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Date Posted: 20:17 20/10/2004

Bin and Gone

Has the al Qaeda supremo bin hidin' in China?

THE FOREIGN Affairs spokeswoman, Zhang Qiyue, took the opportunity at her routine press conference yesterday to refute claims by certain sections of the western media that reviled international terrorist Osama Bin Laden was actually in China.

She was actually replying to an allegation proffered by a journalist that the al Qaeda kingpin was on the Chinese side of the Pakistani border, in the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang.

'I haven't seen the report you mention,' she said, 'and I don't know what foundation the report has, but I think he [the reporter] is being irresponsible… I can clearly state that bin Laden is not in China.'

And indeed, why would he be? There was a story in the Chinese newspapers recently claiming that an enterprising young man in Henan Province had set up the Bin Laden Kebab House. Running Dog wondered if the bearded loony was likely to turn up to exercise his intellectual property rights. More than that, of course, bin Laden is alleged to have a significant amount of supporters among the growing terrorist community of western China, some of whom remain holed up in Guantanamo Bay after being caught in a training camp in Afghanistan.

Actually, the question asked at the press conference was nothing compared to a number of other claims being made in certain sections of the online press. The report cited by Zhang Qiyue - originally published in El Mundo - claimed that the Chinese government was in negotiations with the United States to extradite Bin Laden just in time for the Presidential Elections in November, giving a wholly unwelcome fillip to George W. Bush's faltering campaign. What would the US offer China in return? Permanent most-favoured nation status, said the report, something which China already won years ago. What else? Running Dog, wary of a wage cut, would suggest an easing of pressure to revalue the RMB.

The report states that Osama Bin Laden has been 'granted asylum' in China's 'turbulent Muslim provinces', which presumably means Xinjiang. Beijing agreed to shelter him in return for an end to the insurgency in Xinjiang, apparently, but China now sees the value in handing him over to the States.

The report quotes a well-placed source, 'a high level representative of the Pentagon' who of course wishes to remain anonymous, as saying, 'A new administration Bush would present China as its great new ally in the war against terrorism. China would enjoy in Washington the status of a most favored nation with all of its facets. Contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars would be approved by fast track. The history of human rights violations in China would be ignored'.

How much control over the Xinjiang East Turkestan separatists does Bin Laden have? Certainly, there were a few Uighur Muslims arrested in Afghanistan, but some observers believe that the groups added to the international roster of terrorist organizations at the urging of the Chinese authorities no longer even exist. Still, there is apparently a gangster network connecting Xinjiang to the Caucasus, linked by Islam, nourished by political oppression and financed by drug deals and human smuggling.

If you throw in a US promise to stop arming Taiwan, or to back down on calls for a currency revaluation, and you have a fascinating conspiracy theory that, as we write, has less than two weeks to come to pass. Secretary of State Colin Powell will be in China next week to discuss the 'US-China Relationship'. However tantalizing the story might seem, one suspects that bin Laden will not be on the agenda.

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