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Intensify anti-terrorism fight

Updated: 2014-03-13 08:36
By Zhu Sumei ( China Daily)

Taiwan officials said on Monday they had received intelligence reports last week warning of a planned attack on Beijing airport and the city's subway system. The information cannot be verified or linked with Flight MH370, which has been missing since early Saturday after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with 227 people and 12 crewmembers on board. But there is little doubt that terrorism poses a grave threat to China.

The March 1 terrorist attack at Kunming railway station in Yunnan province shows how terrorism has spread from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region to Beijing in the east and Kunming in the southwest. But Chinese citizens should not panic, because that is exactly what terrorists want. However, the government should be fully prepared to fight against terrorism.

Terrorism has grown in China because of both internal and external factors. Domestically, some separatists in Xinjiang are using more violent means to strike fear among the people, while the approaching date of withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan has made terrorists unleash a new round of terror across the world. In a way, the Kunming attack, in which 29 people were killed and scores were injured, marks the beginning of China's renewed fight against terrorism.

Since most countries and regions have tightened their security measures, terrorists have started targeting vulnerable civilians instead of government facilities. The Taliban in Afghanistan used to target US troops, but now they are directing their attacks at hotels and restaurants. In China, terrorists attacked tourists in Beijing's Tian'anmen Square in November and innocent passengers at the Kunming railway station on March 1. Terrorists know that, by targeting civilians they are not only more likely to succeed in their evil designs, but also will be able to inflict deeper psychological wounds on the people.

Religious extremism is one of the root causes of global terrorism. China is also a victim of this scourge, because almost all terrorist attacks are linked to separatists and Islamic extremism from Xinjiang. Terrorist leaders like to recruit people who look vulnerable and brainwash them into believing in their fanatic doctrines. The leaders of the Chechen separatist group Black Widow in Russia are an apt example. This explains why two women, one just 16 years old, were among the eight terrorists who attacked passengers at the Kunming railway station. If youths and women joint terrorists, they may mislead international public opinion. So China should also prepare for war of words.

The rising wave of terrorism in China more than 10 years after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks coincides with what could be considered the peak of the "information age". Terrorists have become more adept at using the Internet to establish and maintain contacts with their cells and fellow terrorists across the globe. Terrorist groups in China too have contacts with their counterparts abroad. It is through such contacts that former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden once funded the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement, and some terrorists have now been recruited to take part in the Syrian civil war.

The fact that eight terrorists traveled thousands of miles, got hold of daggers and knives despite strict security measures, and attacked passengers at a railway station shows how well organized terrorists have become in China. Such incidents should prompt the government to take more strict measures to prevent well-organized attacks, even though the task is easier said than done.

China needs to realize that terrorism is becoming one of its main threats, and focusing on Xinjiang is not enough to root out terrorists from the country. The establishment of the National Security Commission is a move in the right direction, among other things, to fight terrorism. As the top decision-making body on security, the NSC can rally military, diplomatic and civilian resources, as well as coordinate among different regions, to deal heavy blows to terrorists.

One thing China should be careful about in its fight against terrorism is not to antagonize any religious or ethnic group. For example, after the attack in Kunming, police started investigating Uygur people, which might be necessary in emergencies but should be done with discretion. The authorities have to understand that terrorists always want to intensify ethnic and religious conflicts to fulfill their dirty goals. China must learn a lesson from the US, which linked terrorism with religion and angered Muslims both within and outside its borders and, in the process, created new enemies. Besides, ordinary Chinese should not discriminate against people of certain ethnic or religious groups because that would only help terrorists to recruit more members.

In this information age, terrorism cannot be fought without international cooperation. Some Western countries apply double standard to judge terrorist attacks in China and Russia. This time the US embassy condemned the Kunming attack one day after it took place.

Therefore, Chinese authorities need to coordinate with all their counterparts in other countries and regions-even with those with which it has territorial or other disputes-to fight the curse of terrorism, because it is a threat to people of all countries.

The author is a professor at the University of International Relations. The article is an excerpt of interview with China Daily's writer Zhang Zhouxiang.