Getting China’s Back on CT

It would be hard, under any circumstances, not to see this as a pretty significant development:

The leader of anal-Qaida-linked Chinese militant group has been killed in a U.S. drone attack inPakistan’s restive tribal region, an official said on Monday.

AbdulHaq al-Turkistani, the leader of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party, and twocomrades died when a missile fired from a CIA-operated pilotless aircraft strucka vehicle in North Waziristan district Feb. 15. . . .

Al-Turkistani hails from Uighur in China’s eastern province ofXinjiang.

But in the current context of strained U.S.-China relations, as well as the need for China’s UNSC vote on Iran sanctions, the fact that the CIA is targeting Uighur terrorists in Waziristan takes on even greater significance.

The argument for a broad coalition in Afghanistan, and the War on Terror more generally, was that terrorism represented a threat to all countries, not just the U.S. The danger of that argument being abused by authoritarian regimes as a carte blanche for unscrupulous crack downs was obvious from the start. But its logic also demands that the benefits of the U.S. CT effort have to be spread around, too. That’s what this strike represents, even if the timing is indicative of other motives as well.

There will probably be a bit of perplexed outrage on this one, similar to the outcry that followed China winning oil bids in Iraq, or developing a copper mine in Afghanistan. In this case, it’s a double giveaway: Not only are we expending “drone capital” in Pakistan to address China’s CT concerns, we’re legitimizing Beijing’s Uighur narrative used to crack down on opposition in Xinjiang at the same time.

There are certainly some legitimate long-term questions raised by such generosity shown toward a potential geopolitical rival. But there are also legitimate short-term questions raised by the urgent need to get out of the strait jacket represented by our continued commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan. And here, the salient one is, Can we reasonably expect to get China on board for U.S. policy if China does not benefit from U.S. policy?

For the time being, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we need more China, not less. Those longer-term concerns over rivalry should be addressed by getting more of everyone else — e.g., Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others — into both places, too, not keeping China out.

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