China at risk from Syria spillover

By Bai Tiantian Source:Global Times Published: 2014-7-29 0:33:01

Islamic extremists from China have reached out to the Middle East and some may have been involved in terror activities in Syria and Iraq, China's special envoy for the Middle East said Monday.

Wu Sike, China's special envoy who has recently returned from the Middle East, told reporters during a Monday press conference that China is worried about the role of terror groups in Syria and Iraq.

"Terrorists in Iraq and Syria have provided a base where terrorists from Islamic states, Europe, North America and China have gathered, posing a great threat to all the other countries in the world," Wu said.

"China is one of the countries that have suffered from terror activities. Solving the conflicts in Iraq and Syria will benefit China and the entire world," Wu said.

The Monday press conference in Beijing came after Wu's trip to Iraq earlier this month, where he met Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Iraq is currently mired in violence as much of the country's northwest has been lost to Islamic State (IS) insurgents. The group changed its name from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to IS in late June after leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the "caliph" and called on all Muslims to obey him.

"Wu's speech shows that China is paying close attention to the Middle East situation and is fully aware of the grim influence the recent upsurge of violence in Syria and Iraq has cast on global terrorism activities, including terror attacks in Xinjiang," Xiao Xian, a professor from the Institute of International Studies at Yunnan University, told the Global Times.

Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has seen multiple terror attacks since the beginning of this year.

On May 22, explosions took place in an open air market in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, leaving 39 dead and more than 90 injured. On April 30, three people were killed and another 79 injured in a terror attack involving self-made explosives at a railway station in Urumqi.

Wu did not put a number on how many Chinese citizens may be in the Middle East, saying that he understood from foreign media reports the figure is around 100, Reuters reported.

"Mostly they are East Turkestan elements," Wu was quoted as saying by Reuters. "They won't necessarily all return [to China]. Some will remain to participate in the conflict, perhaps crossing into Iraq."

Leaders from "East Turkestan" terror organizations, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and the East Turkestan Education and Solidarity Association, both of which push for "independence" of Xinjiang, organized members to head for Syria to participate in their quest for jihad as early as 2012, the Global Times previously learned from Chinese anti-terrorism authorities.

Although the exact influence the IS has cast on East Turkestan terror groups cannot be pinpointed at this time, activities of such a large scale like those in Iraq tend to have a ripple effect on other terror organizations, Zhu Weilie, director at the Institute of Middle East Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times.

However, the rise of IS has only limited influence on China's Middle East policy, whose main interests remain in investment, analysts say.

"All anti-terrorism efforts in the area should be led by the UN. China will be more actively involved in these efforts but will never be as involved in Middle East affairs as the US," Zhu said.

At Monday's press conference, Wu also called for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Palestine and urged both parties to return to dialogue.

Wu met Hamas movement chief Khaled Meshaal on Thursday in Doha as part of his recent trip that has taken him to countries including Palestine, Israel, Egypt and Qatar, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Other nations are also at risk from foreign jihadists fighting in Syria. Citizens of European nations, the US, Canada and other Middle Eastern nations have been active in Islamist militias. As many as 3,000 Westerners have gone to Syria to fight, with the total foreigners put at 11,000, The New York Times reported in May. The UK has stripped at least 20 suspected jihadists of their citizenship.

Posted in: Politics, Diplomacy

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