Britain has listed the Pakistan-based East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a terrorist organisation, a move likely to please China, which has demanded Western support for its fight against a group it says seeks to split off its western region of Xinjiang.
In London, the Home Office on Friday designated ETIM, which it also called the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), as an “Islamic terrorist and separatist organisation” trying to create an “independent caliphate” in Xinjiang, reports The Nation.
The United States and the United Nations have listed ETIM as a terrorist group, though there is some discrepancy internationally over whether ETIM and TIP are the same entity as China claims, and experts have questioned their cohesiveness.
The addition of ETIM to the list of proscribed organisations comes as leaders from China and Britain have proclaimed the countries are enjoying a “golden age” in relations.
Inclusion on the list criminalises association with the group, according to the Home Office website.
Criteria for the listing of a group include factors such as the “specific threat it poses to the UK” and “the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism”.
The Home Office said the group is based in tribal regions of Pakistan, had claimed responsibility for attacks in China, “maintained an active and visible presence in the Syrian war” and had detailed its “jihad against the Chinese authorities”.
China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately offer a comment on the designation. Hundreds have died in violence in recent years in Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people.
Beijing blames the bloodshed on Islamist militants and separatists, though rights groups say the unrest is more a reaction to repressive Chinese policies.
Western countries have long been reluctant to share intelligence with China or otherwise cooperate when it comes to counterterrorism in Xinjiang, saying China has provided little evidence to prove ETIM’s existence and citing worries about possible human rights abuses.