US must ally with China to beat the common enemy

Asia Times

BEIJING - It is clear that the reasoning behind building a multi-billion dollar National Missile Defense (NMD) system against possible terrorist attacks from "rogue states" has been shattered by Tuesday's attacks on New York and Washington. And the possibility of a nuclear attack from a "rogue state" is very remote, as the US is effectively checking the spread of nuclear technology to those states. Many countries lukewarm or outright against NMD have been quick to point this out.

Yet everybody had been clear that the motivations behind NMD are complex, and include a drive to preserve or enhance the present US strategic technological lead and put America in a position of strategic safety while facing possible strategic threats. But this certainly doesn't rule out terrorist attacks or any other strategy which doesn't include regular, by-the-book, military attacks. These attacks can be a treat for any conspiracy theorist, as in theory they can come from anywhere, including the departments of the US administration.

Anybody can be said to have had an interest in these attacks, as they can bring advantages to anybody. The EU, Russia and China can also be listed here because of their opposition to NMD, as these attacks prove NMD doesn't serve its main purpose, to make the US impossible to attack. Some weird US puppeteer could be also considered, as the immediate result of the attack was an unprecedented rally of world solidarity (including the oddest ones - the Taliban and Libya's Muammar Ghaddafi) in favor of the US.

But there are some conclusions which are certain. The main one regarding Beijing is that the "China threat" theory is wrong or, to say the least, useless. This is a very important issue, because the Bush administration openly made China the center of its foreign policy. It is clear that the most real and tangible threat to the US doesn't come from China and its economic and military development that could put pressure on American interests worldwide, but from terrorism. Now those terrorists are possibly Palestinians, tomorrow they could be anybody - drug cartels, "Una" bombers, desperate Rwandan Tutsis under Hutu threat. The US's attraction for terrorists comes from it being the only superpower, and this can't be avoided unless the US wishes to give up the mantle and to proceed to un-develop itself, something most Americans don't seem willing to do.

A philosophical issue is at stake. NMD was a means of short-circuiting politics, replacing politics more or less extensively with technology. The US with NMD would need no other country's support to secure itself, its technologically-equipped military would suffice. Allies and others were welcome to come on board, but if they didn't want to, too bad for them: America would proceed by itself.

This would have been wonderful; too bad Tuesday's attacks proved the absurdity of the idea. Just when the island America wanted to stress its distance from the rest of the world and militarily insulate itself, it was dragged into an asymmetrical war of the kind people had so far only spoken of theoretically. Terrorism has proved the most powerful weapon, something that can strike below any NMD belt.

Geopolitics, kicked out the door, came back through the window. In fact even terrorism needs space to train and prepare, therefore the only long-term strategy to counter terrorism is to enlist everybody in the effort to fill all gaps and close all the possible geopolitical black holes where terrorism can hide and grow.

To achieve this requires direct and indirect intervention. Directly, one needs to work on solving all geopolitical problems, so that terrorism won't arise, or at least it will have fewer reasons to arise. Indirectly, one has to try and bring all territories under some sort of control.

This implies a strong collaboration between the US and China on all fronts, including of course counter-terrorism and fighting organized crime, which often provides financial means and weapons for terrorism. China as a huge emerging power must be brought into some kind of partnership with the US. The US, aware now more than ever of the real threat - terrorism - can't afford to keep China outside its strategic embrace and make it indifferent to, or worse, supportive of, any kind of terrorism or powerful criminal syndicate.

In particular, China has issues in the Middle East and Central Asia similar to American concerns. China has a sizable Muslim minority (some 18 million people) and a region, Xinjiang, with a restive Islamic Turkic-speaking minority, the Uighurs. Beijing thus needs to make sure that Central Asia, populated by other Islamic and Turkic-speaking people, and in general the Muslim world, don't become the training centers for China's separatists.

For this purpose, China has developed in the past decade an attentive and original policy in the Middle East. It keeps very good relations with Israel, and officially often sides with the Palestinian cause. While wary of the support some Pakistani forces gave to militants who ended up in Xinjiang, it keeps very good relations with Pakistan. China even made overtures to the Taliban government in Afghanistan, although it is a known fact that the Taliban supports anti-Chinese Uighur militants, and some leaders of the anti-Taliban forces reside in Beijing.

China, in other words, brought into play a complex strategy of trying to turn enemies into friends, and the strattegy has won it a lot of influence in the region. The anti-terrorism agreement signed in June by China, Russia and four ex-Soviet Central Asian republics proves Beijing's influence in the area where the September 11 terrorist attack was hatched.

On September 13, after Jiang Zemin offered his collaboration in a counter-terrorist policy with the US, China detailed its assets in a China Daily commentary: "The heads of states of China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan signed at a mid-June summit in Shanghai an agreement on combating terrorism, separatism and extremism, vowing to cooperate closely for regional and world peace and stability."

From a tactical point of view, Washington would need to have access to Chinese knowledge and influence to hit the perpetrators of Tuesday's attacks. From a strategic point of view, Washington would need to actively bring China into the fray to help bring back into line the geopolitical black hole of Afghanistan. On this front, America would need some general strategy to keep control of the Eurasian continent (See Encirclement the key to a new world order ( (2001-09-15 Asia Times)


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