with a great deal of autonomy.

BaqqaraChina’s efforts to fuel its rapid economic growth have led it into some high-risk areas where social and political instability have dissuaded others from working. Two Chinese engineers were kidnapped in Pakistan by the Taliban and have been held in the Swat valley since August 29. In a recent escape attempt one man reached a government checkpoint while the other fractured his leg and was recaptured by the Taliban (Geo TV, October 18).

The Kordofan abductions come at an embarrassing moment for the Khartoum government. Chinese special envoy to Africa Liu Guijin is scheduled to arrive on Friday to discuss the Darfur crisis. Chinese support for Khartoum is beginning to wear at its international credibility and there are reports that China has advised Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir to begin cooperating with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has recently indicted him for war crimes in Darfur (Sudan Tribune, October 18). China has also recently opened a consulate in the southern capital of Juba in an effort to develop relations with the oil-rich Government of South Sudan (GoSS) as it prepares for an independence referendum in 2011.

This article first appeared in the October 22, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Anti-Olympic Terrorist Plot by China’s Yi Ethnic Minority Alleged

Andrew McGregor

September 2, 2008

While most eyes were turned to the Muslim Uyghurs of Xinjiang as the possible source of a terrorist strike against last month’s Beijing Olympics, there are reports that members of a little-known Chinese ethnic minority, the Yi, may have been planning their own attack (ICHRD – Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, [Hong Kong], August 21).

Yi 1German Colonial-Era Buildings (foreground) in Cangkou (Tsingtao)

According to the Hong-Kong based ICHRD, on August 17 three men belonging to the Yi minority penetrated the security of the Cangkou military airport in Qingdao (Shandong Province), a Yellow Sea port and former German colony in northeast China once known as Tsingtao. The men, who were alleged to be carrying explosives, were discovered by a guard, and after a brief and unsuccessful struggle to seize the guard’s weapon the men fled, leaving behind explosives and personal documents that later led to their arrest. Cangkou airport played an important role as the source of flights monitoring algae formation off Qingdao, the site of the Olympic sailing events. The ICHRD speculated that “the suspects could have been trying to sneak into the airport and capture or hijack a plane, fly to the competition venues, and crash the plane into the Olympic village or among the competing teams.”

The three suspects were identified by security forces as Ehqi Lahe, Jiluo Lahou and Ehqi Lake, all of the Meigu County of Sichuan Province. Qingdao’s Public Security Bureau quickly denied the possibility of a terrorist plot, insisting that the men were part of a criminal gang that intended to steal from the airport (Zhongguo Xinwen She [Beijing], August 21; South China Morning Post, August 22). In a separate report, the ICHRD claimed that five boxes of explosives were stolen from a Meigu County ordnance factory on July 7 (ICHRD, August 21).

Yi 2Yi Minority Women

Though a 2000 census found more than 7 million Yi in southwest China, the minority is far from homogenous. There is little interaction between many Yi groups, who have developed distinct social systems, costumes, scripts, and languages, often in relative isolation. Some of the more remote sections of the Yi did not come under central Chinese control until after the Communists took over in 1949. Like the Uyghurs, certain Yi scholars maintain that their culture and civilization predates that of the dominant Han Chinese by thousands of years. The Yi are primarily found in the Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou provinces, as well as the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The Yi of Sichuan Province are deeply impoverished and have lately been disturbed by tourist development of their sacred lands in the region. An April investigative report by the Guangdong Southern Metropolis newspaper claimed that thousands of Yi children from the Liangshan district of Sichuan were being sold into slavery “like cabbages” to fuel the need for industrial labor in southern China.

A report from the government-owned Xinhua News Agency stated that 225 pilots from China’s ethnic minorities, including the Yi, were “working hard to ensure normal and safe operation of flights during the ongoing Beijing Olympic Games” (Xinhua, August 21).

Though the ICHRD is basically a one-man operation conducted by twice-imprisoned dissident Frank Lu Siqing, it is regarded as an authoritative source for reports on human rights issues in mainland China by the U.S. government and major news agencies including the BBC, VOA, CNN, and numerous others. Lu Siqing was granted permanent residence status in Hong Kong in 2000 under the “one country, two systems” policy of the Beijing government (AP, August 19, 2000). According to the ICHRD website, Lu Siqing operates a network of 5,000 informers within mainland China. The informers escape police scrutiny by calling Lu Siqing’s pager from a public telephone, a local call. Lu Siqing then calls them back on the same line. Lu Siqing has also suggested providing his informers with tiny “spy-rate” cameras and video cameras to document human rights abuses within China.


This article first appeared in the September 2, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus


Sudan’s Oil Industry Faces Major Security Challenges

Andrew McGregor

August 11, 2008

Sudan’s growing oil industry has already transformed the capital of Khartoum and has the potential to raise living standards throughout the country. The industry, dominated by Asian multinationals, nevertheless faces serious security threats from rebel movements unhappy with the conduct of foreign companies and the distribution of oil revenues.

Sudan oil industrySudan has an estimated oil reserve of five billion barrels, making it an important player in an energy-hungry world. The reserves are part of the vast Central African Muglad Basin, which provides two main types of oil – Dar Blend Crude, which is typically sold at a discount due to its high acidity, and the higher quality heavy sweet Nile Blend Crude (APS Review Oil Market Trends, February 27, 2006). Sudan does not have the equipment, personnel, or experience to exploit its oil resource; foreign participation is thus essential. Oil production by Western oil companies was set to begin in the 1980s, but was halted because the outbreak of the Second Civil War made the work too dangerous. China, Malaysia, and India now control most of the Sudanese oil industry after filling the void in the 1990s.

Most of the oil is found in the South Sudan, with smaller oilfields in the western province of Kordofan. Exploration is ongoing in east Sudan and ready to begin in north Darfur. Khartoum’s control of the South Sudan oilfields depends on the outcome of provisions of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), the south’s largest rebel movement. The two signatories form the Government of National Unity (GoNU), which rules the country until the status of the South is determined by referendum in 2011.

The China Factor

Chinese involvement in Sudan’s oil sector began in 1995 when President Omar al-Bashir invited China to develop Sudan’s oil industry during a visit to Beijing (China Daily, November 3, 2006). China is now the world’s second-largest oil importer, with Sudan ranking somewhere between its fourth and sixth largest source of oil, according to various estimates (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Angola, and Oman are other major suppliers). Sudan currently pumps 500,000 bpd, with an estimated 200,000 bpd going to China, representing 6% of China’s daily supply (Reuters, January 22). According to an official of the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China has invested over $6 billion in the last decade in 14 oil projects (Sudan Tribune, November 5, 2007). In return, Beijing’s political support for Sudan at the UN Security Council and elsewhere is generally unwavering.

China’s quiet “arms for oil” exchange in the Sudan has angered rebel movements in Darfur, who have long accused Beijing of supplying the weapons used by Janjaweed militias and the regular Sudanese Army to slaughter civilians and destroy local infrastructure. It is estimated that as much as 90% of Sudan’s small-arms imports come from China, with many of these weapons reaching Darfur despite an international embargo on all parties involved in the conflict (AP, August 5). China has also supplied Nanchang A-5 ground attack aircraft (NATO name: Fantan A-5) and training for the pilots. The fighters operate out of the Nyala airbase in Darfur (BBC TV, July 14).

Darfur-Based Rebels Oppose China’s Oil Companies

China’s main opponent in Sudan is Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a skilled guerrilla force capable of mounting long-distance attacks under a leadership drawn mostly from the Zaghawa tribe, which straddles the border between Darfur and Chad.

Last October JEM seized GNPOC facilities at the Defra oil field in South Kordofan as a warning to China to cease its military and political support for Khartoum. Five oil workers were taken hostage with the warning, “Our main targets will be oilfields” (Reuters, October 25; October 29, 2007). A group of JEM rebels tried to seize Chinese facilities at al-Rahaw in South Kordofan in November 2007. JEM claimed to have taken the site but the SAF insisted they were driven off. “Our attack is another attempt at telling Chinese companies to leave the country…We are implementing our threat of attacks against foreign companies, particularly Chinese ones, and we will continue to attack… Our goal is for oil revenues to go back to the Sudanese people and that is a strategic plan of our movement,” said JEM commander Abdul Aziz al-Nur Ashr, the brother-in-law of JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim (AFP, December 11, 2007). Ashr is currently standing trial on charges of terrorism and insurrection in Khartoum after being captured in JEM’s May raid on Omdurman (see Terrorism Monitor, May 15).

In December JEM claimed to have seized part of the Hejlij oilfield after defeating SAF troops (Reuters, December 11, 2007). JEM official Eltahir Abdam Elfaki said the Arab Messiriya tribe had joined JEM in their attacks on Chinese oil operations after becoming angered when they were included in a disarmament campaign (Dow Jones, April 15).

The Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M – not to be confused with the SPLA/M), a mostly Fur Darfur rebel group led by Abdul Wahid al-Nur, has also threatened Chinese oil facilities. In an interview al-Nur told Dow Jones, “Oil companies are gravely mistaken if they think security agreements with the sole government in Khartoum are enough to protect their operations” (Dow Jones, December 8, 2007). In April a JEM official announced JEM “would love” to have Western oil companies replace Chinese firms: “We don’t want China. We want to expel them. We have the means… We are preparing new attacks” (Dow Jones, April 15).

Darfur’s National Redemption Front (NRF) and the SLA/M attacked the Abu Jabra oil field in west Kordofan in November, 2006, causing significant damage to the facilities (Sudan Tribune, November 26, 2006; AP, November 27, 2006). The NRF, drawn mostly from the Zaghawa tribe, has close ties to Chad and normally operates in northern Darfur.

China has supplied a 315 man military engineering team to the United Nations Mission in Darfur peacekeeping force. Last November JEM commander Abdul Aziz al-Nur Ashr stated, “Our position is clear, the Chinese are not here for peace and they must leave immediately… Otherwise, we will consider the Chinese soldiers as part of the government forces and we will act accordingly… China is complicit in the genocide being carried out in Darfur and the Chinese are here to protect their oil interests in Kordofan” (AFP, November 25, 2007).

The discovery of oil in Darfur was first announced by the Sudanese Minister of Energy and Mining in April 2005. China is eager to begin serious exploration in Block 12-A, located in northern Darfur. Discussions on security have been undertaken with Khartoum, which is insisting the SAF first establish secure conditions on the ground before exploration begins. Once established, Chinese oil facilities in the region will be guarded by troops of the SAF (Sudan Tribune, July 9). Saudi and Yemeni companies are also interested in working in Darfur.

Total SA’s Return to the South Sudan

Since Canadian Talisman Energy pulled out under domestic and international pressure in 2002, the oil industry in Sudan has been dominated by Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian interests. Now, however, French oil-giant Total SA is expected to begin drilling in South Sudan’s Block B in October after a 25 year absence (Business Daily [Nairobi], June 26). Total paid $1.5 million per year to retain its license until operations could be resumed (Dow Jones, October 3, 2006). One of Total’s partners in the original 1980 consortium, Houston-based Marathon Oil, was forced to divest a 32.5% stake in the project earlier this year because of American sanctions. Total has already used its annual report to brace shareholders against a possible drop in share value if U.S. investment funds are forced to divest their Total holdings as a result of the sanctions. Total’s operations will be centered around Bor, capital of Jonglei Province, some 600 miles south of Khartoum. According to a Total official, “Our presence should clearly benefit the peoples of southern Sudan who have exited a long war, by helping with peace building, development, human rights, and democracy” (AFP, July 3).

Crisis in Abyei

Much of Sudan’s oil industry is concentrated in the Abyei district, located in the volatile border region between North and South Sudan. Abyei is the traditional home of the Ngok Dinka, a Nilotic group closely related to the Dinka tribes that form the power base for the SPLA/M. It is also, however, a traditional grazing land for the semi-nomadic Messiriya tribe, Baggara (cattle-owning) Arabs who identify with their Arab kinsmen in North Sudan. Under the CPA, the Messiriya retain their grazing rights in Abyei until the region’s status is decided in 2011. In 1905 the Anglo-Egyptian government of Sudan incorporated the territory of nine Ngok Dinka chiefs into Kordofan province, regarded as part of the North Sudan. After independence in 1956, relations between the Ngok Dinka and the Messiriya deteriorated as the tribes lined up with the southern Anyanya rebels and the Khartoum government, respectively, during the 1956-1972 Civil War. When hostilities resumed in 1983, many Ngok Dinka joined the newly-formed SPLA/M, while the Messirya were urged to join the Murahaleen, horse-borne Baggara militias given free rein to raid and loot Southern tribes in the borderlands between north and south Sudan. The Murahaleen became the model for the Janjaweed of Darfur.

Though the CPA established the Abyei Borders Commission as an independent agency responsible for setting the modern borders of Abyei district, their work has been rejected by Khartoum, which insists on maintaining the 1905 borders that would keep most of Abyei’s oil production in northern hands. The CPA calls for a referendum in the district in 2011 that will determine whether the district joins the South Sudan (which will also vote on separation the same year) or remains an administrative district of the North.

Khartoum has been slow to remove its troops, arguing that they are needed to protect oil facilities. Fighting between the Messiriya and the SPLA has been common in the last two years. As insecurity increased the SAF returned to Abyei earlier this year, where they eventually clashed with the SPLA in intense fighting that flattened the town of Abyei in May and threatened to reopen the civil war. At least 30,000 people were displaced by the fighting. Eventually a June 8 “roadmap” was negotiated, calling for the creation of SAF/SPLA “joint integrated units” to restore order in the region (AFP, July 9). UN forces in the region provided transportation and ten days of training (Sudan Tribune, July 5). This did not prevent the SPLA from accusing the SAF of raiding a village six miles north of Abyei in July, a charge the SAF denied (Reuters, July 23).

The Messiriya have had their own disputes with the oil companies – on May 13 Messiriya tribesmen abducted four Indians working with Petro Energy Contracting Services in south Kordofan. Three escaped in June (though one went missing in the bush), while the fourth was released in late July (AFP, July 25).

United Nations forces are present in the region, tasked primarily with supporting the implementation of the CPA. Formed in 2005 with the agreement of the SPLA and NCP, the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) is a Chapter VII peacekeeping force mostly formed from Asian and African troops and is separate from UNAMID, the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur. UNMIS is deployed in six regions: Bahr al-Ghazal (where Chinese peacekeepers are deployed), Equatoria, Upper White Nile, Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei. UNMIS is not mandated to protect oil facilities.

UN civilian staff evacuated Abyei during the May fighting; several hundred mostly Zambian peacekeepers remained but did not intervene despite being authorized as a Chapter VII force to protect civilians (Sudan Tribune, May 15). After coming under criticism, UNMIS explained that the movement of its Zambian troops had been restricted by the SAF (The Monitor [Kampala], June 16). These restrictions were removed after the June 8 “roadmap” agreement.

Improving SPLA Military Capacity

In June the SPLA introduced a White Paper on Defense in the South Sudanese parliament in Juba despite opposition from the Ministry of National Defense in Khartoum, which claims it is a violation of the CPA (Sudan Tribune, June 27; Al-Ahdath, June 26). The White Paper calls for the creation of regular and reserve land forces, a small navy to patrol rivers, and a new South Sudan Air Force (SSAF). Although the SPLA is experiencing difficulties in paying its existing force, the document calls for the purchase of modern weapons and aircraft, obviously with an eye to use oil revenues for arms purchases necessary to secure the South Sudan’s energy resources.

DynCorp, a U.S.-based private security firm best known for a sex-trade scandal in Bosnia, was given a $40 million contract by Washington in 2006 to provide training and telecommunications to the SPLA. According to a DynCorp official, “The US government has decided that a stable military force will create a stable country” (Sudan Tribune, August 12, 2006). DynCorp lost its contract after numerous irregularities and misconduct by two of its advisors in the field was revealed. The contract was turned over to United States Investigative Services (USIS), another private security firm with close ties to the U.S. administration.


The conflict over Abyei is not a promising sign for peace in the region. If the North-South Civil War resumes, the oil industry will have little choice except to abandon their operations as they did in the 1980s. Khartoum is therefore desperate to find oil in the north (including Darfur) before the 2011 referendum. China is experiencing a moderate risk from JEM in its south Kordofan oil operations, but a move into Darfur will be highly risky, inviting attacks from JEM and other militant groups on their home ground. The Darfur rebels are also determined to claim their share of future oil revenues. The belief that all armed movements will eventually be given a share in these revenues as part of a negotiated settlement has led to increasing factionalism amongst the rebels, in turn increasing insecurity and decreasing the possibility of a negotiated peace.

This article first appeared in the August 11, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor


Fueling the Dragon: China’s Uranium Industry in Niger

Andrew McGregor

October 3, 2007

A latecomer to the exploitation of foreign energy resources, China has resorted to developing economic relationships with high-risk yet energy-rich nations like Niger in order to maintain its extraordinary pace of development. According to the International Energy Agency, with China’s demand for energy resources steadily increasing, it faces the possibility of having to import 80 percent of its energy needs by 2030 [1]. Demand for oil products in China is expected to grow by at least 5.6 percent each year for the next five years (Xinhua, October 25, 2005).

Niger energy mapFor several years now, China has looked to Africa for its energy future, and the continent already supplies 25 percent of China’s oil needs. Niger, an impoverished former French colony, has been targeted by China for energy resource development due to its potential reserves of petroleum and its vast confirmed reserves of uranium. Uranium production in Niger (until recently dominated by France) represents 8-10 percent of the world’s supply (3,400 tons in 2006) and accounts for nearly 70 percent of the country’s exports. Given China’s recent emphasis on developing additional nuclear power plants, such a supply of uranium has proven to be incredibly attractive for China’s state-owned energy companies.

The Diplomatic Front

China and Niger first established diplomatic relations in 1974. After a four-year hiatus due to Niger’s short-lived diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, China resumed official relations with Niger in 1996. Since then, Nigerien and Chinese leaders have been frequent visitors to each other’s capitals. The groundwork for the resumption of relations between the two nations was laid during meetings between Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja and Chinese President Jiang Zemin in 2001. During the same visit, Tandja became the first foreign head of state to visit the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of northwest China, a largely Muslim province that has had experience in anti-desertification and irrigation techniques (People’s Daily, June 6, 2001).

China’s main exports to Niger include textiles, communications equipment and rice. Niger, like most other African countries, supplies China with raw materials but has had great difficulty in establishing a Chinese market for its own manufactured goods. China’s booming export industry tends to suppress the manufacturing sector in many African countries, hindering local development. Sino-Nigerien economic relations are governed by a bilateral trade agreement and a joint economic and trade commission. China also provides scholarships for Nigerien students to Chinese universities and medical assistance in the form of a 36-member medical team. In addition, Chinese goodwill has also been expressed through prestige development efforts like the Zinder water supply project, completed in May 2006.

A Strategic Energy Supply

Niger presents the most promising source of uranium to fuel China’s program to dramatically increase its use of nuclear power. China’s current reliance on coal-powered energy plants is quickly choking its cities in layers of toxic smog. To remedy this, China plans to build one nuclear plant a year until 2020, mostly in the rapidly expanding industrial centers along the Chinese coast. The project will increase China’s nuclear generating capacity from its current nine gigawatts (GW) to 40 GW (Reuters, September 20). China’s attempt to develop cleaner energy sources, however, could come at a cost to Niger’s environment, a cost Niger seems willing to bear given its desperate need for capital.

Chinese firms active in Niger’s energy sector include the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), the China Nuclear International Uranium Corporation (Sino-Uranium), the China National Uranium Corporation (CNUC) and the Société des Mines d’Agelik, a Chinese prospecting company owned by the China Nuclear Engineering and Construction (Group) Corporation. The CNUC is developing two sites in the Agadez region of Niger, Teguidda and the smaller Madaouela. Production was scheduled to begin in 2010, though this is now threatened by rebel activity. The CNPC is currently exploring for oil in the Agadez region’s Bilma and Tenere concessions.

Domestic Instability

Rebel activity in Niger’s resource-rich north has threatened the short-term development of its resource industry and has made it much more difficult for Chinese firms to operate in the region. A Tuareg-led rebel group, Le Mouvement des Nigeriens pour la Justice (MNJ), is demanding an end to economic marginalization, environmental degradation and ethnic discrimination. Under pressure from the elusive rebels, the northern region of the country has reverted to military rule. While President Tandja has attempted to stifle all news coming out of the north, Niger’s rebel movement has been effective in capitalizing upon modern communications technology as a medium for public relations [2].

Already, the rebels have already begun harassing Chinese companies, and the July kidnapping of a Sino-Uranium executive by the MNJ was intended as a warning to foreign mineral firms that their disregard for the environment and their present arrangements with the Niger government are unacceptable (Xinhua, July 7). (The executive was later released unharmed.) Rebels also attacked an armed supply convoy heading to a CNPC exploration camp in July, killing four soldiers. Following these incidents, the Chinese pulled out of their field operations to return under military escort to Agadez.

The MNJ accuses China of supplying arms to Nigerien military operations in the north in exchange for mineral concessions. They also accuse the government of using mineral revenues to purchase military arms and equipment, including two Russian-made helicopter gunships. Niger’s government denies the charges, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry maintains that it takes a “cautious and responsible approach” to arms exports, strictly observing “domestic laws and international obligations” [3]. Yet, rumors abound in West Africa of a Chinese military presence in the region; in January, the Nigeria’s Defense Minister was forced to issue a public denial after reports of Chinese troops operating in the Niger Delta under contract from the Lagos government were published in a local newspaper (The Guardian [Nigeria], January 24).

French-Chinese Competition

Until recently, the French uranium company Areva had a virtual monopoly on uranium production since the material was first discovered in Niger in 1957. In early September, several Nigerien civil-society groups organized marches to demand Areva’s departure from Niger for allegedly supporting the northern rebels, though no concrete proof was offered to support the charges. The leader of one of the groups involved in the protest suggested that Areva was hiring mercenaries to plant landmines (VOA, September 8). Concurrently, officials of the Niger government have accused Areva of plotting to frighten off their Chinese rivals in the uranium-rich Agadez region by financing MNJ attacks. Even the French government was pulled into the dispute, eventually offering resolution services as well as a team to demine northern Niger. After both the rebels and the French uranium miners denied the accusations of collaboration, Areva increased its payments to the Niger government and committed itself to improving environmental safety measures. It should be noted that Areva has hardly been immune to MNJ activities; on April 30, rebels attacked Areva’s Imouraren exploration camp, killing one and wounding four (AFP, April 20). Areva was subsequently forced to halt operations in the area for a month.

Areva is also making efforts to enter China’s nuclear development sector, but there are reports that China has recently cancelled plans for two Areva reactors to be built in Guangdong Province in favor of using domestic technology (though there is still the possibility that the Areva reactors might be relocated) (Reuters, September 20). France relies heavily on the Areva operations in Niger for uranium to supply its own reactors and nuclear weapons program. Without alternative sources of supply, France will use all of its influence to maintain its leading position in Niger’s resource sector. Reflecting energy competition abroad, India has also suddenly emerged as a major competitor for undeveloped energy supplies in the West African region, though in Niger, China may have acted quickly to sideline India’s offers to the Niger government (Times of India, September 23).


The recent international revival of interest in nuclear power has created an opportunity for Niger to break out of the neo-colonial legacy of French rule by broadening its trade and cooperation with countries like China. As Niger’s Prime Minister Seyni Oumarou recently said of this shift in patrons, “Nothing is going to be as it was in Niger…Today the whole world is seeking to profit from the partnership with the Chinese and we should not isolate ourselves from that” (Reuters, August 1). Yet China’s sense of urgency in locking up energy supplies makes it vulnerable to major disruptions from opposition groups, such as Niger’s MNJ. Efforts to secure energy resources irrespective of market supply and demand threatens to destabilize global energy markets while perpetuating corrupt and undemocratic regimes that are able to offer protection to Chinese operations, thus leading China into a neo-colonial style relationship it has long tried to avoid in Africa.


  1. Osumi, Yo, “World Energy Outlook, and Energy Security and Cooperation in Northeast Asia,” presentation at IEA Conference, “The Korean Peninsula and Energy Security in Northeast Asia: Toward a Northeast Asian Energy Forum,” November 27-28, 2006, available online at:
  2. The MNJ posts information about itself at:
  3. The statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry is available online at:

This article first appeared in the October 3, 2007 issue of the China Brief

China’s Oil Offensive Strikes: Horn of Africa and Beyond

Andrew McGregor

August 10, 2007

In its efforts to expel an Islamist government and capture a handful of inactive al-Qaeda suspects in Somalia, the United States has risked its political reputation in the region through a series of unpopular measures. These include backing an unsuccessful attempt by warlords to take over the country, several ineffective air raids, and finally, the financing of an unpopular Ethiopian military intervention. As African Union peacekeepers struggle to restore stability in the capital of Mogadishu, China has stepped in to sign the first oil exploration deal negotiated by Somalia’s new government. The agreement is the first of its kind since the overthrow of the Siad Barre regime in 1991 began a long period of political chaos in the strategically important nation.

China Oil 1Chinese Oil Rig in South Sudan (Tong Jiang/Imaginechina)

China’s four major oil corporations have unlimited government support, allowing them to edge out the smaller Western oil companies that traditionally take on high-risk exploration projects like Somalia. Latecomers to the global oil game, the Chinese companies and their exploration offshoots have focused on oil-bearing regions neglected by major Western operators because of political turmoil, insecurity, sanctions or embargoes. China once hoped to supply the bulk of its energy needs from deposits in its western province of Xinjiang, but disappointing reserve estimates and an exploding economy have given urgency to China’s drive to secure its energy future. Twenty-five percent of China’s crude oil imports now come from African sources.

The Somalia deal is part of a decades-long Chinese campaign to engage Africa through investment, development aid, “soft loans,” arms sales and technology transfers. The European Union recently warned China that it would not participate in any debt-relief projects involving China’s generous “soft-loans” in Africa (Reuters, July 30).

Global demand for oil is expected to rise over 50 percent in the next two decades even as prices rise and reserves decline. To meet this demand, China and other Asian countries offer massive infrastructure developments in exchange for oil rights. President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders are regular visitors to African capitals and Chinese direct investment in Africa totaled $50 billion last year.

Oil in Somalia?

Last month a deal was reached between Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmad, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and China International Oil and Gas (CIOG) to begin oil exploration in the Mudug region of the semi-autonomous state of Puntland (northeast Somalia) (Financial Times, July 17). Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which has yet to secure its rule, is to receive 51 percent of the potential revenues under the deal.

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf (a native of Puntland) appears to have negotiated the deal in concert with Puntland officials but without the knowledge of the Prime Minister, Ali Muhammad Gedi, who is still working on legislation governing the oil industry and production-sharing agreements. Gedi insists that “in order to protect the wealth of the country and the interests of the Somali people, we cannot operate without a regulatory body, without rules and regulations” (Financial Times, July 17). The agreement with China may become an important test of the authority of the transitional government. China has effectively pre-empted the return of Western oil interests to Somalia, though it is unclear how the Chinese project may be affected by the passage of a new national oil bill. Somali negotiators assured the Chinese firms that new legislation would have no impact on exploration work due to begin in September (Shabelle Media Network, July 17).

Though Somalia has no proven reserves of oil, Range Resources, a small Australian oil company already active in Puntland, suggests that the area might yield 5 to 10 billion barrels (Shabelle Media Network, July 14). Somalia is also estimated to have 200 billion cubic feet of untapped natural gas reserves. Western petroleum corporations, however, conducted extensive exploration of potential oil-bearing sites in Somalia in the 1980s and found nothing worth developing.

Public unrest is already on the rise in Puntland as the local government grows increasingly authoritarian and the national treasury has mysteriously dried up. Discontent has accelerated as leaders of the one-party regime continue to sign resource development deals with Western and Arab companies without any form of public consultation. The new deal with China has the potential to ignite political unrest in one of the few areas of Somalia to have avoided the worst of the nation’s brutal political nightmare.

China’s Strategy in Africa

Last November, Beijing hosted an important summit meeting between Chinese leaders and representatives of 48 African countries. The African delegates gave unanimous support to a declaration endorsing a one-China policy and “China’s peaceful reunification” [1]. China in turn announced a $5 billion African development fund (administered by China’s Eximbank), with a promise of $15 billion more in aid and debt forgiveness to come. In exchange for secure energy supplies, China is also offering barrier-free access to Chinese markets, something Africans have been unable to obtain from the United States or the EU.

China Oil 2While China has had success in securing energy supplies in Africa, its oil offensive is by no means flawless. Chinese corporations working abroad provide little employment for local people and are remarkably tolerant of corruption and human rights abuses. Chinese overseas operations are also notorious for their disregard of environmental considerations. The latter is perhaps unsurprising, considering the environmental devastation afflicting China’s own industrial centers. Yet, the combination of all these factors tends to create unrest in nations where Chinese operations are seen as benefiting members of the ruling elite and few others. What is also notable is that of the five African countries where China is involved in major resource operations, only one, Angola, is not dealing with a major insurgency.


China continues to expand its operations in the Sudan, its most successful foreign energy project to date. Oil from southern Sudan currently supplies 10 percent of China’s imported energy needs. Chinese and Malaysian companies operating as a joint venture (with a minority Sudanese share) stepped up to take over the exploitation of Sudan’s vast oil reserves after international pressure forced out the Canadian Talisman Corporation. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) recently announced the acquisition of a 40 percent share in a major exploration site off the Sudanese Red Sea coast. A 1997 embargo prevents U.S. companies from operating in the Sudan.

The Sudanese/Swiss ABCO Corporation claims that preliminary drilling in Darfur revealed “abundant” reserves of oil. These reserves have yet to be confirmed, but it appears that the rights may have already passed into Chinese hands (AlertNet, June 15, 2005; Guardian, June 10, 2005).


China and Malaysia, partners in the Sudan, are trying to replicate their Sudanese success in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. As a demonstration of goodwill—and to increase the incentives for cooperation—China and Ethiopia signed a debt relief agreement in May worth $18.5 million (Xinhua, May 30). In addition, a new convention center for the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa is being built with substantial Chinese assistance.

Following its usual practice, China imported its own labor to work in the Ogaden projects in preference to hiring local workers. Asian exploration companies tend to arrive in the region with large military escorts after negotiating contracts with the Tigrean-based government in Addis Ababa. The ethnic-Somali inhabitants of the Ogaden region have little input, making the operations a target of the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). A commando unit of the ONLF attacked a well-guarded Chinese oil exploration facility in northern Ogaden on April 24, killing 65 Ethiopian troops and nine Chinese workers. A further seven Chinese workers were abducted “for their own safety” and released a week later (ONLF communiqué, April 24)


In Niger the CNPC (already active in two other concessions) appears to be in the lead for the sole rights to the promising Agadem concession, to be awarded sometime this month. With financial support from the Chinese government, CNPC is offering to build a refinery and a pipeline in exchange for the rights, a commitment even Western oil giants like Exxon have shied away from. A Tuareg-based rebel movement in the resource rich north has declared Chinese oil and uranium operations “unwelcome” while accusing China of supplying the Niger army with weapons to pacify the region. Rebels attacked an armed supply convoy heading to a CNPC exploration camp in July, killing four soldiers (Reuters, July 31).


Last year, the CNOOC moved into territory previously dominated by major Western oil companies in the Niger Delta, paying $2.7 billion for a 45 percent share in an offshore oilfield expected to go into production in 2008 (Reuters, April 26, 2006). China is building $4 billion worth of oil facilities and other infrastructure in return for access to other promising Nigerian oil-fields, including the untapped inland Chad basin (BBC, April 26, 2006).

With a growing insurgency in the oil-rich Niger Delta threatening Nigeria’s oil industry, China has stepped in to supply weapons, patrol boats and other military equipment. Beijing does not share Washington’s reluctance to supply such hardware to a Nigerian military accused of corruption and human rights violations (Financial Times, February 27). The insurgents claim that Chinese, Dutch and U.S. resource companies fail to hire local labor and are devastating the local economy and environment through unchecked pollution. The world’s eighth largest oil exporter, Nigeria is also a major market for Chinese exports.


Beijing has been wooing oil-rich Angola through promises of aid and development. Its promise of $2 billion in soft loans brought a guarantee of uninterrupted oil supplies to China and offshore exploration rights for CNPC while enabling Angola to avoid Western pressure to restructure a corrupt and inefficient economy.

Competition with the United States

As China intensifies its economic engagement with Africa, the United States has been steadily increasing its military presence in Africa, supplying arms, training troops and opening new bases for U.S. personnel. Efforts such as the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative have brought U.S. forces into many countries for the first time as part of the global effort against al-Qaeda. The creation last February of AFRICOM, a new U.S. regional combatant command for Africa, reflects Washington’s new interest in the area. Despite the anti-terrorism rhetoric, it appears that the main function of AFRICOM will be to secure U.S. energy supplies in a region that is expected to provide a growing share of the United States’ future energy needs.

Ironically, U.S. arms and military training provided under the guise of “counter-terrorism assistance” may ultimately provide Chinese oil interests with the security they need to carry out operations in high-risk areas. An Ethiopian army financed and equipped by the United States for use against “Al-Qaeda terrorists in Somalia” is now being used to protect Chinese oil exploration efforts in the Ogaden region through military operations against ONLF rebels and punitive attacks on ethnic-Somali civilians.


So far, a visible disinterest in tying resource development contracts to social or economic reforms has aided China in securing its energy future in Africa. To be fair, this pattern of tolerance for corruption in regimes with desirable natural resources was set long ago by Western corporations and governments. China still employs the rhetoric of anti-colonialism in its relations with Africa, but many Africans are beginning to see China as an exploitive major power supporting corrupt regimes in the same manner as the former Western imperial powers. While China is taking some small steps to correct this impression, problems will persist unless Africans see immediate benefits from the Chinese presence, particularly in the field of employment. China’s success in presenting itself to the Third World as “the largest developing country” will eventually have limited currency if its business operations become indistinguishable from Western corporations. In the meantime, China’s rivalry with the West for control of Africa’s oil is certain to intensify.


  1. See the full text of the Declaration of the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, available online at: