The increasing Islamic terrorism threat facing China is prompting the communist country to question its military support to its ally Pakistan given the South Asian country’s “complicated relationship” with jihadi groups, reports the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
In its latest annual report to Congress, the commission notes:
China’s security concerns in South Asia historically have centered on its desire to enable Pakistan to thwart India’s rise as a challenger to China’s dominance in broader Asia. While this remains the most important determinant of Chinese security support to Pakistan, the rise of terrorism as a major perceived threat to China’s security may be prompting a shift in this calculus as Beijing grows more concerned about Pakistan’s complicated relationship with terrorist groups.
Terrorist activities, primarily stemming from Pakistan and to a lesser extent Afghanistan, “have become more frequent and high profile,” adds the report.
Citing Andrew Small, senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the commission warns of the creeping “Islamization” of Pakistan’s military.
“According to one expert, the inability or unwillingness of Islamabad to eradicate Pakistan-linked terror threats against Chinese targets is leading some Chinese analysts to conclude that the creeping ‘Islamization’ of the Pakistani armed forces (particularly ISI) it has long supported is beginning to undermine China’s strategic interests,” it reports.
The ISI refers to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, which has been linked to various terrorist groups, including the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has been accused of serving as a sanctuary for various terrorist groups by the United States, Afghanistan, India, and now China.
China, the world’s third-largest arms supplier, provides more weapons to Pakistan than any other country and builds the Muslim-majority country’s nuclear reactors. The communist country enabled Pakistan’s indigenous ballistic missile capability and also assisted the South Asian nation in building its first nuclear bomb.
Moreover, the U.S. commission notes that “although China’s relationship with Pakistan continues to be primarily based on shared security concerns, it has recently expanded to encompass economic and diplomatic components.”
Meanwhile, the Islamic terrorism threat facing China, primarily rooted in Pakistan, is reportedly intensifying.
China’s autonomous province of Xinjiang, home to the country’s largest concentration of the Muslim Uighur minority, borders Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and neighboring Afghanistan.
According to the U.S. military, the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is home to the largest concentration of Islamic terrorist groups — 20 of the 98 U.S. or UN-designated terrorists organizations.
The U.S. commission notes:
As the threat of extremism and terrorism facing China grows, counterterrorism has become an increasingly important facet of Beijing’s engagement with South Asia. Chinese leaders have for decades been concerned about Islamic extremism and terrorism in Xinjiang, China’s westernmost region and home to the majority of China’s Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic group.
The extent and nature of this threat is difficult to assess given the Chinese government’s tendency to conflate and crack down on religious expression, political dissent, extremism, separatism, and terrorism. Nevertheless, open source reporting clearly demonstrates a rise in terrorist attacks in China in recent years
News outlets from India, considered a regional rival by both China and Pakistan, have accused the communist country’s military of conducting regular patrols inside war-ravaged Afghanistan. China has denied the claims.
Nevertheless, the U.S. commission reports:
China has slowly expanded its diplomatic and security engagement with Afghanistan in recent years. China’s recognition that it must shoulder greater responsibility in shaping Afghanistan’s future is driven by the following factors: First, China seeks to ensure Afghanistan does not provide a safe haven for extremists who might target China.
As of early 2016, the Asian giant has reportedly pledged $70 million in military aid to Afghanistan.