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China finds itself pulled deeper into Syria crisis

THE LEVANT NEWS — As its global business interests grow, China is cautiously revising the noninterventionist policy espoused in 1955 by then-Premier Zhou Enlai. The killing of a Chinese hostage by the Islamic State group and Chinese businessmen in Friday’s attack in Mali could change that.

The violence swirling out from Syria in recent weeks is pressuring China to step off the sidelines and take a more active role in international efforts to stem the conflict.

The execution of a Chinese captive announced by the Islamic State group Wednesday — the first such killing — showed China isn’t beyond the reach of a group that has claimed responsibility for recent attacks in Beirut, Paris and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Moreover, Russia’s decision to launch airstrikes to support the Syrian government has left China increasingly alone in opposing military intervention in a civil war that has fueled the Islamic State group’s rise.

“It appears that events are dragging China further into the Syrian crisis,” said Michael Clarke, an associate professor at the Australian National University’s National Security College. “The killing of a Chinese national will certainly inject a new variable into Beijing’s calculations about its position on the conflict.”

China has vowed to hold the killers accountable and to step up counterterrorism cooperation with other countries. It has called on other countries to lend more support to China’s own anti-terrorism efforts, particularly against the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM.

“China is also a victim of terrorism, and cracking down on ETIM should become an important part of the international fight against terrorism,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at the Group of 20 meetings in Turkey last weekend.

China’s growing exposure to the global terrorism threat was underscored Friday when three executives of state-owned China Railway Construction were among 22 people killed after al-Qaida-linked militants attacked the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali.

China is still deeply uneasy about revealing basic facts about terrorism on its own soil and efforts to hunt down alleged conspirators. And that may leave potential partners wary.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang in northwest China have long complained about restrictions on their religious practices, clothing and use of the Uighur language, plus exclusion from economic-development efforts.

A September assault at a dormitory at a coal mine by a group of knife-wielding men killed at least 11 civilians, three policemen and two paramilitary police officers in Baicheng county in China’s far west. The dead were members of China’s Han ethnic majority; Uighurs often complain that an influx of Han Chinese has hurt their livelihoods and that Han business owners discriminate against them.

On Friday, the state-run Tianshan and Xinhua news agencies carried triumphant reports announcing that Xinjiang police had, after a 56-day manhunt, “disbanded a terrorist group,” killing 28 suspects and securing the surrender of a 29th.

“Terrorism is the enemy of all mankind,” the state-run Tianshan dispatch concluded. “No matter whether the terrorists come from at home or abroad, no matter what means they adopt, no matter where they hide, they will be completely wiped out!”

The official reports added that the “terrorist group was directly guided by an overseas extremist group” and was led by two locals, Musa Tohniyaz and Mamat Aysa. Their names indicate that the men were members of China’s Muslim Uighurs.

While China’s projection of power abroad typically focuses on safeguarding its growing business interests — and it has pledged not to interfere in the affairs of other nations — doing nothing about Syria carries its own risks.

China, unlike Russia, has little invested in Syria or its government. If China does nothing, it might lose credibility as a rising player on the world stage. Or perhaps party leaders risk looking incompetent at home if the Islamic State group carries out a major attack on Chinese interests.

It could hurt the country’s credibility as a rising power on the world stage or even make its leaders look weak at home.

President Xi Jinping has often spoken of his desire to convert China’s economic clout into geopolitical power, a goal demonstrated by the creation of international institutions.

As its global business interests grow, China is cautiously revising the noninterventionist policy espoused in 1955 by then-Premier Zhou Enlai.

Since Syria’s internal strife spilled into the streets of Paris on Nov. 13, French President François Hollande has pressed Russia and the U.S. to merge their parallel bombing campaigns into an international effort to wipe out the Islamic State group. The U.K., which has bombed the group in Iraq, is thinking about joining the fray.

That has left China as the sole veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council still advocating for a political solution.

That’s an uncomfortable position considering the country has only twice cast a veto without Russia.

The pair have vetoed four resolutions on Syria, most recently blocking a U.S.-backed proposal to refer war-crime allegations against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to the International Criminal Court.

At a regular briefing Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reaffirmed China’s desire to let the “U.N. fulfill its coordinating role” in fighting terrorism. China has said that negotiations including all parties under a U.N. framework would provide the only acceptable venue for solving the Syrian crisis.

China on Friday backed a Security Council resolution that condemned the Islamic State group as “a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security” and called for efforts to “eradicate” its safe havens in Iraq and Syria.

But while the country might provide some logistical support, it wouldn’t commit forces or back a proposal that undermined Assad’s government, said Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the London-based Royal United Services Institute. “I don’t really see this being much of an actual game-changer,” he said.

Source: Seattle Times

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