Country Report on Terrorism 2015 - Chapter 2 - China (Hong Kong and Macau)

Overview: China's attention to terrorism in 2015 intensified as the country reacted to several incidents that it characterized as domestic terrorism. China continued to escalate its security and surveillance in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region to prevent additional unrest, including the implementation of stricter controls and curbs on religious practice. The primary focus of China’s international counterterrorism efforts remained on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an organization that China alleges is behind violent incidents in Xinjiang. Government officials often characterized China’s restrictive policies in Xinjiang as an effort to prevent additional acts of terrorism and violent extremism.

The Chinese government reported that Chinese citizens operated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Middle East, and has taken action to prevent its citizens from traveling to Syria and Iraq. In November, ISIL claimed to have executed Chinese citizen Fan Jinghui, which prompted strong condemnation from President Xi Jinping. Two weeks later, ISIL posted a song online in Mandarin calling for Chinese Muslims to take up arms against their country.

Counterterrorism cooperation between the United States and China remained limited. The two countries initiated a technical workshop on countering the spread of IEDs and increased consultations aimed at stemming the transnational flow of foreign terrorist fighters, countering terrorist funding networks, increasing information sharing on terrorist threats, and sharing evidentiary best practices.

China held bilateral dialogues on counterterrorism with five countries in 2015, including with the United States in August. China remained engaged in counterterrorism efforts in the Asia-Pacific region and Central Asia. It conducted bilateral and multilateral joint exercises with regional neighbors and through other frameworks, such as the Shanghai Cooperative Organization.

Chinese authorities criticized the United States when it did not follow China’s example in characterizing some incidents of violence in China as terrorism. As in previous years, China accused Uighur activists abroad – including in the United States – of complicity in supporting terrorist activity, but has not provided credible evidence to support the claims. China also appeared to apply inconsistent labels to incidents of mass violence involving Han Chinese suspects. For example, and in contrast to the examples discussed below, China designated a series of 17 explosions in September that damaged government buildings and neighborhoods in the Guangxi Autonomous Region, killing seven people and injuring more than 50, a criminal rather than a terrorist act and arrested a suspect surnamed Wei.

2015 Terrorist Incidents: The lack of transparency and information provided by China about violent incidents in China that the government characterized as terrorism greatly complicated efforts to verify details of those and other violent acts. In many of the domestic incidents that China characterized as terrorism, China alleged that ETIM influenced or directed the violence through its online propaganda. China often prevented foreign journalists and international observers from independently verifying official media accounts, which are often the only source of reporting on violent incidents in its territory. Government authorities heavily restricted foreign and non-state media access to information about 2015 incidents and often limited reporting to official accounts that were not timely and typically lacked detailed information.

The following incidents are examples of incidents the central government considered to be terrorism:

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In May, the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and China’s State Council issued new measures designed to intensify surveillance and security throughout the country. In addition to increased inspections at all main transportation hubs, including bus and train stations, railways, airports and ports, police would patrol key public sites such as schools, shopping malls, and banks. The measures included an enhanced and vastly expanded video and data surveillance network. More surveillance cameras would be installed and a national population database would be established with citizen identification and credit information.

In December 2015, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee approved the country’s first comprehensive counterterrorism law to “provide legal support for counterterrorism activities as well as collaboration with the international community.” The law broadened China’s definition of terrorism and the scope of its counterterrorism measures, and made provisions to establish a counterterrorism intelligence center to better coordinate terrorism response and information sharing across different Chinese government agencies. The law also required foreign firms to provide technical and decryption assistance to Chinese authorities as part of terrorism-related investigations. The legislation stipulated measures on tightening internet security management, inspection of dangerous materials, prevention of terrorism financing, and border controls. The law’s broad definition of terrorism and its new technology-related requirements for foreign telecommunications firms and internet service providers elicited concerns from human rights organizations and business interest groups. Under the new law, the Central Military Commission may authorize the People’s Liberation Army to perform counterterrorism operations abroad. The law also provided for punishing news media that reports counterterrorism operations without approval from government authorities.

According to state media, law enforcement authorities in Xinjiang had disrupted 181 "terrorist gangs" since the launch of the 2014 “strike hard” campaign. Extended through 2015, the campaign was an amalgamation of enhanced cultural restrictions and security measures. Meng Jianzhu, Secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, stated at a December 2015 counterterrorism conference in Urumqi that 98 percent of terrorist plots in Xinjiang had been stopped at the planning stage. Due to restrictions on independent reporting, it was difficult to corroborate this as well as other counterterrorism-related claims.

At the same conference, Meng announced several new guidelines regulating Chinese government activities in the fight against terrorism, including several on the use of internet and social media. The new guidelines called for greater cooperation with international counterterrorism bodies; maximum protection for overseas Chinese citizens; destruction of terrorism-related audio and video material; prevention of the dissemination of terrorist information via social media and other online methods; strengthened border controls to prevent terrorists entering China; elimination of religious extremism; and the “education and transformation” of terrorist offenders using “authentic” religious teachings.

Government authorities continued to act against what it alleged were suspected Uighur militants traveling through Southeast Asia. According to international media reports, Thailand repatriated more than 100 Uighur refugees to China after receiving pressure from Chinese authorities. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees criticized Thailand’s decision as a violation of international law, and human rights groups voiced concerns that the repatriated group could face harsh treatment once returned to China. State media reported that 13 of those repatriated were involved in terrorist activities, but did not provide evidence to support those claims. According to foreign press reports, some of the refugees were featured in a subsequent media campaign discouraging illegal emigration from Xinjiang.

China continued to stress the importance of counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, but Chinese law enforcement agencies generally remained reluctant to conduct joint investigations or share specific threat information with U.S. law enforcement partners. Despite multiple requests to Chinese law enforcement officials for more detailed background information on Chinese media-reported arrests and operations, U.S. law enforcement agencies received little new information. Overall, China’s counterterrorism cooperation with the United States remained limited and was further constrained by China's conflation of religious expression with violent extremism.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: China is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), as well as the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering and the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing, both of which are FATF-style regional bodies. China and the United States have met at least once a year (for the last four years) to engage in a technical discussion related to anti-money laundering (AML) and countering the financing of terrorism (CFT). This meeting is known as the AML/CFT Working Group under the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). At the December 2015 meeting, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the U.S. financial intelligence unit (FIU), signed a memorandum of understanding with the China Anti-Money Laundering Monitoring and Analysis Center (CAMLMAC), China’s FIU, to support its efforts to combat money laundering, related crimes, and terrorism financing. China’s CAMLMAC is not a member of the Egmont Group.

The Chinese government has strengthened its preventive measures to counter terrorism financing, with an emphasis on requiring financial institutions to collect and maintain beneficial ownership information, and making suspicious transaction reports more comprehensive. Additional issues remain to be addressed, including guidance for designated non-financial businesses and professions; procedures for individuals and groups who seek to be delisted; and defining the rights of bona fide third parties in seizure/confiscation actions. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2015/

Countering Violent Extremism: Although China does not have an official strategy or program in place to counter violent extremism, the government implemented a number of programs aimed at countering radicalization and violent extremism, concentrating much of its efforts in Xinjiang. Local counterterrorism working groups have been established at the county, municipal, and provincial levels across China to coordinate “stability maintenance,” law enforcement, ethnic and religious affairs. Xinjiang government officials required imams to take political education classes as a means of persuading them to discourage extremism and condemn violence. In Xinjiang, authorities placed restrictions on religious expression, banning the burqa in public spaces in Urumqi and criminalizing unspecified “extremist garments” – clothes or symbols the government associates with terrorism and extremism.

Many Chinese government policies may have exacerbated ethnic tension in Xinjiang and could contribute to increased violent extremism. For further information, please see the Department of State’s 2015 Report on International Religious Freedom: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm and the 2015 Report on Human Rights: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/

International and Regional Cooperation: China continued to promote its commitment to working with the international community on UN Security Council (UNSC) counterterrorism issues. In May 2015 in Nanning, China hosted the 13th ASEAN Regional Forum Inter-Sessional Meeting on Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime. China also regularly participated in other multilateral fora that address counterterrorism issues such as the Global Counterterrorism Forum and the APEC Counter-Terrorism Working Group. China also held bilateral counterterrorism dialogues with the Egypt, India, Indonesia, Russia, and the United States.

China cooperated with other nations on counterterrorism efforts through military exercises and assistance. China conducted joint military training with several nations that focused on improving counterterrorism capabilities. In September, China and Pakistan staged “Joint Field Exercise Warrior III,” an annual counterterrorism exercise. In October, China and India held “Hand-in-Hand 2015,” the fifth counterterrorism drill of its kind since 2007. That same month China hosted members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization for “Xiamen 2015,” an online counterterrorism exercise. In August, China and Russia held their largest-ever joint maritime drill in the Sea of Japan, “Joint Sea II,” that included a joint counterterrorism amphibious assault component.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong continued its effective security and law enforcement partnership with the United States through the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department’s successful joint operation of the Container Security Initiative; through participation in U.S. government-sponsored training in related topics; and through engagement with U.S. counterterrorism agencies.

Counterterrorism remained an operational priority for the Hong Kong Police Force, as demonstrated by existing policies on prevention, protection, and preparedness. The Police Security Wing shares potential terrorist threat information with relevant counterterrorism units. The Police Counterterrorism Response Unit provides a strong deterrent presence, assisting police districts with counterterrorism strategy implementation, and complementing the tactical and professional support of existing police specialist units – such as the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau, Special Duties Unit, Airport Security Unit, and VIP Protection Unit. The Security Bureau in November 2015 conducted a large-scale, inter-departmental counterterrorism exercise to test and enhance city-wide counterterrorism coordination and response capabilities. This exercise was the first of its kind in terms of scale and scope.

Hong Kong is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body. Its Joint Financial Intelligence Unit is a member of the Egmont Group. Terrorism financing is a criminal offense in Hong Kong, and financial institutions are required to continuously search for terrorism financing networks and screen accounts using designations lists provided by the United States under relevant authorities, as well as the UN 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida and1988 (Taliban) sanctions regime. Filing suspicious transactions reports irrespective of transaction amounts is obligatory, but Hong Kong does not require mandatory reporting requirements for cross-border currency movements.

Hong Kong’s strategic trade regime buttresses U.S. efforts to restrict commodities, software, and technology to terrorist organizations or individuals. Hong Kong law enforcement officers attended U.S. government-sponsored capacity building training at the International Law Enforcement Academy on advanced post-blast investigations, personnel and facility security, law enforcement techniques to counter terrorism, and financial investigations. Select Hong Kong Police officers also attended Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) courses, DoD sponsored conferences, and conducted subject matter exchanges and training with U.S. Military units.

Macau

The Police Intervention Tactical Unit (UTIP), which falls under the Macau Public Security Police Force, is responsible for protecting important installations and dignitaries, and for conducting high-risk missions such as deactivation of IEDs. UTIP’s Special Operations Group’s mission is counterterrorism operations. Macau law enforcement officers attended U.S. government-sponsored capacity building training at the International Law Enforcement Academy on personnel and facility security, financial and crime scene investigations, countering terrorism, computer investigations, and evidence protection. U.S. Consulate law enforcement personnel also provided training in fraudulent document recognition to Macau border security authorities.

Macau is a member of the Asia/Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body, and its Financial Intelligence Office is a member of the Egmont Group. Terrorism financing is a criminal offense in Macau, and banks and other financial institutions are required to continuously search for terrorism financing networks and screen accounts using designations lists provided by the United States under relevant authorities, as well as the UN 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida and the 1988 (Taliban) sanctions regime. Filing suspicious transactions reports irrespective of transaction amounts is obligatory, but Macau does not currently require mandatory reporting requirements for cross-border currency movements.

Macau cooperated internationally on counterterrorism efforts through INTERPOL and other security-focused organizations, including through FATF and APG.