In international politics, the fight against the threat of terrorism to global peace and security has become the highest priority in the international security agenda. Like any global power, for an emerging China, which is rapidly integrating itself into the global community, terrorism no more stands an exception but rather a priority in the national security.Since 9/11 China’s own understanding of the threat and the nature of response to combat it has changed with time.At the very core lies the query: Does China face a threat of terrorism?In the recent times, terrorism has equally become a concern for the Chinese leadership given the objective of maintaining internal stability. China’s concerns to the global tragedy has been enforced in two ways: first, domestic factor, wherein Beijing’s key concern is against the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM)- the main Xinjiang terrorist group responsible for terror activities in China. Given this internal terror to stability, one of the key national interest lies in fighting the “three evils” (terrorism, separatism and, extremism). The internal threat of terror was witnessed in the various ETIM led activities such as: October 28, 2013, incident of car explosion under the portrait of Mao Zedong in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square; March 2014 knife attack incident at Kunming railway station followed by two attacks at Guangzhou railway station in May 2014 and March 2015 and also, the car bomb attack on an open-air market in Urumqi- calling for Beijing’s attention towards the internal threat to stability of the state. The domestic concern is exacerbated by the international concern, where China faces a equal threat like other countries. For the Paris attack by ISIS in November 13, 2015 (one Chinese citizen shot but survived); gunmen hostage crisis at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali (3 Chinese were killed); and most importantly, the ISIS execution of Chinese citizen- incidents that confirm China’s rising threat of terror abroad. In this context, China faces a pressure both domestically and internationally to confirm its stand on terrorism.
In its nature of understanding of the threat, China defines terrorism as “as any proposition or activity – that, by means of violence, sabotage or threat, generates social panic, undermines public security, infringes on personal and property rights, and menaces government organs and international organizations — with the aim to realize certain political and ideological purposes.” Officially, China stands firm and invariable in condemning international terrorism in all manifestations.
Facing this imminent challenge, the next query lies in: How China plans to fight it?
It is interesting to note, that unlike United States deployment of troops overseas to fight terror pockets, China follows a non-interventionist foreign policy. Beijing doesn’t place the boots on the ground given its non-interference, non-intervention policy. In abiding by the thumb rule, China’s domestic responses to combat terror has been- modernization of its security forces, of which, the paramilitary People’s Armed Police is the key organ to combat terror, increased surveillance of ethnic, political, and religious groups, and, developmental and legal initiatives such as the new anti-terrorism law. Institutionally, Beijing counter-terror moves have been- establishment of the Leading Small Group on Counter-Terrorism led by the Minister of Public Security (august 2013); formation of the National Security Commission in January 2014, headed by Xi Jinping- resulting into centralization and prioritization of anti-terror policy-making at the highest level. The most significant way forward has been the recent passage of China’s first ever anti-terror law in December 27, 2015 at the 18th NPC. Broadening the perspective on terror, law condemns as terrorist acts “any speech or activity that, by means of violence, sabotage or threat, generates social panic, undermines public security, and menaces government departments or international organisations”. This legal binding to counter terror reflects the unambiguity in China’s stand against terrorism and clearly points that terrorism has moved up the priority ladder in Beijing’s national interest.
While internationally, China’s actions to combat terror is limited and practiced in multilateral frameworks, of which BRICS serves as an important and potential platform. Wherein, China along with other countries of BRICS operates within the framework of UN Charter in their struggle against terror. China stands firm in negating any kind of “double standards” in combating international terror. In contrast to the US, China insists on addressing the “root causes” as well as the “symptoms” of terrorism. In doing so, China stands for supporting the affected states to fight their own battles against extremists, by providing “technological aid and intelligence sharing.”
Internationally, the official position of China, as reiterated in the BRICS Summit at Fortaleza (2014) and Ufa (2015), “condemn terrorism in all its forms and stress that there can be no justification for any acts of terror based on ideological, political or religious issues”. Having this understanding, a significant move forward by China under the BRICS calls for a global united front against terror. That is, counter-terrorism should comply with the United Nations Global Counter-terrorism Strategy, under the resolutions and annexed plan of action- A/RES/60/288, A/RES/62/272 and A/RES/64/297.Specifically, at the 2015 Ufa Summit, China and the other BRICS members agreed that there should be no “political approaches” and “selective application” in dealing with terrorism and that all countries should oblige to fighting against the menace. Adding to this objective, in the sidelines of 2015 G20 Summit at Antalya, China and other BRICS countries called for the setting up of a universal counter-terror front without any pre-condition to effectively deal with the terror menace.Besides this multilateral mechanism in dealing with terrorism, China is bilaterally engaged with Russia and India in counter-terror cooperation. Such as the 2015 China-India counter-terrorism drills in Kunming and that with Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Beijing in November 2015, both parties agreed to cooperate in counter-terrorism. But in one-to-one cooperation, there are certain gaps that exist, especially, between China and India. As in the sidelines of UFA Summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the Lakhvi issue to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. India expressed resentment over Beijing’s blocking of New Delhi’s demand at the UN for action against Pakistan over the release of Mumbai terror attack mastermind Zaki-ur- rehman Lakhvi. Such internal dynamics impede the cooperation in undertaking joint counter-terror actions. That is, in the overall functioning of BRICS, terrorism remains the weakest link. For each country is limited by the interference logic and their internal equations. As economics still remains the primary logic, the need of the hour requires greater diversification in enhancing the common goals towards peace and security, making BRICS a true multilateral forum.What can be done to make BRICS a strong integrated platform to combat terror are: confidence building between the five countries of BRICS; greater information and technology transfer; strong surveillance mechanism; big data simulation and, use of the New Development Bank (NDB) to finance counter-terror activities.Therefore, for China, to act as a responsible actor both domestically as well as globally, the need of the hour lies in expanding its political and institutional mechanisms in combating terror that threatens global peace and security.
(by AMRITA JASH, a Doctoral Candidate in Chinese Studies at the Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University)