By Daniel Anaforian
Jacqueline Roeder’s article, “Securitization of Uyghur Identity: Responses of the Islamic World,” is featured in Volume 7 of the SAIS China Studies Review. Below she talks with online editor Daniel Anaforian about her background, and her piece in the CSR, and the dynamics of some Muslim countries’ cooperation with China.
DA: What is your concentration at SAIS? What are your primary research interests?
JR: At SAIS, I am in Strategic Studies. I am interested in hybrid warfare, ethnic conflict, and US military posture abroad.
DA: What was your background before coming to SAIS?
JR: I graduated from my undergrad in 2017. After that, I worked on the hill for Sen McCain and worked for an independent prosecutorial agency. Then I came to SAIS in 2020 and am currently in my first year of the MA program.
DA: Outside of school and work, how do you prefer to spend your free time?
JR: I love to travel. I just got back from South Africa in April. When I travel, I love to eat very unconventional foods and try things that get me out of my comfort zone. In Asia, so far, I have only been to Thailand, but I very much want to explore the continent further.
DA: Tell me about how you decided to write on this topic.
JR: I wrote this piece for a class assignment. The prompt was to discuss anything on security related to China. With my interests being ethnic conflict and hybrid warfare, the current situation in Xinjiang and the global implications seemed like a natural fit.
DA: Please summarize the central argument of your piece.
JR: The specific countries studied have all decided to overlook the mistreatment of the Uyghurs amid a flurry of public outcry, both internally and globally, in order to better economic relations with China and resist Western influence.
DA: When reading this, one thing that struck me is the impact of anti-US and anti-Western sentiment in bringing these majority Muslim countries closer to China. Do you anticipate that changing as more info comes out on the Uyghur issue? Will Muslims in these countries begin to see that China might be just as dangerous as the US?
JR: As protests become more frequent in Turkey, the Turkish government has decided they can’t ignore the issue any longer. Because of Turkey’s desire to become more integrated with the Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI), it is unlikely there will be any substantive policy change. Turkey and other Muslim-majority countries will need to figure out how to deal with the increase in public disapproval of China’s actions.
DA: Did you consult any identity politics research for this piece? There appears to be an interesting overlap with the idea of government-influenced “schemas,” which, in this case, finds the Chinese government associating being Uyghur with being a terrorist, or at least prone to extremist views. Do you see that as playing out here? Has the Chinese government successfully created this view among the Han that Uyghurs are dangerous?
JR: This paper tackles the topic from an international and security perspective. While I did not consult much identity politics literature, it is clear that identity politics play a role. The Uyghur movements are a nationalist, separatist movement. China has co-opted this movement, unleashed its own war on terror, and claimed that the movement is jihadist. This view is not consistent with facts. China is attempting to paint them as jihadists and makes this image salient for a domestic Chinese audience in order to justify its actions.
DA: Why do you think the Pakistani government has been so willing to cooperate with China on anti-terrorism operations but is more reluctant with the US? Is it purely due to the anti-US sentiments you highlight, or is there something more?
JR: China has acted as a buffer with India for much of Pakistan’s history. Additionally, several lawless regions in Pakistan pose significant internal threats to the Pakistani government. China has poured money into the country to help Pakistan deal with these security threats. China leverages this money to encourage Pakistan to target Uyghurs living in the country as part of this security effort. Furthermore, Pakistan does not have as many allies as other countries in the region and thus benefits from having a strong ally in China.
DA: What are some interesting research questions that could be addressed by building off of your work? Where would you take the paper from here?
JR: I would love to expand the project and look at as many countries as possible. Saudi Arabia and other strategic US allies could certainly look at the relationship with China differently, especially if the West puts more pressure on these countries. I’d also like to see if there are any indications that China will be able to exert more leverage on these countries as it gains strength or if there will be a breaking point where sustained public outcry can tip the scales.
Jacqueline Roeder is a first-year M.A. candidate currently at SAIS Europe with a concentration in Strategic Studies and a minor in Middle East Studies. Jacqueline received her B.A. from the University of Georgia in International Affairs and Criminal Justice in 2017. Prior to SAIS, Jacqueline worked for U.S. Senator John McCain’s congressional office and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent prosecutorial agency. Her research interests include religious extremism, hybrid warfare, and ethnic conflict. Jacqueline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daniel Anaforian is an online editor for the SAIS China Studies Review. He is also a first-year M.A. student at SAIS with a concentration in China Studies. His research interests include Taiwanese politics, cross-Strait relations, and human rights in Asia more broadly. He can be reached at email@example.com.