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China’s interest in the Khalistan movement


The Government of India has long believed that Khalistani separatists are working in tandem

with foreign powers, mainly Pakistan and China. 1 They also believe that governments around

the world aren’t providing enough support to India to help contain Khalistani radicalism.

Pakistan has been the primary reason why global efforts to stabilize and free Asia from

international terrorism and extremism have fallen apart. The US-led war on terrorism petered

out and died. The threats remain. We can’t overlook that Pakistan sabotaged the international

community’s efforts to rebuild an Afghanistan free from terrorism. Pakistan has historically

backed Islamist terrorism and Khalistani radicals. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, the late Zulfikar

Ali Bhutto, made causing unrest in Khalistan and Kashmir to harm India his mission after

Pakistan lost East Pakistan, what is now Bangladesh, in 1971. 2

Thanks to Pakistan and China, Afghanistan is now a global security and humanitarian

challenge once again. The Taliban are paying the wages of al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan.

There is also a new and dangerous dynamic that is underlying these current trends in

radicalism: China’s soft spot for terrorism out of Pakistan. China has also been pushing for

international recognition of the Taliban. China has cynically blocked global efforts to get

Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Sajid Mir, who is a Pakistan national and is believed to have support from

Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, designated as a global terrorist at the United Nations despite

overwhelming evidence of Mir’s direct involvement in mass casualty terrorist events in

Mumbai, India in 2008. This paper will explore the Khalistan movement and its growing

relations with China. 3


The Khalistan independence movement is an ethnoreligious separatist movement that

advocates for the establishment of an independent Sikh state called Khalistan (Land of the

Pure), which will be separate from India.

The modern Khalistan movement was developed in the 1970s in response to perceived

grievances of Sikhs in India, predominantly in the state of Punjab. The movement was

militarized and exploited by Pakistan and China in the 1980s, leading to the deaths of

thousands of innocent Sikh and Hindu civilians.

Khalistan sympathizers also assassinated Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, and

Beant Singh, the Chief Minister of Punjab. (Figure 1) Khalistanis were also engaged in

international terrorism. Khalistani radicals were responsible for the bombing of numerous Air

India flights in the 1980s. The bombing of Air India 182 was one of the world’s worst acts of

terrorism before the tragedies that took place on September 11, 2001. 329 people were killedin the atrocity. Bombs manufactured by Khalistani radicals also killed two baggage handlers at Tokyo International Airport in Japan. (Figure 2)

The Khalistan movement fell out of popularity because of the use of terrorism in Punjab. The

global Sikh diaspora were also shocked at the level of violence. In 1987, the Dolmer Wells

High School shooting in London was one such incident that shocked the global community.

The open support from Pakistan’s radical Islamists and former ISI directors made people

suspicious of the movement . 4

The levels of violence and calls for subversion in this second wave from the modern

Khalistani movement is increasing. If the current wave of Khalistani extremism returns to

1980s levels of violence, it will be catastrophic for India and diaspora communities.

Support for China

In the last decade, there has been a flurry of Khalistani activism, protests, and activity in

North America, Europe, and Australia. The demonstrations appear directly unrelated to host

nation interests as the concerns focus on long-standing grievances in the Sikh community and

diaspora. However, analysis of statements from the Khalistani movement’s leadership shows

a clear affinity and open support for the People's Republic of China (PRC). This is believed

to be caused by China’s recent confrontations with India in the Himalayan region.

Think tanks associated with the Chinese government have also been looking at ways to

destabilize India. They are naturally drawn to Punjab. In 2009, a Chinese analyst using the

pseudonym Zan Lue (Strategy) published an article calling for the breakup of the ‘Great

Indian Federation’ for the China International Institute for Strategic Studies (CIISS), a think

tank that works for the Chinese government. In the paper, Lue stated, “China in its own

interest and the progress of whole Asia, should join forces with different nationalities like

Assamese, Tamils, and Kashmiris and support the latter in establishing independent nation-

states of their own, out of India. In particular, the ULFA in Assam, a territory neighboring

China, can be helped by China so that Assam realizes its national independence.” 5 More

recently, Chinese analysts have been looking into separatist movements in India, "The recent

movement in European and American countries that annoys India may not be accidental,"

said Guo Xuetang, a Chinese security analyst in an article titled, The "Kalistan" movement,

the "thorn" in the heart of the Indian government. 6

Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) and its fiery leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun are leading the charge

of this new wave of Khalistani radicalism. Pannun, an American lawyer, has publicly

supported China against India on numerous occasions.

Pannun's anti-Indian zealotry extends beyond provocative imagery, protests, and shocking

videos. SFJ has developed an affinity for the People's Republic of China. In 2020, Pannun

sent a letter to President Xi Jinping of China dated June 17th, 2020 (Figure 3) in which he

stated, "We empathize with [the] people of China as we are a people whose land and resources are under Indian occupation and who have faced genocide at the hands of [the]

Indian state since 1947."

In addition, the letter, without much detail, ambiguously thanks “the people of China for [the]

over whelming [sic] encouraging and supporting response they have given to SFJ's recent call

for non-Governmental Referendum 2020 for the secession of Punjab from India.”

Pannun has openly called for Indian soldiers to defect to China (Figure 4) “INDIA IS YOUR

ENEMY, NOT CHINA.” In 2019, Pannun also sent a letter to the Chinese ambassador of

Islamabad, Pakistan, Yao Jin. (Figure 5) In the letter, Pannun claimed that India's Research

and Analysis Wing (RAW) was responsible for an attack on the Chinese Consulate in

Karachi, Pakistan. The letter further stated that SFJ would donate one million Pakistani

rupees to the Chinese families affected by the attack.

New Developments

There has been a major new development in Chinese-Khalistani relations; Qihoo 360, a US-sanctioned company with suspected ties to Chinese intelligence, has taken an interest in SFJ's worldwide referendum drive for an independent Khalistan. Qihoo 360 has actively helped with cyber security threats against Khalistani activists. 7 It is not known if the threats are real, or part of Chinese propaganda aimed at India.

Source: Zee News

The Qihoo 360 reports were used to create propaganda against India in Pakistan’s leading daily newspapers and on social media. Qihoo 360 pushed that it had caught Indian hackers sabotaging radicals in Kashmir and those that supported Khalistan. Qihoo 360 reports have also been used by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attack the USA and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 8

In 2019 India's Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) outlawed SFJ for “having the potential of disrupting peace, the unity and integrity of the country,” claiming the group has ties to militant groups, support for secessionism, and subversion in India. Furthermore, suspected members of the group have been accused of committing or conspiring to commit acts of terrorism against political party leaders, Sikh deras, government institutions, and a court complex. 9

SFJ’s public support of China looks like it is starting to pay off for the movement. This raises

serious counterterrorism and counterintelligence challenges for nations that have large

Khalistani supporting diasporas.

Points of Interest

Qihoo 360

Qihoo 360 (360 Total Security), headquartered in Beijing, China, is monitoring and analyzing

the data of Khalistan and Kashmir activists across the globe. 10 The Embassy of Pakistan in

China has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the cyber security group, “In

April 2023, 360 Total Security and the Embassy of Pakistan officially reached a cooperation

after consultations and negotiations…. In the future, 360 Total Security will continue to

safeguard international exchanges and cooperations in cyberspace and contribute our

solutions and intelligence in China to global Internet development and governance.” 11

Qihoo 360 is connected to the CCP and the Chinese Ministry of National Defense (MND). 12 The Ministry of National Defense uses Qihoo 360 analysis as part of its propaganda

operations against India and the USA. 13 Qihoo 360 has been monitoring alleged cyber-attacks on Sikhs for Justice, a US-based organization that is spearheading radical Khalistan

separatists. 14

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs used Qihoo 360 to accuse the USA of being a

“Hacker Empire.” 15 The US Department of Defense (DOD) has black-listed Qihoo 360 for its

alleged linkages to Chinese intelligence. 16

Sikhs for Justice (SFJ)

SFJ and Gurpatwant Singh Pannun have reached out for Chinese government support against

India. 17 China has begun to emulate Pakistan by using proxy groups to destabilize India and

its neighbors. Pakistan and China consider themselves “Iron Brothers.” In the past, China has

been involved in arming radical groups, but it has only recently been found to have been

giving direct support to radicals in India and elsewhere. 18

Khalistanis claim China Office. Source Youtube (Republic World, India):

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is a close associate of Gurcharan Singh, the leader of Dal Khalsa

UK. Singh’s mentor and former Dal Khalsa UK leader, the late Manmohan Singh Khalsa was

close to Pakistani intelligence leaders and radicals from Jamaat-i-Islami, a group based in

Lahore, Pakistan. Jamaat-i-Islami are tied to al-Qaeda and other radical groups operating in

Pakistan and Afghanistan. Jamaat was subcontracted to wage jihads in Chechnya, Bosnia,

Afghanistan, and Indonesia by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Gurcharan Singh

of Dal Khalsa UK was recorded saying that Dal Khalsa has an office in Beijing. 19

Chinese think tanks linked to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have openly called for

heightened activities in India. 20

Intelligence agencies have intercepted communications between leading separatist leaders

and Beijing. Chinese intelligence officers have been monitored in training camps:

“Officials in New Delhi reportedly have complained to the Chinese, providing details about

the actions of Paresh Barua (above), the supreme leader of the banned separatist group, and

demanding action as he is understood to nurture militant camps inside Myanmar from his

hideout in southern China’s Yunnan province… Chinese secret service officers have visited

some of the makeshift camps of the militant outfits inside the jungles of the Myanmar-China

border, according to intelligence sources. Militants also visited China for training courses.” 21

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun has recently promoted campaigns against Indian diplomatic

missions in North America and Europe. These protests were marked because of the increase

in violence by Khalistani radicals. Literature for the rallies bore a menacing statement—

“Kill India” accompanied by the names and photographs of various Indian diplomats.

(Figure 6)

Pannun has also threatened to disrupt India’s territorial integrity in a video message. In the

video presentation, Pannun displays the previous insignia of Pakistan’s Inter-Service

Intelligence (ISI), implying there is some kind of association between his organization,

Khalistanis, and the agency. (Figure 7) 22


It is not surprising that China and Pakistan are amalgamating their efforts to contain what

they see as Indian aggression by supporting radical separatists in India. China believes that

Arunachal Pradesh in India is Southern Tibet and has also pushed for territory in Ladakh in

the Himalayas. Tibet was an independent country that China illegally annexed in 1951. 23

China has always played a silent role in Pakistan’s operations since the 1970s. China supplied

the Pakistan ISI with Chinese weapons for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. They have also

been caught providing help to separatist groups looking to break away from India. China is

now in the driving seat because Pakistan is caught in China’s debt trap. The increasing

security cooperation and diplomatic cover for terrorism is a concern to the rest of the global

community. The Government of India understands that Pakistan has a reckless ally that is

actively looking for ways to pull India apart. There is strong evidence that China is running

cybersecurity operations for Khalistani groups in tandem with the ISI. Qihoo 360 is asanctioned part of China’s security apparatus. It’s also been used to fight a propaganda war

against China’s foes by the Chinese government. This paper shows that Khalistani radicals

have been looking for more support from China. It also suggests they are now receiving it.


























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