While HLSwatch.com embraces a global approach to homeland security, much of our coverage is focused on the transatlantic relationship, EU, and the broader Mediterranean region. However, a recent post after my visit to Beijing highlighted the unintended consequences of China’s counterterrorism and homeland security initiatives. Following is a distillation of U.S.-China relations in this context. The Congressional Research Service issued a thoughtful briefing in September on this topic. China-U.S. relations in countering terrorism represents a balance of tensions and cooperation, and several opportunities for progress exist.
China qualified many of its initial promises of support for the U.S. in its fight against terrorism. The PRC noted its veto authority as a check at the UN Security Council and initial commentary in official Chinese media criticized U.S. intelligence failures and cited U.S. defense and foreign policies as prompting the attacks. Reported anti-U.S. reactions in the PRC’s online chat rooms after the attacks exacerbated tensions.
During the week that I recently spent in Beijing I was exposed to a range of dominant Chinese cultural themes. “There are many Chinas” is a common phrase, often invoked by first time visitors and invariably by their hosts. Our hosts, some of the leading minds in Chinese business strategy and entrepreneurism who are defining the leading edge of innovation for a globalizing Chinese economy, made this point to me often.
The Chinese government is engaged in an intense balancing act to reconcile communism and capitalism, an historically closed society with the forces of globalization, and the development of a massive workforce with wide disparities of wealth and access to education and health care. China also faces the challenge of managing the development of a job market that is transitioning from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. This latter transition is marked by rapidly moving shifts from a production-based participation in the global economy to a consumption-based participation. The PRC’s approach to combating terrorism includes similar hallmarks.
Ever the nation of contradictions, China also views itself as a victim of terrorist attacks that are blamed principally on ethnic Muslim Uighur separatists in the northwestern Xinjiang region. Consider this series of developments after 9/11 that CRS identifies:
• In a message to President Bush on September 11, PRC ruler Jiang Zemin condemned the terrorist attacks and offered condolences.
• In a phone call with the President on September 12, Jiang reportedly promised to cooperate with the United States to combat terrorism.
• At the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) on the same day, the PRC (a permanent member) voted with the others for Resolution 1368 (to combat terrorism).
• On September 20, Beijing said that it offered “unconditional support” in fighting terrorism.
• On September 20-21, visiting Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan promised cooperation, and Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated that discussions covered intelligence-sharing but not military cooperation. PRC counterterrorism experts attended a “productive” initial meeting on September 25, 2001, in Washington, DC.
• On September 28, 2001, China voted with all others in the UNSC for Resolution 1373, reaffirming the need to combat terrorism.
The 110th Congress also has engaged the debate. For example, the House passed on September 17, 2007, H.Res. 497, citing the PRC for using the fight against terrorists to increase oppression of the Uighur population. On May 22, 2008, Senator Sherrod Brown introduced a similar bill in S.Res. 574. In June 2008, Reps Delahunt and Rohrabacher called for the Uighurs held at Guantanamo to be given U.S. parole. On July 30, the House passed H.Res. 1370, calling on the PRC to stop repression of the Tibetan and Uighur peoples, and Senator Brownback introduced S.Res. 633 on the pre-Olympic clampdown.
The CRS study focuses on the following policy areas on which the U.S. and China could focus to improve bilateral cooperation:
• Law-enforcement ties
• Port security
• Oppressed Uighur populations whom China claims to be linked to “terrorists”
• Detained Uighurs at Guantanamo Bay prison
• Weapons nonproliferation
• Security for the Olympics in Beijing in August 2008
• Sanctions that ban exports of arms and security equipment
• Military-to-military contacts
• China’s influence in Central Asia through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
• China’s arms transfers to Iran