What is ‘terror’ for China?
China does not seem to have the same definition of the word ‘terrorism’ than India and the rest of the world.
It was obvious when a 26-member delegation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) headed by General Fan Changlong, Vice-Chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) recently visited New Delhi.
After meeting Manohar Parrikar, India’s Defence Minister, Rear Admiral Guan Youfei, Director General, Foreign Affairs Office in China’s Ministry of National Defence broke a surprising piece of news to the Indian Press: “Pakistan is also a victim of terrorism. In the past few years, Pakistan has been fighting terrorism with a lot of casualties,” he affirmed.
Had the visit of General Fan’s delegation to Pakistan earlier in the week influenced this Chinese perception?
Rear Admiral Guan also asserted that Pakistan has in the recent “past started a military operation to fight terrorism with positive achievements.” Was the Admiral speaking seriously?
When asked by a journalist, how China’s ‘all-weather friend’ could be a ‘victim’ when it harbours and uses terrorists itself, Guan answered, “China will continue to support Pakistan’s efforts in fighting terrorism, especially in fighting the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement.”
Why mention only this nebulous Uyghur group, which, according to Beijing, has been involved in terrorist acts in Xinjiang?
The Admiral expounded on Beijing’s position on terrorism: “There should not be any double standards,” he affirmed.
He was referring to the United States, which, according to Beijing has been ‘interfering’ in the South China Sea region: “The South China Sea in essence is a dispute caused by different understanding and perception on the islands and reefs in the South China Sea,” he asserted.
He added that in case of a dispute, “China always stands for negotiations directly between states in the South China Sea region. China does not agree with the interference of countries outside the region in this issue.”
Guan also said that China wants to work towards deepening counterterrorism cooperation with India. But for this, one needs to have the same definition of ‘terrorism’.
China’s clean sheet to Pakistan comes after November 13, the Dark Friday when Paris witnessed the worst terror attack in France’s history: some 132 people were killed and more than 350 injured.
It was only 3 days later that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind of the attack in Paris, was killed during a seven-hour raid conducted by French police commandos on a flat in Saint Denis suburb near Paris.
The French police action ended in bloodshed with the death of the 27-year-old Belgian IS militant and the surrender of 7 terrorists. Paris Prosecutor François Molins also confirmed that the woman who blew herself up with a suicide vest during the raid (damaging the building’s structural integrity) was Abaaoud’s cousin.
The situation was so bad that the French Parliament agreed (nearly unanimously) to a 3-month state of emergency, giving greater powers to the police to deal with the threat.
How can China give a certificate of good conduct to Pakistan, the terrorist state par excellence, when such tragic events have just occurred?
To understand Beijing’s mindset, one should read an article which appeared in the China Tibet Online. It is entitled: “Ugliness of western politicians in contrast to Xi Jinping’s message of condolence”. The article explains: “Chinese people express strong indignation and condemnation towards terrorist acts. Chinese President Xi Jinping immediately sent a message of condolence to French President Hollande saying, ‘We strongly condemn such barbaric acts’.”
The author however continues: “In contrast to Xi Jinping’s message of condolence, western politicians reacted differently to the violent terrorist incidents taking place in China.”
It then refers to the unrest in Tibet in 2008 and compares the events in Paris with what happened in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet in the Spring of 2008. The article asserts: “The March 14 Lhasa riots: French politicians were the most heartless!”
After giving its own version of the incidents which occurred on the plateau, the website explains: “After the incident, the United States, Britain, Germany, France and other countries, didn’t have the slightest sympathy for the victims [read the Han population in Tibet], nor express the slightest condemnation against the terrorists.”
The article quotes the then US presidential candidate Barak Obama: “We express concern and condemnation towards the Chinese government’s repression and arresting of demonstrating monks. We urge the Chinese government to respect basic human rights in Tibet and to account for the whereabouts of the detained monks.”
Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who was recently in Tibet, committed the worst crime according to China: shortly after the unrest had taken place, she visited the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala and expressed “her support for a non-violent stance and calling for the establishment of an international independent investigation into finding out the truth.”
It also cites British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Foreign Secretary David Milliband, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Sarkozy, ‘the most heartless’ according to Beijing; he had dared to speak about the boycott of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony.
What to conclude?
It is clear that the definition of ‘terrorism’ is not the same in Paris and in Beijing. It was so in 2008, it remains so today.
China Tibet Online concludes: “Opposing all forms of terrorism has been China’s position all along.”
Can Tibet’s situation be associated with the IS’s barbaric actions?
Beijing forgets that Tibet was a peaceful independent country when the PLA marched into Eastern Tibet in October 1950. Mao’s objective was to ‘liberate’ the Tibetans, but when the latter didn’t agree to be ‘liberated’, China used brutal force. During the uprising in Lhasa in March 1959, according to Chinese figures, 87,000 Tibetans were killed in a couple of weeks.
Are Tibetans ‘terrorists’ for resisting their own ‘liberation’?
At the same time, the killing by the IS of Fan Jinghui, a 50-year-old Chinese, who was involved in advertising and TV production and had been captured in Syria, should be condemned in the strongest terms and in this case, the words of President Xi are right: “China firmly opposes terrorists of all forms and resolutely cracks down on any crimes that challenge the foundation of human civilisation.”
The Chinese President was attending the APEC Meet which, as a rare gesture, called for more solidarity to combat global terror: “Under the shadow cast by the terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, and against Russian aircraft over the Sinai, and elsewhere, we strongly condemn all acts, methods, and practices of terrorism in all their forms and manifestations,” the joint declaration said.
But how can China mix up real terrorist acts like in Paris (or elsewhere) with the aspiration of the Tibetan people for more freedom?
Liu Zhongmin, an expert on the Middle East at Shanghai International Studies University, told The South China Morning Post that even if Beijing was feeling global pressure to take action against terrorism, “It is very unlikely China would initiate military action over this incident [Fan Jinghui’s killing] …Even if China wanted to, conditions do not allow it.”
For Beijing, apart from the ideological confusion about the term ‘terror’, the issue is rather complicated due to its policy of ‘mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,’ born out of the Panchsheel doctrine. In any case, Beijing needs to do some homework and clarify to the world what it considers as ‘terrorism’.
At the time of Admiral Guan’s statement, Colonel Santosh Mahadik was killed in a gun battle with militants in Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir. The 38-year-old Mahadik is the second Commanding Officer (CO) to die in a terrorist encounter this year. Col Mahadik, who belonged to the 41 Rashtriya Rifles was chasing heavily-armed terrorists, who had infiltrated across the LoC.
Can China still say that Pakistan is the victim?