The September 11 attacks opened a brief window of opportunity for China and the US to form a closer relationship in a common battle against terrorism, but the chance was lost and traditional rivalries returned. The government and people of China reacted to the terrorist attack in the same way as the rest of the world; with shock and sympathy. Only a few said that the US had received what it deserved for its treatment of its enemies round the world. Facing a Muslim challenge - far more modest than that of the Taleban or al-Qaeda - in its far west region of Xinjiang, Beijing quickly expressed its support for the global fight against terrorism and its willingness to help the United States. But China turned out to be a marginal player in the war in Afghanistan and the installation of the new pro-Western government. The US-led alliance did not need or ask for the use of Chinese air space or other facilities, and Chinese soldiers were not involved in the military operation. A small number of Chinese Uighurs were found among the Taleban, but they had probably left Xinjiang several years earlier. The US is not known to have asked for the extradition of any Chinese citizens as part of its operations against al-Qaeda. Its focus was and is on Muslim countries. Within China, the Muslim population, numbering about 40 million, was peaceful, with few supporting al-Qaeda, and there were no reported incidents of terrorism related to the group. As a result, the sense of fear and threat among the governments and public of Western countries that sustained support for the Afghan war was absent. Yan Xuetong, head of the International Affairs Institute at Qinghua University, said that unfortunately the two countries had missed the opportunity presented by the September 11 events. 'September 11 did not effectively stabilise Sino-US relations. The only way to improve our bilateral relations is to expand our common interests,' he said. 'China still has a feeling of isolation, excluded from the club of Western nations led by the US. China wants to join some organisations but is left standing outside the door.' He blamed President George W. Bush for failing to seize the opportunity. 'Under Clinton, China was a partner and included in its global order. But, for Bush, the priority is to contain China and not let it develop too fast. 'Bush has a double-track policy toward China - expand the US market share but, in security, restrain it, prevent it getting advanced weapons, and increase sales of weapons to Taiwan.' Pei Yuanying, a former Chinese ambassador to India, said the US was using the war against terrorism as a means to build a new global empire. 'September 11 meant the start of the Fourth World War [the Cold War was the third]. 'Its plan towards China after September 11 has been to strengthen strategic co-operation and joint action against terrorism, and use the Taiwan issue to constrain China.' Before the attack, it was unimaginable that the US could have military bases in the territory of the former Soviet Union. But, today it has bases there, in Uzbekistan, and a closer military relationship with the Philippines. Add to these the bases in South Korea and Japan, and China is 'surrounded'. The US presence in central Asia has undercut Beijing's patient diplomacy to improve relations with the five former Soviet republics which want a counterweight to Russia and their own Islamic fundamentalist movements, a role the US can play better than China. So, diplomatically, things are back to where they were before September 11. Taiwan remains the biggest obstacle between the two countries, one that has loomed larger since Mr Bush promised to 'do whatever it takes' to defend the island against attack by China. 'The fundamentals between the US and China have not been changed by September 11,' said one Western diplomat. 'Differences over Taiwan have offset any goodwill generated by co-operation against terrorism.'