Three Evils

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The Three Evils (simplified Chinese :三股势力; traditional Chinese :三股勢力; lit. 'three forces/influences') is a political slogan of the People's Republic of China defined as terrorism, separatism (or "splittism") and religious extremism. The phrase refers to declared counter-terrorism operations undertaken by China, Central Asian republics, and Russia, primarily as related to Xinjiang. [1] [2] The Chinese government views each of the Three Evils as interrelated phenomena driving persistent instability in the westernmost province of Xinjiang, and the slogan has been deployed extensively in support of Xinjiang internment camps since 2017. [3]



Xinjiang is the westernmost province of China and the historical home of the Uyghur people, who speak a language unrelated to Chinese and predominantly practice Islam. The region has been the site of significant tensions under Chinese rule, and attempted to declare independence first as the short-lived First and Second East Turkestan Republics in 1933 and 1944, respectively, ultimately being occupied by the People's Liberation Army in 1949. [4]

China first seriously faced issues of ethnic violence in Xinjiang beginning in the 1990s, such as with the 1990 Baren Township riot, though such incidents were generally classified as "social unrest" until after the September 11 attacks, when the government began to refer to them more in terms of terrorism. [5] Much of the Uyghur discontent stemmed from economic inequality between Uyghurs and Han Chinese migrants, suppression of Uyghur religious practices, and state preference for Han over Uyghur culture, among other issues. [6] Counterterrorism became a much larger Chinese government priority overall after the ascension of Xi Jinping in 2012; following a lull from 2001-2007, militant and terrorist activity had increased notably. [7]


Human Rights Watch has criticized counter-terrorism cooperation by members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in targeting the three evils, accusing the members' governments of violating international laws regarding human rights. [1] Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said, "For many years SCO governments have been criticized for their poor human rights records. The SCO's policies could worsen human rights conditions and seek to justify abuse. It's therefore imperative that the European Union and the United States place even greater emphasis on human rights issues in the region." [1]

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The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure is a permanent organ of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) tasked with coordinating counterterrorism efforts across member countries and advancing cooperation on SCO initiatives to mitigate the "Three Evils" – terrorism, separatism and religious extremism. The organization is meant to lay the groundwork for a future enforcement capability within the SCO, which aspires to develop its own transnational police and military forces.


  1. 1 2 3 Eurasia: Uphold human rights in combating terrorism, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation must not punish peaceful dissent Human Rights Watch 2006.
  2. Li, Enshen (2019). "Fighting the "Three Evils": A Structural Analysis of Counter-Terrorism Legal Architecture in China". Emory International Law Review. 33 (3). Retrieved 11 July 2020.
  3. Greitens, Sheena Chestnut; Lee, Myunghee; Yazici, Lee (2020). "Counterterrorism and Preventive Repression: China's Changing Strategy in Xinjiang". International Security. 44 (3): 18–19. doi: 10.1162/isec_a_00368 . S2CID   209892080.
  4. Li 2019, p. 320.
  5. Li 2019, pp. 316–317.
  6. Li 2019, pp. 325–27.
  7. Li 2019, p. 313.