The global fight against terrorism has entered a new stage with the emergence of the Islamic State (IS), and the battle lines have never been so clearly drawn all over the world.
On February 18, Washington will host the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, and Chinese delegates will join in the conversation.
Over the past year, developed countries including Canada and Australia have fallen victim to terrorist crimes. In early January, a bloody attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo shocked the world.
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The IS group, originally a jihadist rebel group in Iraq, has swept across vast territories in Iraq and Syria, making its name as the world’s most notorious terrorist group. It has an extremist ideology and uses extreme violence. Its goal is to establish a caliphate spanning as far as the eastern bank of the Mediterranean.
This is not just al-Qaida with a more violent twist. Ever since Osama bin Laden, who founded Al Qaida, was shot dead in 2011, Islamist extremist forces have been shifting their targets from the United States and other developed countries to secular regimes in the Arab world. The inner part of the Arab world has become the major stage for the recent display of terrorist conflicts.
As a newly emerged Islamist terrorist group, the primary goal of IS is to establish a caliphate in the Arab world, but its actions will carry spillover effects that cannot be neglected. Many extremist groups and individuals in other countries have been drawn to its training camps in the Middle East and North Africa. More than 20,000 self-proclaimed jihadists from over 90 countries and regions have volunteered to train in IS-controlled areas, where they are taught violent tactics and extremist doctrines. When they return home, their countries may suffer a new wave of attacks.
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China’s fight against terrorism needs to be viewed against this global background. The country’s anti-terror campaign has its own uniqueness, but outside influence has become an increasingly significant factor. China is not a direct target of al-Qaida or IS, but it is not exempt from their spillover impact. Terrorist attacks by the Eastern Turkistan movement have escalated in recent years, causing incidents including one in front of Tiananmen Square in 2013 and an exceedingly bloody one in Kunming in 2014.
The government has taken a firm hand against terrorist activities, but this has not stopped them from repeatedly occurring in the Xinjiang region. The task faced by the country is similar to those of many others, but it also has its differences.
Chinese leaders have stressed that the country should “simultaneously push forward anti-terrorism work on both domestic and international fronts, and strengthen international cooperation on fighting terrorism.” In 2014, the country held multiple anti-terror drills, some in cooperation with neighboring countries. It has used the meetings of multilateral organizations such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation as opportunities to reiterate its stance on terrorism and show its responsibility as a big country.
For years, China has disagreed with certain countries over the definitions of terror activities on its territory. Chinese authorities accuse those countries of “double standards.” The United States and other developed countries, on the other hand, think China is not doing enough in terms of sharing information, collecting evidence, and verifying facts, an accusation China has denied. This dispute aside, it is worth learning from other countries’ practices to promote anti-terrorism cooperation, as long as core national interests are protected. In addition, China should participate in the formation of a safety framework for the Middle East and Central Asia so the two areas can return to peace and stability.
Fighting terrorism should also follow rule of law. China does not have anti-terror legislation. The Internet has become a platform for terrorists to spread and fuel hatred and abet attacks, and many countries’ governments, including China’s, have made it a priority to monitor such activities. Working in areas like this requires the government to be patient and follow rules, striking a balance between national security and civil liberties.
The fight against terror also needs support from communities and the public. The summit in Washington will stress the importance of community power and encourage ordinary people and grassroots leaders, who know their communities best, to participate in the fight against violence and extremism. This is similar to China’s strategy, which mobilizes local people to fight terrorism, including rewarding tipsters for information about suspected terrorist activity in Xinjiang. We urgently need to build strong communities with fair and equal social and economic opportunities while taking into consideration different ethnic and religious factors and social customs. A strong and vibrant community is the soil in which terrorism will never grow.
Last week, Chinese and American leaders discussed cybersecurity over the phone. They also agreed that President Xi Jinping will visit the United States in September. Meanwhile, the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs has been briefed on the developments of setting up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund. These events, seemingly unrelated, all have significant bearing on the country’s anti-terror agenda. Only by building a prosperous economy, cementing international cooperation, and protecting civil rights can we deal a fatal blow to terrorism.
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