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Intermestic security challenges: Managing transnational bonds

  • Jörg Friedrichs (a1)

Intermestic security challenges arise when there is concern in a country that a dissatisfied minority relies on transnational bonds with a foreign kin group for support. They result from ethnic and/or ideological affinities translating into foreign support seen as problematic, and they are aggravated when the dissatisfied minority is able to raise territorial claims. This can lead to complications not only in domestic politics, but also in international relations (hence, the term ‘intermestic’). Intermestic challenges can escalate into civil war and other political calamities, but they can also be managed by governments. This article develops a theoretical model and discusses it with regard to China and its Muslim-majority neighbouring countries. To the west of China, transnational bonds of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang with co-ethnics and coreligionists in Central Asia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan complicate Chinese relations with those countries. In the southeast, transnational bonds of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia and Malaysia with their ancestral homeland have complicated Indonesian and Malaysian relations with China. While the cases have followed different trajectories, Beijing has managed either challenge rather successfully. The theoretical model developed and the management strategies discussed are likely to be useful in other contexts.

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*Correspondence to: Jörg Friedrichs, University of Oxford, Department of International Development, 3 Mansfield Rd, Oxford OX1 3TB, England. Author’s email:
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6 Incidentally, case selection is not tainted by confirmation bias as this research began as an investigation into China’s relations with its Muslim-majority neighbouring countries. The focus on intermestic security relations emerged later, in the actual process of studying the cases.

7 Davis and Moore, ‘Ethnicity matters’; Saideman, The Ties That Divide.

8 Winslett, Gary, ‘Differential threat perceptions: How transnational groups influence bilateral security relations’, Foreign Policy Analysis, 12:4 (2016), pp. 653673 (p. 654).

9 Walter, ‘The new new civil wars’.

10 Hegghammer, Thomas, ‘The future of Jihadism in Europe: a pessimistic view’, Perspectives on Terrorism, 10:6 (2016), pp. 156170 .

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12 My use of the term ‘intermestic’ is different from, although loosely related to, the established use of the term in foreign policy and negotiation analysis. See, for example, Manning, Bayless, ‘The Congress, the executive and intermestic affairs: Three proposals’, Foreign Affairs, 55:2 (1977), pp. 306324 ; Putnam, Robert D., ‘Diplomacy and domestic politics: the logic of two-level games’, International Organization, 42:3 (1988), pp. 427460 .

13 Collier, Paul and Hoeffler, Anke, ‘Greed and grievance in civil war’, Oxford Economic Papers, 56:4 (2004), pp. 563595 ; Wennmann, Achim, ‘The political economy of conflict financing: a comprehensive approach beyond natural resources’, Global Governance, 13:3 (2007), pp. 427444 . But note that diaspora financing in particular may have positive as well as negative effects. See Checkel, Jeffrey T. (ed.), Transnational Dynamics of Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Lum, Brandon et al., ‘Diasporas, remittances and state fragility: Assessing the linkages’, Ethnopolitics, 12:2 (2013), pp. 201219 .

14 Trade links play a role in all cases under study. In Southeast Asia, diasporic links connecting the ethnic Chinese with their ancestral homeland are deeply resented. In the Uyghur case, Beijing has disrupted ethnic trade links to upend foreign support from Central and South Asia.

15 We will see this below in the case study on the ethnic Chinese minority in Indonesia.

16 B may perceive A’s transnational strategy as foreign interference and is likely to be lobbied in this direction by the (more or less influential) kin group present on its territory.

17 Intermestic security challenges are often linked with diaspora strategies. See Gamlen, Alan, ‘The emigration state and the modern geopolitical imagination’, Political Geography, 27:8 (2008), pp. 840856 ; Ragazzi, Francesco, ‘A comparative analysis of diaspora policies’, Political Geography, 41 (2014), pp. 7489 . This happens in two scenarios: when domestic minorities seek access to support from foreign kin groups in pursuit of their goals, as with the Uyghurs; and when states exert ‘extraterritorial reach to assert national influence over diaspora populations’, as with the ethnic Chinese during the Cold War. See Ho, Elaine Lynn-Ee, ‘New research directions and critical perspectives on diaspora strategies’, Geoforum, 59 (2015), pp. 153158 (p. 154).

18 Consider the Hui, another Muslim minority in China. China is home to more than 10 million Hui, most of whom speak Mandarin. Unlike the Uyghurs, the Hui are a socio-religious rather than an ethnic group. They would be Han were it not for the fact that they are Muslims. They are sometimes receptive to Middle Eastern models of Islam but, in the absence of cross-border ethnic affinities, this hardly poses a challenge. See Friedrichs, Jörg, ‘Sino-Muslim relations: the Han, the Hui, and the Uyghurs’, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 37:1 (2017), pp. 5579 .

19 Ethnic Chinese approach demographic majority only in small and shattered areas like Penang, a state in northwest Malaysia that has almost 40 per cent Chinese (42 per cent Bumiputera), or in Singkawang, a Chinese-majority city of 200,000 inhabitants in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan.

20 Clarke, Michael E., ‘Ethnic separatism in the People’s Republic of China: History, causes and contemporary challenges’, European Journal of East Asian Studies, 12:1 (2013), pp. 109133 (p. 111).

21 Before the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, there had been two East Turkestan Republics looking to Soviet Central Asia. See Forbes, Andrew D. W., Warlords and Muslims in Chinese Central Asia: A Political History of Republican Sinkiang 1911–1949 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986). In 1962, the Soviet Union briefly attempted to use the Uyghurs for ethnic destabilisation. See Freeberne, Michael, ‘Minority unrest and Sino-Soviet rivalry in Sinkiang, China’s north-western frontier bastion, 1949–1965’, in Charles A. Fisher (ed.), Essays in Political Geography (London: Routledge, 2016 [reprint]), pp. 177209 .

22 As we will see, the Chinese strategy has unilateral elements but also rests on bilateral and multilateral cooperation with foreign governments to contain the challenge.

23 Roberts, Sean R., ‘A “land of borderlands”: Implications of Xinjiang’s trans-border interactions’, in S. Frederick Starr (ed.), Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2004), pp. 216237 .

24 Given their divergent position on maritime borders, these countries do not see themselves as China’s neighbours. See Taylor Fravel, M., Strong Borders, Secure Nation: Cooperation and Conflict in China’s Territorial Disputes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); Elleman, Bruce A., Kotkin, Stephen, and Schofield, Clive (eds), Beijing’s Power and China’s Borders: Twenty Neighbors in Asia (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2013).

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26 Fravel, , Strong Borders, Secure Nation, pp. 116119 ; see also Tang, Christopher, ‘The Sino-Pakistan border: Stability in an unstable region’, in Elleman, Kotkin, and Schofield (eds), Beijing’s Power and Chinas Borders , pp. 219233 ; Kalinovsky, Artemy M., ‘Sino-Afghani border relations’, in Elleman, Kotkin, and Schofield (eds), Beijing’s Power and China’s Borders, pp. 1321 .

27 Department of Statistics Malaysia, Population and Housing Census of Malaysia: Population Distribution and Basic Demographic Characteristics (Putrajaya: Department of Statistics Malaysia, 2010); Eng, Chan Kok and Peng, Tey Nai, ‘Demographic processes and changes’, in Lee Kam Hing and Tan Chee-Beng (eds), The Chinese in Malaysia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 7193 .

28 Arifin, Evi Nurvidya, Sairi Hasbullah, M., and Pramono, Agus, ‘Chinese Indonesians: How many, who and where?’, Asian Ethnicity, 18:3 (2017), pp. 310329 .

29 Tan, Chee-Beng, Routledge Handbook of the Chinese Diaspora (London: Routledge, 2013).

30 Data from National Bureau of Statistics of China, Tabulation on the 2010 Population Census of the People’s Republic of China (Beijing: China Statistics Press, 2013).

31 ‘Xi calls for improved religious work’, Xinhua (23 April 2016).

32 Before the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, there had been two East Turkestan Republics looking to Soviet Central Asia. See Forbes, Warlords and Muslims in Chinese Central Asia.

33 Freeberne, ‘Minority unrest and Sino-Soviet rivalry in Sinkiang’.

34 Clarke, Michael E., Xinjiang and China’s Rise in Central Asia: A History (London: Routledge, 2011), pp. 129156 ; Mackerras, Colin, ‘Xinjiang in China’s foreign relations: Part of a new Silk Road or Central Asian zone of conflict?’, East Asia, 32:1 (2015), pp. 2542 .

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37 Clark, and Kamalov, , ‘Uighur migration across Central Asian frontiers’; Eric Hyer, ‘China’s policy towards Uighur nationalism’, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 26:1 (2006), pp. 7586 .

38 Swanström, ‘Central Asia and China’s security policy’.

39 Roberts, , ‘A “land of borderlands”’, pp. 220225 ; Karrar, Hasan H., ‘Merchants, markets, and the state: Informality, transnationality, and spatial imaginaries in the revival of Central Eurasian trade’, Critical Asian Studies, 45:3 (2013), pp. 459480 (pp. 466–7).

40 Laruelle, and Peyrouse, , The Chinese Question in Central Asia, pp. 103114 ; Peyrouse, Sébastian, ‘Discussing China: Sinophilia and sinophobia in Central Asia’, Journal of Eurasian Studies, 7:1 (2016), pp. 1423 (pp. 21–2); Yu-Wen Chen, Julie and Tovar, Soledad Jiménez, ‘China in Central Asia: Local perceptions from future elites’, China Quarterly of International Strategic Studies, 3:3 (2017), pp. 117 .

41 Roberts, , ‘A “land of borderlands”’, pp. 220225 ; Laruelle, and Peyrouse, , The Chinese Question in Central Asia, pp. 117123 .

42 Andrew Jacobs, ‘Uyghurs in China say bias is growing’, New York Times (8 October 2013).

43 Finley, Joanne Smith, The Art of Symbolic Resistance: Uyghur Identities and Uyghur-Han Relations in Contemporary Xinjiang (Leiden: Brill, 2013), p. 252 .

44 Fravel, , Strong Borders, Secure Nation, pp. 156166 .

45 Stephen Blank, ‘Kazakhstan’s border relations with China’, in Elleman, Kotkin, and Schofield (eds), Beijing’s Power and China’s Borders, pp. 97–109. This is not to deny that there has been popular backlash, especially with regard to the border agreements. In Kyrgyzstan, protests against the border treaty contributed to the downfall of president Akayev in 2005. In Tajikistan, the opposition contested the 2011 border agreement despite the fact that the mountainous areas in question were hardly populated. While such domestic backlash has been a nuisance to Central Asian regimes, the agreed stabilisation of international borders is a significant accomplishment. See Laruelle, and Peyrouse, , The Chinese Question in Central Asia, pp. 1325 ; see also the relevant chapters in Elleman, Kotkin, and Schofield (eds), Beijing’s Power and China’s Borders.

46 Aris, Stephen, ‘The Shanghai Cooperation Organization: “Tackling the three evils”’, Europe-Asia Studies, 61:3 (2009), pp. 457482 .

47 Michael E. Clarke, ‘Xinjiang and the trans-nationalization of Uyghur terrorism: Cracks in the “New Silk Road”?’, The Asan Forum (10 February 2017).

48 de Haas, Marcel, ‘War games of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization: Drills on the move!’, Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 29:3 (2016), pp. 378406 .

49 Small, Andrew, The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

50 Fravel, , Strong Borders, Secure Nation, pp. 116118 .

51 Duchâtel, Mathieu, ‘The terrorist risk and China’s policy toward Pakistan: Strategic reassurance and the “United Front”’, Journal of Contemporary China, 20:71 (2011), pp. 543561 .

52 Tang, ‘The Sino-Pakistan border’.

53 Haider, Ziad, ‘Sino-Pakistan relations and Xinjiang’s Uighurs: Politics, trade, and Islam along the Karakoram Highway’, Asian Survey, 45:4 (2005), pp. 522545 .

54 Ibid., pp. 525–31; Roberts, , ‘A “land of borderlands”’, pp. 229231 .

55 Small, , The China-Pakistan Axis, pp. 123126 .

56 Yitzhak Shichor, ‘The great wall of steel: Military and strategy in Xinjiang’, in Starr (ed.), Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland, pp. 120–60 (pp. 157–8); Dillon, Michael, Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Far Northwest (London: Routledge, 2004), pp. 139141 ; Clarke, , Xinjiang and China’s Rise in Central Asia, pp. 9195 .

57 Shichor, , ‘The great wall of steel’, pp. 144145 .

58 Omar Waraich, ‘China calls on Zardari to take action against rebels’, The Independent (8 April 2009).

59 ‘A friend in deed’, Friday Times (8 November 2013).

60 Asian News International, ‘Is Beijing concealing Pakistan-linked terrorism in Xinjiang?’, Asian News International (3 January 2017).

61 Haider, , ‘Sino-Pakistan relations and Xinjiang’s Uighurs’, pp. 525532 .

62 Ibid., pp. 525–31, 538–44.

63 Available at: {} accessed 22 October 2017. This is in contrast with China’s mixed reputation among the public in Central Asia (see above).

64 Duchâtel, , ‘The terrorist risk and China’s policy toward Pakistan’, pp. 551555 .

65 Kalinovsky, , ‘Sino-Afghani border relations’; Small, The China-Pakistan Axis, pp. 117144 .

66 Small, , The China-Pakistan Axis, pp. 130164 ; Clarke, Michael E., ‘“One Belt, One Road” and China’s emerging Afghanistan dilemma’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 70:5 (2016), pp. 563579 ; Clarke, ‘Xinjiang and the trans-nationalization of Uyghur terrorism’; ‘Beijing’s foray into the graveyard of empires’, Financial Times (3 March 2017).

67 Duchâtel, , ‘The terrorist risk and China’s policy toward Pakistan’, pp. 549, 551 ; Haider, , ‘Sino-Pakistan relations and Xinjiang’s Uighurs’, pp. 535537 .

68 Tang, , ‘The Sino-Pakistan border’, p. 228 ; Duchâtel, , ‘The terrorist risk and China’s policy toward Pakistan’, pp. 543548 .

69 Small, , The China-Pakistan Axis, pp. ix–xvi, 111112 .

70 Chinese merchants have been present in Southeast Asia since time immemorial. Mass immigration of ‘coolies’ from South China dates back to the second half of the nineteenth century. See McKeown, Adam, ‘Conceptualizing Chinese diasporas, 1842 to 1949’, Journal of Asian Studies, 58:2 (1999), pp. 306337 .

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73 Ramanathan, Indira, China and the Ethnic Chinese in Malaysia and Indonesia, 1949–1992 (London: Sangam, 1994).

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75 Around 80 per cent of Malaysians and at least 55 per cent of Indonesians have a favourable view of China; see {} accessed 7 December 2017.

76 Department of Statistics Malaysia, Population and Housing Census of Malaysia; see also Eng and Peng, ‘Demographic processes and changes’.

77 Soong, Kua Kia, May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969 (Selangor: Suaram, 2007).

78 Liow, Joseph Chinyong, ‘Malaysia-China relations in the 1990s: the maturing of a partnership’, Asian Survey, 40:4 (2000), pp. 672691 (pp. 675–6).

79 Weichong, Ong, Malaysia’s Defeat of Armed Communism: The Second Emergency, 1968–1989 (London: Routledge, 2015).

80 Liow, Joseph Chinyong, ‘Malaysia’s post-Cold War China policy: a reassessment’, in Jun Tsunekawa (ed.), The Rise of China: Responses from Southeast Asia and Japan (Tokyo: National Institute for Defence Studies, 2009), pp. 4779 .

81 Lee, Hwok-Aun, Gomez, Edmund Terence, and Yacob, Shakila, ‘Ethnicity, economy, and affirmative action in Malaysia, in Edmung Terence Gomez and Ralph Premdas (eds), Affirmative Action, Ethnicity, and Conflict (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 6794 .

82 Neo, Harvey, ‘“They hate pigs, Chinese farmers … everything!”: Beastly racialization in multethnic Malaysia’, Antipode, 44:3 (2012), pp. 950970 .

83 Hamayotsu, Kikue, ‘Once a Muslim, always a Muslim: the politics of state enforcement of Shariah in contemporary Malaysia’, South East Asia Research, 20:3 (2012), pp. 399421 .

84 Tan, Eugene K. B., ‘From sojourners to citizens: Managing the ethnic Chinese minority in Indonesia and Malaysia’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 24:6 (2001), pp. 949978 .

85 Gabriel, Sharmani P., ‘The meaning of race in Malaysia: Colonial, post-colonial and possible new conjunctures’, Ethnicities, 15:6 (2015), pp. 782809 .

86 With 1.2 per cent, the share of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia is much smaller than in Malaysia. See Arifin, Hasbullah, and Pramono, ‘Chinese Indonesians’,

87 Sukma, Rizal, Indonesia and China: The Politics of a Troubled Relationship (London: Routledge, 1999).

88 Sukma, Rizal, ‘Indonesia-China relations: the politics of re-engagement’, Asian Survey, 49:4 (2009), pp. 591608 (p. 594).

89 Sidel, John T., Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006); Purdey, Jemma, Anti-Chinese Violence in Indonesia, 1996–1999 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006).

90 Purdey, , Anti-Chinese Violence in Indonesia, pp. 165168 .

91 Zha, Daojiong, ‘China and the May 1998 riots of Indonesia: exploring the issues’, Pacific Review, 13:4 (2000), pp. 557575 (p. 564).

92 Ibid., p. 563.

93 Sukma, , ‘Indonesia-China relations’, p. 605 .

94 Hoon, Chang-Yau, ‘Assimilation, multiculturalism, hybridity: the dilemmas of the ethnic Chinese in post-Suharto Indonesia’, Asian Ethnicity, 7:2 (2006), pp. 149166 ; Turner, Sarah and Allen, Pamela, ‘Chinese Indonesians in a rapidly changing nation: Pressures of ethnicity and identity’, Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 48:1 (2007), pp. 112127 .

95 Ben Bland, ‘Jakarta election battle reignites debate over Islam and the state’, Financial Times (20 February 2017).

96 Atanasova, Ivanka Nedeva, ‘Transborder ethnic minorities and their impact on the security of Southeastern Europe’, Nationalities Papers, 32:2 (2004), pp. 355442 ; Hashemi and Postel, Sectarianization.

97 Nasr, The Shia Revival.

98 Winslett, ‘Differential threat perceptions’ (on the Kurdish question); Wedagedara, Amali, ‘The “ethnic question” in India-Sri Lanka relations in the post-LTTE phase’, Strategic Analysis, 37:1 (2013), pp. 6583 .

99 ‘China defends envoy to Malaysia after comments on racism’, Reuters (28 September 2015).

100 DeDominicis, Benedict E., ‘The Bulgarian ethnic model: Post-1989 Bulgarian ethnic conflic resolution’, Nationalities Papers, 39:3 (2011), pp. 441460 .

101 Koinova, Maria, ‘Kinstate intervention in ethnic conflicts: Albania and Turkey compared’, Ethnopolitics, 7:4 (2008), pp. 373390 . Turkish restraint has recently come under stress. See ‘Erdogan says Bulgaria’s pressure on Turks “unacceptable”’, Reuters (23 March 2017).

102 Salman Masood and Ben Hubbard, ‘Pakistan approves military hero to head tricky Saudi-led alliance’, New York Times (3 April 2017); {} accessed 7 December 2017.

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