The question of U.S.-China counterterrorism cooperation is particularly salient in the context of National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s recent trip to Beijing, during which she reportedly urged China to join the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. This came on the heels of President Obama’s comments to The New York Times a month prior that the Chinese have been “free riders for the last 30 years.” Referring to instability in the Middle East, he added with a mixture of derision and envy that: “Nobody ever seems to expect them to do anything when this stuff comes up.”
However unappreciated in Beijing, these comments reflect the commonly heard sentiment that China, given its decades of remarkable economic growth and robust military modernization, is surely at the point now where it could make more substantive contributions to the international community. And while Beijing is quick to highlight its economic and humanitarian assistance to the Middle East, these are obviously no substitute for participating in more costly, risky and difficult overseas military operations.
There’s some logic to the notion that counterterrorism might just be the area for China to step up and cooperate with the United States. After all, Beijing is now struggling with a burgeoning domestic terrorism problem characterized both by a recent spate of attacks at home and the reported arrest of ISIS-inspired Chinese nationals traveling to the Middle East and Southeast Asia.