Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts China and the War on Terrorism

China and the War on Terrorism

Like many other global events, the U.S.-led war against terrorism brings different sets of Chinese interests into conflict. China declared solidarity with the antiterrorism coalition because of its own fears of terrorism and Islamic extremism and the chance to reap benefits by assuming the roles of good global citizen and friend to a wounded American “partner.” However, supporting the U.S.-led war effort posed problems for other areas of the Chinese agenda. Beijing’s decision during the opening phase of the war to express solidarity with the United States against terrorism and to support, in principle, the war in Afghanistan was not foreordained, nor was it politically cost-free.

This study explains the policy that has evolved from China’s initial reactions to the U.S.-led war on terrorism and analyzes the dangers and opportunities involved in Beijing’s decision, examining the several potential threats to Chinese interests created by the antiterrorism campaign. It considers the consequences of China’s decision to support the initial actions of the war, identifying which Chinese interests are furthered and which are sacrificed by Beijing’s policy. Beijing’s initial policy required it to subordinate several important Chinese values, demonstrating the high priority it placed on good relations with Washington and on nurturing a favorable Chinese image among the non-Muslim countries.

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