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New Terror Threat Landscape Requires Closer Sino-US Cooperation

Dec 18 , 2014

Today, the world is witnessing a new wave of terror threats never seen before. China and U.S. are not exceptional; each is confronted with a rising terrorist threat. Against this background, world powers like China and U.S. need to seek more constructive cooperation on fighting terrorism.

Globally, after the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011, a new era of terrorism has emerged. According to a report released on July 23, 2014, by Maplecroft, a British risk consultancy, global terrorist related deaths have leaped by almost one third over the last 12 months compared to the previous five-year average. Terrorism is spreading to more countries, especially in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa. In Syria and Iraq, the sudden rise of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) poses a global threat to the international community. Al Qaeda is resurging due to the withdrawal of international coalition forces in Afghanistan. Boko Haram in Nigeria carried out a series of shocking attack with significant casualties.

For the U.S., ISIL’s successes in Iraq and Syria have surprised Washington D.C. and disrupted U.S. strategy in the Middle East. Without intervention, the gains of eight years of war in Iraq will be lost.

On September 10, 2014, U.S. president Barack Obama announced a new strategy for fighting ISIL; it increased airstrikes against ISIL’s targets and deployed more non-combat forces to help Iraq’s government. At the same time, the U.S. is focusing on winning over more nations to form an international anti-terror alliance. The alliance is now 60 nations strong, but after several months of strikes, ISIL is not weakened. The U.S. can’t effectively control and use the anti-terror alliance to serve its aims, especially for Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern nations, which have different goals in fighting ISIL.

On the other hand, ISIL’s threat to the U.S. homeland is rising. Since the U.S. started the airstrikes against ISIL, the terror group has ramped up its propaganda campaign, releasing videos threatening to attack the West. On September 21st this year, ISIL warned of attacks inside Western nations. The spokesman for ISIL in the audio urged supporters to kill Canadians, Americans, Australians, French and other Europeans, regardless of whether they were civilians or members of the military. And ISIL’s incitements seem to be working well. On October 22nd, an ISIL supporting Muslim convert killed a Canadian soldier. Two days later, a man attacked New York City police officers with an ax, and investigation showed the man was also inspired by ISIL’s ideology. It is highly possible in the near future that ISIL will carry out terror attack on U.S. homeland.

Since 2012, terror attacks have occurred more frequently in China. In the past, most terror attacks in China happened in the western regions. According to statistics from the security agency, from 1990 to 2001, there were more than 200 terror attacks in Xinxiang. And in 2012 alone, the number of attacks increased to approximately 200. Most of them occurred in the southern part of Xinjiang.

However, the pattern of the terrorist activities in China has changed since 2013. From the Tiananmen attack in Beijing on October 28, 2013 to the attack at the Kunming railway station in March 2014, terrorist activities have been escalating and spilling over into other regions. Terrorist attacks are increasingly targeting the “soft targets,” which have had shocking effects on Chinese citizens.

After September 11th 2001, China-U.S. joint communication and cooperation on fighting terrorism increased. Communication channels and security mechanisms were established, indicative that anti-terrorism has become an important issue for China-U.S. bilateral relations. But after U.S. president Obama came into office, the U.S. began to scale down its war on terror and put forward the “pivot to Asia” strategy. The differences and disputes on the terrorism issue between China and U.S. increasingly emerged. China criticized the U.S.’s “double standards” in anti-terrorism while the U.S. blamed China for being not transparent in its terrorism investigations. The U.S. government also has been slow or even reluctant to condemn terrorist activities in China. Although the two countries continue to cooperate on anti-terror issues, it was not as constructive and fruitful as before.

Although China and U.S. still have different interpretations of terrorism, now that both face increasing terrorist threats, the two countries share more common interests and concerns to combat terrorism. And as world major powers, they have unique responsibilities to tackle global terrorism. There is great potential for China and the U.S. to deepen its anti-terror cooperation.
Actually China and the U.S. have agreed to increase cooperation to fight terrorism. China’s key concern on anti-terrorism is fighting the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) to ensure stability and development in northwest China. The U.S. has expressed understanding about China’s concerns and responded positively to cooperate on the issue. This July, the first round of vice-ministerial level dialogue on anti-terrorism was held in Washington. U.S. President Obama said, “counter-terrorism is an area where our two nations could strengthen our cooperation” in an interview with Xinhua News Agency on November 10, 2014.

As the terrorist threat continues to rise, China and the U.S. should strengthen cooperation on the urgent matters related to terrorism. First is the flow of foreign fighters to Middle East. Tens of thousands of foreigners from all parts of the world have fled to Iraq and Syria to fight under the banner of terrorist groups like ISIL and Al-Nusra Front. Some of them are returning to their home country and plans to carry out attacks. The threat from foreign fighters is becoming more and more serious. China and U.S. and other related countries should share intelligence and work together closely to deal with this problem.

Second is to crack down “cyber terrorism.” The Internet is widely used by terrorist groups to spread extremist ideology, plan attacks, raise funds and maintain communication. Now most of the attacks happening in China and U.S. are linked to the Internet. Suspects are usually brainwashed by reading online magazines or watching videos released by terror groups.

Lastly, China and the U.S. can cooperate in South Asia, Africa, and other regions to help local countries better combating terrorism. Especially in Afghanistan, China plans to play a bigger role when the U.S. withdraws most of its troops.

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