Friday, August 17, 2007

The Forms of Terrorism in International Relations From a Chinese Perspective

Americans tend to view terrorism, and its containment, in two dimensional terms. Terrorism tends to exist exogenously. It is either invasive or revolutionary. Foreigners are terrorists; natives who have become foreigners, in beliefs and culture, are also terrorists. And terrorism is itself a metaphor for lawlessness.

But in other important states, terrorism has been acquiring additional dimensions. Evidence of this expansion of meaning has been on display this week, as the leaders of the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China meet to review the progress of what may become the first post-Soviet counter to NATO--the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This review is being held in conjunction with a widely publicized set of military exercises meant to highlight the strength of both the Chinese and Russian military establishments, and their leading role in the Turkish regions of central Asia--an area of substantial sensitivity to China and to Russia. See Larry Catá Backer, China's People's Liberation Army at 80: Projecting Power and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Law at the End of the Day, Aug. 1, 2007.

The focus of these military and political activities is "terrorism" and its eradication. That objective underlies much of the work of the SCO. Terrorism will serve as the foundation of the wide ranging set of international agreements to be developed and implemented as a consequence of the current round of meetings in Bishkek, the capital of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, a member of the SCO. These are identified in the Bishkek Declaration. Among the objectives of the new cooperation, the Bishkek Declaration states that

The SCO member states stand ready to develop cooperation and step up joint efforts on strengthening international information security in all aspects.
The heads of state believe that stability and security in Central Asia can be provided first and foremost by the forces of the region’s states on the basis of international organisations already established in the region.
The member states stress the need for collective efforts on counteracting new challenges and threats. They highly rate the activity of the SCO Regional Antiterrorist Structure and believe that it possesses a significant potential for further enhancement of interaction in the fight against terrorism, separatism and extremism.
Bishkek Declaration.

It is important, then, to get a sense of what SCO leaders may understand by "terrorism." For that purpose, recent statements by President of Hu Jinatao may prove helpful--and ominous for American policy. In a set of public statements, Hu declared that " "China and Russia are both unswervingly against terrorism in any form," Hu said while meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at a military base near the Ural Mountain city. "At present, the non-traditional elements threatening security are still notable. Terrorism is posing severe threat to world peace and development," Hu said." Fighting Terrorism an Important Mission of SCO, China, Russia: Hu , People's Daily Online, Aug. 18, 2007.

Terrorism, however, Hu stated, must be understood in its three guises. "The Chinese president said the two sides have sound cooperation in cracking down on the "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism and expect such ties to be further enhanced." Fighting Terrorism an Important Mission of SCO, China, Russia: Hu , People's Daily Online, Aug. 18, 2007. Conflating separatism and extremism with terrorism works well within current Chinese policies in its Western regions. It may work well for the Russian Federation as it contemplates increasing the acceptability or irridentist sentiments. Yet it also seems well adapted toward providing a rule of law basis for the suppression of any expression that might be deemed to threaten the integrity of the state (at least theoretically acceptable under most understanding of the legitimate power of states) or its apparatus. In its latter guise, the conflation appears problematical, at least in the West. But even in its former guise, it appears to significantly shrink any legitimate ambit for self determination movements.

Hu's conflation thus raises a set of issues that the West has managed to sidestep on the way to its construction of a set of internally contradictory rights norms at the international level. Hu reminds us that if rights of self determination can support Kosovar independence, it might also support that in Xinjiang. If it supports the suppression of National Socialism in Germany, then it might also support the suppression of Falun Gong in China. And if it supports the Chinese positions in these areas, might it also support the American positions in Iraq? Or the actions of multinational corporations in suppressing conduct through contract and courses of conduct? These questions, especially as they relate to consistency in the application of legal norms, will increasingly bedevil international norm setting. Hu correctly reminds us that the problem of terrorism is, in effect, the problem of the state in the 21st century.

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