Is China a Credible Partner in Fighting Terror?
A ChinaFile Conversation
In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris China’s foreign minister Wang Yi said, “China is also a victim of terrorism. The fight against the ‘East Turkestan Islamic Movement’… should become an important part of the international fight against terrorism.” But China recently has cracked down on Muslim Uighur communities, just this week killing 17 alleged terrorists, including women and children, killing dozens of Uighur protesters in July last year, and banning religious holidays such as Ramadan, and barring the wearing of the headscarf, leading us to ponder this week’s question. —The Editors
There clearly are reasons to doubt China’s credibility as a partner in fighting terror. Its unwillingness to draw clear lines between the terrorist, the political activist, and the aggrieved citizen makes certain forms of cooperation—such as detailed intelligence sharing—very problematic. Beijing’s repressive behavior in Xinjiang actively is worsening the conditions in which terrorist threats are liable to grow. And Beijing is willing to use its position on the U.N. Security Council to extend protection to members of specific terrorist organizations—such as Lashkar-e-Taiba— when it has political reasons to do so.
Nonetheless, there is no question that China increasingly is the victim of serious terrorist attacks, both at home and abroad. These are not just attacks on Chinese state institutions but atrocities against Chinese civilians, exemplified by the Kunming attack in 2014. A number of the incidents also have the hallmarks of jihadi methods, implying some degree of external influence even if not direct support. Although their numbers are small and their capacity to act on the Chinese mainland is limited, there are active militant groups such as the Turkistan Islamic Party that have had a visible presence in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and now Syria. And after a long period in which Al Qaeda and its affiliates, for tactical reasons, largely considered it inadvisable to make China a target, ISIS, by contrast, has been very explicit about the fact that it sees China as an enemy...