Wang Yu:China Must Guard Against Terrorist Infiltration from Neighboring State
27 Jul, 2021  |  Source:China Daily  |  Hits:1028

Afghanistan shares only a 76-kilometer-long border with China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region with the Wakhan Corridor, an area with an average altitude of more than 5,000 meters, as the only direct land link between the two countries. Yet Afghanistan is of huge significance to China in terms of diplomacy and security, not least because it has a direct bearing on the stability of China's western border.

Amid this complicated scenario, the United States suddenly announced the withdrawal of all its troops from Afghanistan. Immediately after the announcement, the domestic conflict in Afghanistan intensified, which could lead to the growth of extremist groups such as the "East Turkestan Islamic Movement", a United Nations Security Council-listed terrorist organization since 2002. Given these facts, there is no reason to underestimate the Taliban, because they may become the most important political force in Afghanistan.

Although the Taliban recently reiterated their friendly attitude toward China, some factions of the group have close ties with the ETIM. So no matter which party forms the next government in Afghanistan, China should always be wary of the extremist and separatist forces that threaten its national security.

If the situation in Afghanistan worsens, it could have a damaging effect on neighboring countries' security, including on China's Xinjiang. For instance, the worsening situation in Afghanistan could help spread extremist ideology in the neighboring states, leading to the growth of the ETIM and creating new security challenges for the region.

Besides, the US forces' withdrawal from Afghanistan will further weaken the Afghan government and could help the Taliban establish an Islamic state and further fan religious passions. The US failed to establish a Western-style democratic system in Afghanistan, which remains a poor country that is still reliant on grants for its huge public expenditure budget. According to a 2018 World Bank report, the Afghan government's budget will depend on foreign aid at least until 2030. Against this backdrop, the US is likely to stop its security and financial support to Afghanistan after the withdrawal, creating more serious problems for the Afghan government.

Seth G. Jones, a US-based Afghanistan expert, said in 2019 that the US withdrawal may lead to the resurgence of terrorism and increasing human rights violations in the country. This in turn could see radicals, if the Taliban return to power, dominating the government. Also, it will become easier for terrorist outfits to recruit new members in a fragmented Afghanistan.

In order to overcome these daunting challenges, China needs to make sure the ETIM does not find a haven in Afghanistan and grow in strength.

State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited some Central Asian countries to attend some meetings there from July 12 to 16. Which means China can closely cooperate with these countries, as well as with Russia, Iran and Pakistan, to deal with any fallout of the situation in Afghanistan, and prevent it from affecting the neighboring countries.

Equally important, China and other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization should strengthen their joint anti-terrorism mechanism and information sharing to combat the ETIM. And China should pay greater attention to fighting cyberterrorism, because it is extremely important to prevent radicals in Afghanistan from spreading the extremist ideologies through the internet.

In the digital era, terrorist organizations have intensified the use of high-tech to disseminate their nefarious ideologies and designs, including organizing remote-controlled attacks through the internet. So China should always be on high alert against possible cyberattacks.

And although ETIM members are unlikely to enter Xinjiang through the Wakhan Corridor thanks to China's strengthened border control, intense vigil against cyberterrorism is still needed to thwart any attempts by terrorists to launch cyberattacks.

(The author is a researcher at the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.The views don't necessarily represent those of this platform.)