Having lost lives, China must boost its role in fighting global terrorism

Murderous militants must be defeated wherever they are; otherwise our way of life and even our economic well-being will be threatened

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 November, 2015, 10:38am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 November, 2015, 6:10pm

In a matter of days last week, terrorism claimed the lives of four Chinese, in Mali and Syria. President Xi Jinping responded with tough words and a pledge of support for international efforts to defeat extremist violence. His condemnation and the location of the killings says much about China and its new-found place in the world. Whereas once the nation would have said little or nothing in the interests of non-interference in the relations of other countries, its rise and growing global importance now mandates that it plays a bigger role – and justifiably so.

READ MORE: China pledges to work with Africa in fighting militancy after Mali attack

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Thursday that the nation would strengthen cooperation with Africa in counterterrorism. There is every reason to do this: Chinese overseas involvement in trade, investment and international peace and security efforts make its businesses and citizens a target of extremists. The three executives of China Railway Development Corp who were among 19 people gunned down at a five-star hotel in Bamako in Mali perhaps did not think themselves at risk; they were in the country to negotiate a US$1.5 billion deal for a project that would have boosted the Malian economy. The freelance consultant executed by Islamic State similarly had good intentions in mind when he went to Syria. But improving lives is of no interest to terrorists, whose aim is to cause maximum harm and damage.

China’s support for Mali’s government and opposition to Islamic State makes its citizens especially vulnerable. It is the country’s biggest trading partner, a trend across much of Africa. But it is also the largest contributor to a UN peacekeeping force put in place in 2013, a year after the former colonial power, France, was called in to quell unrest by al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist rebels in the north. One of those groups, al-Mourabitoun, has claimed responsibility for the hotel attack.

Xi wants China to again be a great world power and for that to happen, the nation has to be more assertive internationally. The Mali peacekeeping decision set the tone; for the first time, China contributed combat troops to a UN mission. Months later, it sent soldiers to South Sudan, where it has large oil interests, and took a key role in mediation efforts to end a civil war. Its navy is involved in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Chinese interests and people have to be protected, wherever they may be. The lives of four have been senselessly taken and more will certainly be targeted. China has no choice other than to become more politically and militarily involved around the world.