After a revolution in 1912 overthrew the Qing Dynasty in China the province was claimed (in name only) by the new republic. Populated by Uyghur people, whose ancestors were Turkic pastoralists called Tiele, Muslims there led a revolt against China in the 1934, resulting in the establishment of the short lived independent government. The region was reconquered by the Chinese warlord Sheng Shicai a year later.
Being part of China "in name only" meant that Sheng Shicai was the real ruler of Xinjiang/East Turkestan, but also pressed under the thumb of his dominant neighbor Stalin, with the Soviet Union essentially treating the region as its unofficial imperial vassal and muscling Shicai into signing a deal that allowed the Soviet Union to exploit precious minerals there.
In 1942 Sheng Shicai expelled the WW2 distracted Soviets from the region and turned to the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) as a new trading partner. Sheng joined the Kuomintang, becoming the head of its Xinjiang branch. The love affair was short, however. By 1945 Sheng Shicai was trying to reassert control over Xinjiang and running back to the Soviets with open arms, offering to make the region part of the Soviet Union while arresting Kuomintang officials. By this time Stalin wanted nothing to do with Sheng and refused his offer, forwarding the letter to Chiang Kai-shek, who yanked Sheng from his post in the Kuomintang and demoted him to a low level position within the Ministry of Forestry in Chongqing.
In the aftermath of Sheng's departure, the new Kuomintang administration had difficulty maintaining order in Xinjiang, leading to riots (secretly backed by the Soviets) that resulted in three districts within Xinjiang being overthrown. The new government in the region that resulted from this time of conflict lasted until the region was retaken by the Chinese communists and reestablished as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the PRC on October 1, 1955
The East Turkestan Islamic Movement was founded in 1993 but fell apart within a year, only to be reorganized in 1997.
Officially China, the United Nations, and the United States classify the ETIM as a terrorist organization. The United States' labeling of the ETIM was done kicking and screaming in the aftermath of 9/11, according to a congressional report published in July 2010, (which can be viewed HERE). The U.S. was trying to seal a deal to, among other things, create a Legal Attache' office at the U.S. Embassy in China, as well as participate in intelligence-sharing with China, and set up a joint Financial Counter-Terrorism Working Group that would monitor financial networks. (Page 7).
From that report on page 8:
"As discussed above, Francis Taylor, the State Department's Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism, visited Beijing in December 2001. While he confirmed that there were "people from western China that are involved in terrorist activities in Afghanistan," he rejected the view that "all of the people of western China are indeed terrorists" and urged Beijing to deal politically with their "legitimate" social and economic challenges and not with counterterrorism means. Taylor stated that the United States did not agree that "East Turkestan" forces were terrorists. He said that the U.S. military captured some people from western China who were involved in Afghanistan with Al Qaeda (the terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden).
"Nonetheless, while in Beijing on August 26, 2002, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage announced that, after months of bilateral discussions, he designated (on August 19) the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a terrorist group that committed acts of violence against unarmed civilians."
Though the paragraphs cited above from the report make the ETIM's affiliation with Al Qaeda sound merely like the misdeeds of a few stray miscreants within the group, according the U.N. Security Council in April of 2011:
"ETIM has a close financial relationship with Al-Qaida. The major sources of funding for ETIM activities have come from Usama bin Laden (QI.B.8.01) and Al-Qaida and from organized crime such as drug trafficking, arms smuggling, kidnapping, extortion and looting. ETIM identifies and recruits criminals and terrorists who have fled China and secretly provides them with terrorist training.
"ETIM has received significant support from Al-Qaida, Usama bin Laden and the Taliban and has sent its members to Al-Qaida and Taliban training camps. Upon completion of training, ETIM members have traveled to Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya of the Russian Federation, and China to conduct terrorist and other violent acts."
Even the U.S. Department of State later admitted in its 2005 report on terrorism that the "ETIM has received training and financial assistance from al-Qaida", and that "ETIM militants fought alongside al-Qaida and Taliban forces in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom".
The CIA's creation of Al Qaeda, and the relationship between Osama bin Laden and U.S. intelligence has already been researched and well documented by bloggers and establishment writers alike. (One good article about it can be found HERE)
The CIA has a long history in the disputed region. In fact, the first CIA officer to be killed in the line of duty-- Douglas S. Mackiernan-- had been operating in Xinjiang and spying on the Soviets there for years before getting murdered by Tibetans while trying to escape from the Chinese Communists in 1950.
In 1979 the Chinese government agreed to let the CIA open monitoring stations in Xinjiang to spy on the Soviets, a common rival to both countries. After years of the U.S requesting access to the region it was Joe Biden--(then a senator) -- who closed the deal with Deng Xiaoping. Officially the stations were run by Chinese technicians with CIA advisors periodically checking in on them.
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