In a new Islamic State video that has undoubtedly caught Beijing’s eye, Uighur militants threaten to “shed blood like rivers” in China, pledge to avenge the oppressed, and burn the Chinese flag. This first apparent instance of a public Islamic State threat to China comes as an estimated one hundred Chinese nationals have left home to join the terrorist group. It also vividly illustrates the strengthening connection between security threats in the Middle East and China’s sense of its national interest.
China’s role in the Middle East has expanded in recent years, and its activism will be felt in the region and beyond. As Russia’s interventions transform Middle Eastern politics (most recently in Libya) and other external powers compete in the region, the Trump Administration will need to account for rising great-power activism as it frames its policies. In doing so, it must grapple with the new Chinese role, and how Chinese activism in the Middle East might recast the bilateral relationship generally.
In February 2011, Chinese military officials made an announcement that represented a historic first for their country: that they had redirected the frigate Xuzhou, previously deployed to the Gulf of Aden for antipiracy operations, to the shores of Libya to support the evacuation of 35,000 Chinese nationals fleeing the war there. This represented not only China’s first major expeditionary naval operation in modern times, but also its first use of long-range military transport aircraft for humanitarian purposes.
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