The following is a translation from journalist Zhang Wen’s blog. Some brief commentary of our own follows the translation.
Today, the foreign policy bureau responded positively to America’s announced troop increase in Afghanistan, saying, “On the problem of Southern Asia that’s part of the Afghanistan problem, China and America have maintained communication and consultation, and from today forward, both countries will continue to communicate and cooperate on this issue.”
The result was that some Shanghai media outlet took “China responds to Obama’s troop increase: Willing to Cooperate with America in Afghanistan” [note: the original Chinese conveys the impression that this means China is also willing to deploy military force in Afghanistan. -ed] as a topic to report in the news, which led to a great deal of criticism. Most netizens were opposed, saying they didn’t want China to support “invaders”.
From the point of view of someone who has been compiling and editing international news for several years now, there is definitely room for imagination in the headline: China is willing to cooperate with America’s plan to increase troops. But what does “cooperate” mean?
Actually, China and the US have been cooperating on the Afghanistan problem since several years ago, mostly on the intelligence-gathering front. And there really is some common interest: the base of the US’s enemies and the Taliban are in Afghanistan; Afghanistan is also a connecting point for those who influence and cause trouble in Xinjiang province.
China’s Shanghai Cooperative Group took the lead in creating a special international meeting on the Afghanistan problem in Moscow in March of this year. The Shanghai Cooperative Group’s member countries published “Announcement of the Shanghai Cooperative Group Member Countries and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Pertaining to Fighting Terrorism, Narcotics Smuggling, and Organized Crime” and “Plan of Action of the Shanghai Cooperative Group Member Countries and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Pertaining to Fighting Terrorism, Narcotics Smuggling, and Organized Crime.”
In October, Obama came to China and spoke with Hu Jintao about the Afghanistan problem, and soon after in the “Sino-US Joint Statement” expressed that “both sides welcome anything that contributes to peace, stability, and development in Southern Asia, and support Afghanistan and Pakistan in the fight against terrorism, the struggle for internal stability, and the work towards sustainable economic development, and [China and the US also] support India and Pakistan improving and developing their relations.”
From this we can see that cooperation between the US and China in Afghanistan is becoming more common. But China has never before expressed interest in sending troops to Afghanistan. Recently, though, China’s attitude towards sending troops abroad has become more ambiguous.
In mid-November, the Chinese Ministry of Defense held a seminar on “Safeguarding International Peace”, and at this meeting a Ministry spokesman said for the first time that if the United Nations were to make demands, the recommendation should be put forward to policy makers that troops should be dispatched. Before this, China had only sent workers and medical personnel to help safeguard international peace.
After the meeting, when the French Foreign Ministry Department Head was having an informal discussion with me, she held that “it is very possible China will send combat troops to help in peacekeeping missions, but didn’t divulge anything more. But from her optimistic attitude, she probably already had gotten the opinions of some high-level [Chinese] military officials on the subject.
A famous military expert also told me, “this is the call of both international responsibility and national interests. Today, China’s national interests are no longer limited to things within its borders, and instead extend everywhere throughout the world. China’s participation in international peacekeeping is, at the same time, protecting China’s own national interests.”
If China really sends troops to participate in peacekeeping missions, where would they be sent? Obviously, we can’t rule out Afghanistan. It borders China, so deployment and reenforcement of troops would be convenient, moreover there are Xinjiang separatist forces there. One netizen commented, China can try its hand at international peacekeeping in Afghanistan and get some experience.
Because of this, I feel that if the UN were to request Chinese participation in Afghanistan, China should respond that this is both China’s international responsibility and in its own internal interests.
Many people who oppose the deployment of troops may have misunderstood a bit, thinking that Chinese and American soldiers would be fighting shoulder-to-shoulder. That is impossible. Recently, Ministry of Defense Deputy Director Colonel Kui Yanwei said that China would only participate in United Nations sanctioned peacekeeping activities, and hadn’t considered participating in multinational or regional peacekeeping efforts [that aren’t officially UN missions]. This means that China wouldn’t participate in the American-led NATO army military operations in Afghanistan.
But to tell the truth, the US didn’t “invade” Afghanistan to occupy it, they invaded to uproot and eradicate the terrorists who once inflicted heavy casualties on the US and continued to plot against them. America is trapped in Afghanistan, mired and suffering, earnestly wishing to get out, but if the area isn’t peaceful, then Americans can’t breathe easily: who knows when the next 9-11 might occur?
As for the idea that the US invaded Afghanistan to encircle and surround China, it is just ridiculous talk, ignorant of world events. If that were really the case, would the US still seek China’s support and cooperation? In the past, people have also said that the US started the Iraq war for Iraqi oil, Americans not only failed to seize the oil, they’re quickly getting out and going home.
Fear not even those with the most evil intentions who spread conjecture about others, as in the sphere of international relations it is not convincing. However, we must definitely clear up the situation and then make it public, we can’t just simply define things through ideology. On problems where there is common interest, we should cooperate when the time for cooperation comes, because that is a win-win.
It certainly seems like it is only a matter of time before China is compelled by its national interest (to say nothing of international obligation) to deploy troops somewhere outside its borders, and Afghanistan certainly is a place of special interest for China, but we can’t help but wonder if Afghanistan is a wise place for China to “try its hand” at international peacekeeping. Invading Afghanistan, historically, has pretty much never been a good idea, as the sarcastic folks at the Daily Show remind us in this clip from a while ago:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|The Unwinnable War in Afghanistan|
As John Oliver puts it, “Afghanistan is the gold standard for quagmires.” Note, also, that the Daily Show folks also make reference to China’s interests in the region and makes light of China’s interest in proving itself. Though they jest, there might be some truth there. China’s military hasn’t been tested on an international stage since the late 1970s; there are almost certainly those in the military and the government generally who feel Chinese international interests might benefit from a little demonstration of power. They probably aren’t wrong, but we wonder if Afghanistan is a good place for China (or anyone) to try to show off muscle.
That, of course, is to say nothing of the explaining the poor, overworked folks at the propaganda bureau would have to do explaining away the most recent counterexample to the fairy tale that China has never invaded another country.
Honestly, the “national interests” China has in Afghanistan seem, at best, a bit vague. Yes, Xinjiang separatist types hang out there, but we were under the impression that the recent troubles in Xinjiang were supposedly caused by Rebiya Kadeer and her separatist forces in the US (aided, of course, by the diabolical Fabebook.com). Perhaps China should invade the US instead.
Just kidding. What do you think? Should China send troops to Afghanistan, or anywhere else?