What was Afghanistan’s Taliban regime doing on September 10, 2001? It was finalizing an agreement for economic and technical cooperation with representatives from China.
There have been many reports of China’s quiet efforts to cultivate ties with the Taliban. But the September 10th agreement, the Ottawa Citizen reported, amounted to “the most comprehensive of a series of contractual agreements between Beijing and the Taliban, in defiance of the spirit if not the letter of both Western and United Nations sanctions.” China, the Citizen stated, was cementing its position as the Afghan government’s “best friend” outside of the Muslim world.
The next day, of course, the world changed, perhaps forever. A global war against terrorism was launched, led by the United States, and the battle lines were drawn. As President Bush stated in his historic address to Congress after the September 11 attacks: “Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”
Beijing now has an opportunity to demonstrate its true intentions. Will it be the solid, responsible nation its leaders always claim it to be? Or will China take advantage of this moment to once again further its own aims and contradict its espoused intentions?
It is worth nothing that, before September 11, the augurs were not promising. After being awarded the 2008 Olympic Games – and despite the optimistic hopes of Beijing’s Olympic backers – China’s patterns of human rights abuses have failed to improve. Crackdowns on the Falun Gong, beatings of dissidents and censorship of the media are common. Harvesting organs from prisoners continues to be reported. China’s one-child-per-family limit is still enforced; one hospital was recently investigated for allegedly starving a baby born in violation of the policy.
The U.S. – China relationship also had not improved since the downing of our reconnaissance place last April. After holding the American crew hostage, China actually demanded $1 million in payment from the United States for “storage” of our plane. Condemnation of U.S. policies around the world was common in Beijing’s government-controlled media.
Most alarming, the Chinese dictatorship was arming and financially supporting America’s adversaries across the globe. Its list of arms and technology clients matched exactly many of the countries on the U.S. Sate Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. China sold ballistic missile technology to Iran, North Korea, Syria and Libya, despite promising to adhere to the Missile Technology Control Regime. It sold nuclear technology and advanced cruise missiles to Iran and has aided Iran’s chemical weapons program. In fact, the U.S. has repeatedly sanctioned Chinese entities for chemical weapon-related transfers to Iran – most recently on June 14. Beijing also provided technological assistance to Iraq.
As a result of China’s behavior, the American people – and our forces and friends abroad – today face much greater threats.
The United States should think long and hard about our China policy in light of our new global effort against terrorism. How much teeth are we willing to put into President Bush’s statement that America will not tolerate governments offering support to terrorist organizations? What will we demand from China, once the Taliban’s “best friend”?
A changed world requires changed priorities. There is much that China wants from the United States, including permanent normalized trade relations, but there is much in turn that we must require from it. A nation seeking to be viewed as responsible must act responsibly.
Chinese officials have pledged to join our global effort against terrorism, and the Bush administration should hold them to it. It should no longer tolerate actions such as Beijing’s prior engagement with the Taliban. In other ways as well, China’s future behavior in the global war against terrorism should be scrutinized closely. Will it, for example, continue to equate the terrorists who killed thousands in the Unites Sates with Taiwanese “separatists”? Will its position on the UN Security Council be used as an obstacle to the global campaign against terror? The jury is still out.
Every day since September 11, the world is being remade. Longtime foes, at least for now, espouse a common goal in America’s efforts against terrorism. Scores of nations have taken the side of America in a battle to eradicate terrorists of global reach – but the most populist nation on the globe must truly back up its words with actions.
Message to Beijing: it’s time to choose.