China has long had trouble keeping the ethnic Uighur population of the eastern Xinjiang region in check, so last week’s knife attack against a police station wasn’t exactly unprecedented. Still, Chinese officials felt the need to blame someone, and that’s Syria’s rebels.
Incredible as it may seen, China’s state media claims that fighters from the long-standing East Turkestan secessionist faction managed to travel all the way to Turkey and join the Syrian rebellion, where they were given training and sent back to China to carry out attacks.
Overseas Uighurs call the claim unrealistic, noting that it’s next to impossible for Uighurs to even get a passport, let alone make it all the way to Turkey and Syria. Though it isn’t unprecedented for East Turkestan fighters to turn up abroad, it is usually in neighboring Afghanistan or Pakistan, and it’s hard to imagine how they’d get all the way to Turkey without documentation.
And that’s just half of the problem. Leaving China is basically a one-way proposition for Uighurs, and even those illegally kidnapped and dragged across the border, as with some sold to the US after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, getting back into China after being overseas is incredibly hard, and most end up having to find political asylum abroad.
This isn’t an entirely new claim, as China has accused Turkey in the past of “recruiting” Uighurs to join the Syrian Islamist rebels and accused al-Qaeda of facilitating their travel, it is hard to see how such fighters could ever get back to China afterwards and carry out an attack.