ISIS In China: Militants Are Poised To Expand Through Afghanistan

ISIS In China: Militants Are Poised To Expand Through Afghanistan
By Yo (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

According to high-ranking officials, ISIS militants are poised to expand to China, Russia and Europe through Afghanistan.

Visiting China, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said that there has been a significant increase in the activity of ISIS jihadists in Afghanistan, which presents a great threat that the terrorist group could expand further and reach China, Russia and some states of Europe.

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“Recently, the activity of terrorist groups affiliated with the Islamic State increased substantially on the Afghan territory. Afghanistan could be used by the group for further expansion to CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries in Central Asia and in the direction of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in [northwest] China,” Antonov said at the Xiangshan Forum.

The Defense Minister added that Russia will continue its efforts to fight ISIS militants in Kabul. According to Antonov, there are up to 50,000 ISIS militants in Afghanistan, organized into over 4,000 different groups and subgroups.

“Russia intends to continue its assistance to the Afghan government on the bilateral level as well as together with SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organization] and CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] partners,” Antonov stated.

Russian airstrikes bring ISIS closer to China?

Russia launched airstrikes against ISIS militants in Syria three weeks ago just a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the UN General Assembly, calling world leaders for a sophisticated plan to eliminate ISIS and radicals in Syria.

Even though Russia has repeatedly claimed that it is targeting exclusively ISIS militants, there have been numerous reports of Russian aircraft bombing U.S.-trained rebels in Syria.

“The proposal [of Vladimir Putin] envisages creation of a wide international anti-terrorist coalition that might incorporate various forces on the basis of common values and international law in conformity with the principles of the UN Charter,” Antonov explained.

However, Russia’s latest bombing in Aleppo, where ISIS does not hold a significant presence, seem to contradict Moscow’s eagerness to wipe ISIS off the face of Syria.

“Without restoring statehood and strengthening bodies of power there will be no fundamental improvement in the situation,” Antonov said, and reiterated the Kremlin’s opinion that there is no future for Syria without Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “However, in taking future action one should avoid dictating one’s own approaches and by all means respect the national cultures and histories of the countries in the region.”

What does Syria mean for China?

China, Russia’s biggest ally on many international issues, is not interested in Assad being in power. China does not benefit from Assad controlling Syria neither from the ideological, political nor economic points of view.

The trade between Syria and China in 2010 was only $2.5 billion. And even though Syria takes part in China’s New Silk Road project, the warn-torn country may be replaced by Israel, which recently showed a sudden interest in the ambitious project.

The only reason Beijing could support the Assad regime is to prevent the West from applying pressure on Iran, China’s main oil supplier.

However, China’s biggest concern is who is going to be the successor of Assad. Beijing is clearly not interested in an Islamist being in power of Syria. Meanwhile, China believes that Assad’s removal from power is inevitable, which is why it maintains ties with the opposition.

Syria presents a large importance for China as a leverage that can be used to maintain stability in the Middle East, where China gets 55% of its total imported oil. Just like the U.S., China’s economy depends on the supplies of energy from this region.

Turkey’s suffering might be in China’s plans

China shares Russia’s concerns about the growth of Islamist extremism, which many Russian and Chinese analysts believe is backed by the U.S., Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Despite its differences with the Assad regime, China sees Assad as the force capable of countering religious extremism.

In June, China held anti-terrorist drills in Inner Mongolia under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Then a month after that, China and Russia held joint naval drills in the Sea of Japan, during which the two countries developed methods to fight religious terrorism.

It is believed that religious terrorism creates a threat to China’s national security and obstructs its economic development. On September 30, 16 terrorist attacks were carried out in Guangxi, as a result of which 7 people died.

It is also believed that China would not mind Russian aircraft to push ISIS into Turkey in order to get the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who supports Uyghur fundamentalists, involved in the war against ISIS.

In China and Russia, there are over 55 million Muslims, many of whom are eager to end the Salafi extremism in Eurasia, which breeds drug trafficking across the entire region. Terrorists have already been spotted in Russia, China, Kirgizia, Uzbekistan and other SCO countries.

Will China take part in Syrian military campaign?

By supporting Russia’s actions in Syria, Beijing proves its loyalty to Moscow and strengthens the strategic partnership for the sake of mutual interests in the region.

Will China take part in the Syrian military campaign by providing its military equipment and troops to fight alongside Russia and the Syrian army? This notion is quickly dismissed by analysts, although in 2014, China offered Iraq to conduct a joint air campaign against ISIS targets.

A few decades ago we were the witnesses of how Mao Zedong’s anti-scientific doctrine urged the left-wing forces to unite with the ‘weakening’ imperialism of the U.S. in order to overthrow the growing social imperialism of the USSR, and thus allow socialism to prevail in the world.

But after all the events that have happened in the world since then, China’s must stick to the peaceful foreign policy that it has so far successfully conducted.

Updated on

Polina Tikhonova is a writer, journalist and a certified translator. Over the past 7 years, she has worked for a wide variety of top European, American, Russian, and Ukrainian media outlets. Polina holds a Master's Degree in English Philology from the University of Oxford and a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from the Saint Petersburg State University. Her articles and news reports have been published by many newspapers, magazines, journals, blogs and online media sources across the globe. Polina is fluent in English, German, Ukrainian and Russian.
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