Continuing the Discussion: China’s Role in the Fight Against Extremism
China should commit to global coalition to battle extremists
BY MATTHEW GANDOLFO
In light of recent terrorist attacks in France and Mali, as well as continued conflicts in Syria, the world’s most powerful countries must re-examine their approach to securing the global commons and preventing conflict. China’s rise as to become second largest world economy and the largest regional military force has brought about a re-examination of China’s role in securing global peace. While China must balance managing its domestic terrorism problems in Xinjiang while also making continuous efforts through international organizations and coalition partnerships to protect the global commons as well as bolster security on an international level.
Since Mao Zedong declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China has generally stayed out of global conflicts, with the exception of the Korean War. However, as recent trends indicate, such as China commitment over 8,000 troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions, President Xi has appeared to shift gears on China’s absolute non-interventionist strategy. President Xi Jinping recently stated, “China will strengthen cooperation with the international community and resolutely crack down on terrorist activities that kill innocents and safeguard peace and stability of the world.”
The larger question remains, however, what role should China have in fighting the Islamic State group and other extremist terrorist organizations? These global terrorist groups present conflicts of interest for China in preventing international armed conflicts while showing renewed commitment to securing global peace. However, China has been presented with the opportune time to join Russia, France, the U.S., and other potential coalition partners to take a stand and root out extremist ideology-based terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa. China must seize this opportunity and make a united commitment to battle these extremist groups through a multitude of channels and means, giving both military and nonmilitary support.
Joining anti-ISIS coalition not in China’s best national interests
BY ADAM WANG
The activities of separatist groups in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is of primary concern for the Chinese government in its decision-making on combatting both global and international terrorism. It is also one of many reasons China is, and ought be, hesitant to commit military forces to fight the Islamic State group in the Middle East. With a population of 21 million, 45 percent of whom are from the mostly-Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, Xinjiang is believed to be home to the terrorists who have conducted a series of attacks, such as the 2014 Kunming railway station attack. Through these attacks, they have expressed their desire for an independent Xinjiang. Regarding Xinjiang, the Chinese government has undertaken counterterrorism efforts and other stabilizing measures, including economic stimuli and improvements to the educational system. However, the expansion of the Islamic State group, which has regarded Xinjiang as a part of the Islamic State’s territory, has complicated Chinese counterterrorism efforts, as hundreds of Chinese citizens (primarily Uyghurs) have allegedly joined the Islamic State group from Xinjiang and now fight for the Islamic State group. The Chinese government has deployed armed police and arrested suspected terrorists in Xinjiang to attempt to trace potential connections between the Islamic State group and Xinjiang Uyghur separatists. As China is currently focusing on problems in the Xinjiang region and its own domestic policies, I do not believe it is prudent for the Chinese government to get involved in directly fighting extremist organizations in the Middle East.
China has not sent troops to fight the Islamic State group because China’s core interest is still in domestic politics and neighboring regions’ safety, especially in the South China Sea and the borders of Xinjiang and Tibet. Although Xinjiang separatists have some connections with the Islamic State group, as China currently does not operate overseas military bases, China would have difficulties sending troops to the Middle East.
China’s international role also explains why China has not fought terrorism in the Middle East. The United States, as the only world superpower, has led the Western alliance to fight against the Islamic State group from the beginning until now. In the meantime, Russia also began to attack the Islamic State group in the Middle East. Although it seems that the great powers are fighting terrorists together, the truth is complicated, because they fight the Islamic State group with different aims. This is not directly China’s fight, and sending troops to the Middle East would complicate many relationships, as each country has different goals in the fight. For China, the best way is not to get involved in the fighting puzzle so early, even though the Chinese government embraces the efforts of all nations fighting extremism and terrorism.
However, on the off-chance that the Chinese government were to fight the Islamic State in the Middle East, China would be willing to cooperate with the U.S. and Russia, and may even send Chinese UN peacekeeping forces to the Middle East. Earlier this month, the UN Security Council agreed to increase its funds directed to battle and engage the Islamic State group, and thus implies that China has agreed to cooperate with the U.S. and Russia to fight global terrorist organizations. Within the scopes of authority under the UN Security Council, China could make continued efforts, including sending troops, under the structure of international law. However, I do not believe joining the larger coalition efforts to combat the Islamic State group is in China’s best interests and therefore I do not foresee that happening any time in the near future.