China is becoming one of the strongest looming presences in the war for control of Iraq. The nation–the largest oil client the Iraqi government has–sent a special envoy this week to speak to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and promised continued humanitarian and political support.
Chinese news outlet Xinhua reported that China’s special envoy, Wu Sike, vowed that China would continue to provide the Iraqi government with “political, humanitarian, and material assistance,” though it did not specify whether that assistance would be military, and if so, whether it would be in equipment or troops. Instead, Sike is quoted as reaffirming China’s commitment to help Maliki remain in power.
“China remains steadfast in supporting the Iraqi government to protect its sovereignty and independence, and to crack down on terrorism,” Wu Sike is quoted as saying, adding that China was actively attempting to incorporate other nations in the fight against the terrorist group the Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
China is one of many large nations siding with the Iraqi government, though, unlike prominent allies like Iran and Russia, it has yet to send military assistance. Russia has sent fighter jets to protect Baghdad; Iran has allegedly already lost a soldier fighting Baghdad on the ground in Iraq. While this is not the first time the Chinese government has offered Iraq aid, it is the first time since the ISIS effort that captured large cities like Mosul and Tikrit that the Asian nation has sent an envoy to speak to Maliki directly on the matter. It has also been reported that Chinese hackers have begun attempting to find information confidential to the American government that could help them in the fight against ISIS, though such reports are unconfirmed.
As Reuters noted, China is among the nations with the most to lose should Baghdad fall to ISIS. China is the single-largest oil client of the Iraqi government and holds more than one-fifth of Iraq’s oil clients through various firms. It received many of its contracts in the aftermath of the second Iraq war. As Forbes‘ Gordon Chang noted, towards the end of that war, “many said it was China that won the Iraq War because it signed the major oil deals afterwards. As a result, Beijing now has a lot riding on the outcome in Iraq as ISIS takes on the Shiite-dominated ruling group in Baghdad.” It may be the country not immediately in the crosshairs of ISIS with the most to lose.
China is also fighting its own battle with radical Islam. Much of China’s western territory, the state of Xinjiang, is populated by ethnic Uyghur Muslims and has become the target for terrorist attacks. China has been vocal in condemning religious extremism–blaming it for suicide attacks and knifings at train stations in the region. The communist government has gone as far as banning any observance of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. While the Chinese government is not especially welcoming of religious overtures in general, it appears particularly alarmed by the potential spread of radical Islam, to the extent of forbidding public practice of the religion this month.