The Afghan Conflict and Chinese Concerns

22 Nov, 2001    ·   645

Sonika Gupta analyses Chinese concerns with regard to the Afghan crisis

China ’s reserved participation in the “global coalition” against terrorism has been criticized by the Western media. However, its response is no different from that of the more forthcoming members of the coalition. China interprets the situation in terms if its own national interests, as do Britain and France . Though a more effusive Chinese support would be welcomed by the Western coalition partners, it would not alter the ground situation in Afghanistan . India ’s precipitous offer of blanket support to the US policy in Afghanistan is a case in point. It did little more than betray a lack of political and diplomatic sophistication in dealing with the situation. 



China has two major concerns regarding the current conflict in Afghanistan . The Chinese Foreign Minster, Tang Jiaxuan, mentioned these concerns in his speech at the recently concluded General Assembly session in New York . Firstly, China raised the issue of terrorism in Xinjiang as part of the global problem of terrorism. When world opinion firmly turned against political violence, China began to talk about the low intensity conflict waged by the Uighur separatist groups in Xinjiang. Earlier, the Chinese government had referred to the situation in Xinjiang as a domestic affair and did not invite or welcome attention on it. Tang Jiaxuan identified his government’s efforts to curb the movement for East Turkestan as “an important aspect of the international fight against terrorism.”  For the first time, Beijing has released a list of the separatist groups operating in Xinjiang, alleging that they have links with the Al Qaeda.



The Foreign Minister also mentioned China ’s ratification of the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, concluded by the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Significantly, this agreement brackets separatism and terrorism, obliterating the difference between political and violent campaigns for secession or self determination. China ’s stand on this issue has not found favor, especially with the US . In his visit to China during the APEC summit, the US President made it clear that countries should not use the global campaign against terror to suppress minorities.



Secondly, Tang Jiaxuan pointed out that “the objective of democratized international relations is far from being realized.”  After the US-led military intervention in Kosovo and the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, China had expressed deep concern over the unilateralism practiced by the US in resolving international conflicts. Though China supports counter-strikes against terrorists, it qualifies its stand by stressing the need for the UN to play a central role. This may be interpreted as China ’s opposition to US hegemony, but it has wider implications for international relations. Bypassing the UN in both the Kosovo and the Afghan campaigns, the US has set a dangerous precedent of intervention in ‘trouble spots’ around the world based on its own understanding of the conflict. The military support of the NATO to both these US-led campaigns renders the role of the UN irrelevant in major international conflicts. The UN is the apex body of all its member states and its underlying principles of equality and consensus need to be strengthened. India , as the largest democracy, should have kept this in mind and insisted on the UN playing a central role in the fight against terrorism. 



Chinese concerns stem from apprehensions about intervention and support to "splittist" elements within China , specifically in Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan . Tang Jiaxuan reiterated the Chinese national objective “to accomplish the grand cause of national reunification.” While calling for international cooperation to deal with terrorism, he mentioned the Shanghai Five and the ASEAN Regional Forum and China ’s role in these organizations towards combating terrorism. At both these fora China is a dominant player. Therefore China has distinguished very clearly between international cooperation that might lead to interference in its national objectives and those multilateral agreements with states that tacitly recognize its dominant position and work towards common objectives.



Though the issue of cross border support to separatist groups in Xinjiang is an unresolved issue between China and Pakistan , China has displayed ample evidence of further strengthening its ties with Pakistan . China and Pakistan are both opposed to a Northern Alliance dominated government, and are reportedly working on a joint regional strategy to ensure the installation of a ‘broad based’ government in Kabul.