Recently the question of whether China will join the war against Islamic State has received much attention in western media.
The Guardian last month ran a commentary on the issue, saying the extremist group, also known as ISIS, is posing an enormous diplomatic challenge for President Xi Jinping.
It went on to argue that Beijing has every reason to join the international coalition against the group because it has been confirmed that a number of Xinjiang separatists are fighting along with ISIS in order to gain combat experience and use it against the Chinese authorities back home.
Also, ISIS has kidnapped and executed a couple of Chinese nationals.
In order to maintain its credibility, the Chinese government must demonstrate both the determination and capability to protect its own citizens.
At first glance that might sound fair enough. But Beijing doesn’t see it that way.
Just look at the restraint and caution Beijing displayed after Fan Jinghui, a Chinese national abducted by ISIS in Syria, had been executed last year, and you can tell the Chinese government’s ambivalence about ISIS.
The key decision-makers in Beijing simply regard ISIS as just another Islamic fundamentalist group with an agenda to rise against western imperialism like the Hezbollah or Ḥamās.
And Beijing has been somewhat sympathetic towards these organizations.
For the Chinese leaders, Fan’s execution could have been an isolated incident, or, to put it more bluntly, he was just collateral damage.
It didn’t fundamentally change the way Beijing regards ISIS.
Besides, China simply doesn’t have the military capability of the United States and Russia to wage an air and ground war on foreign soil.
Therefore, it is quite unlikely that China will send troops to Syria.
Moreover, China has long been critical of western military intervention in North Africa and the Middle East, and for that reason, sending troops to fight ISIS would constitute an outright violation of its own diplomatic stance.
Unlike the US and Russia, which are competing fiercely against each other for hegemony and leadership in the Middle East, China is interested in the enormous business opportunities in the war-torn countries in the Middle East.
Chinese contractors are entering Iraq on a massive scale to undertake reconstruction projects.
From Beijing’s point of view, it is more cost-effective to just let the US and Russia clean up ISIS by force and bring peace to the region, after which Chinese companies can come in and make big bucks.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 15
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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