The campaign against terrorism, particularly represented by ISIS, is high on the global agenda. The role of the U.S. is much more visible in comparison with that of China, as American military actions always make headlines in major international media. However, China does play a significant role in eliminating extremism in the Middle East region. This “de-extremization” should be the final resolution to terrorism deeply seated in the Middle East.
Extremization, or radicalization, has been widely discussed in academia both in China and the U.S., while de-extremization or de-radicalization is often touted as a means to address the problem.
It is true that extremization starts with the birth of extremist ideologies. Entities or organizations like ISIS advocate resuming ancient Islamic ways of life via violent Jihadist movements. However, extremization should not be simply defined as the existence of extremist religious ideologies since any religion could have extremist ideologies, as the Saudi foreign minister said during this year’s Davos. Extremization should be defined as increasing the number of the carriers, specifically young people, who accept the extremist religious ideologies.
Many analysts are talking about how to eliminate the extremist religious ideologies. But that might not be the right path, since extremist ideologies are always there whether we like them or not.
History has proven that extremist ideologies are not something that could be completely rooted out.
The right way should be reducing the number of carriers of these extremist ideologies, including eliminating physically those carriers and preventing the growth of new carriers. Young people are usually the carriers of these ideologies. With the number of carriers growing smaller and smaller, the influence of these extremist ideologies will also be greatly reduced.
The United States, by its military actions in the Middle East, for whatever reasons, can be said to have contributed significantly to global de-extremization efforts. Statistics are not available, but it is generally accepted that the U.S. military actions do physically eliminate many ISIS terrorists.
Therefore, its military actions since 2014 should be appreciated even though the U.S. military interventions targeting former Iraqi and Libyan regimes and the chaos that followed have been significant reasons behind the extremization of the Middle East.
The military actions are truly necessary in dealing with today’s ISIS. Those ISIS fighters are not only armed with advanced weapons but also strongly committed to extremist ideologies. They operate in large numbers. However, military means are far from being sufficient in de-extremization. In addition to social and moderate religious teachings, regional economic development is extremely critical in successfully dealing with de-extremization and solving employment problems. Only when young people either stay in the factories or in the office buildings will de-extremization be achievable and realistic.
Beijing is often challenged by Washington to do more and not be a “free rider” in the region. China’s chosen role is shaped by its unwillingness to take part in military actions led by the U.S. But China, as a responsible power, has actually contributed significantly to global efforts of de-extremization. China has been a major economic partner for Middle East countries. China’s import of oil and other commodities and China’s investments in infrastructure sectors have served both to maintain economic stability in the region and to maintain the basic living conditions in the region. All of this has helped to prevent more young people from turning to extremist ideologies.
The future will certainly see China playing bigger roles in de-extremization in the region. China will become an even bigger economic player in the world, including the Middle East. China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative, for which the region is an important partner. In particular, China proposed the “1+2+3” pattern of cooperation with Arab countries. “1” refers to energy cooperation, “2” refers to infrastructure construction and trade and investment facilitation, and “3” refers to major high-tech fields including nuclear power, space satellites and new energy.
China, with its growing capacity, will not only be able to provide economic assistance for humanitarian causes but also can stimulate new momentum in Middle East industrialization and modernization through cooperation. All these should be meaningful in steering young people in the region away from extremism.
All in all, it is important to eliminate extremist ideologies, but it should be even more important to reduce the causes that incubate these extremist ideologies. This depends on economic development as well as solving employment problems.
China and the U.S. have the shared goal of fighting against terrorism and extremism in the region despite modest differences on the ways to address the problem. China’s efforts to engage the region economically is conducive in de-extremization, and should therefore be appreciated by the U.S.