On the day that the twin towers fell and the Pentagon burned, September 11, 2001, President Bush went before the nation to denounce these cowardly attacks. He vowed to "hunt down" those responsible for this "act of war," and issued this warning to those who might be tempted to give them aid: The United States would deal with those nations that harbor and give succor to terrorists exactly as we deal with the terrorists themselves.
This principle is facing its first test in Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime has been for years enthusiastically aiding and abetting Osama bin Laden's "holy war" against the United States. Sharing Osama bin Laden's irrational hatred of the U.S., they cheered the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which left six dead and 1,000 injured. Eager to provide continuing support for bin Laden, they allowed him to headquarter his al Qaeda terrorist organization in their capital, Kabul,
This support made possible the string of terrorist bombings that followed: the 1995 bombing that killed five American servicemen in Saudi Arabia; the 1996 bombing of an apartment complex in Saudi Arabia where American servicemen were living, which killed 19 and injured 400; the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, which killed 224 people, including 12 U.S. citizens; and last year's attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen, in which 17 American servicemen died.
The Taliban, of course, have instituted a kind of radical Islamic terrorism within the borders of their own country, so it is not surprising that they would have no compunctions about supporting international terrorism of the same variety. This means that Osama bin Laden is, in effect, the Taliban's Minister for International Terrorism, while his terrorist group, al Qaeda, functions as the international arm of terror for the rogue government which harbors it.
Even last week's murder of thousands of innocents has not dimmed their common fervor to impose radical Islamicism. Rather than turn over Osama bin Laden and his men, the Taliban leadership are said to have retreated with them to mountain caves in anticipation of a U.S. assault. It has called for volunteers to fight a "holy war" against the U.S. if we move against Osama bin Laden.
Aside from neighboring Pakistan, and a few radical Islamic regimes like Iraq, the Taliban has few sources of international support. Evidence is now emerging, however, which suggests that China has been providing assistance as well. So the question arises: Has China, by supporting the Taliban, aided Osama bin Laden's "holy war" on the U.S.?
China has formally condemned the attacks, to be sure. On the evening of September 11, 2001, following the terrorist attack on the U.S., the President of the People's Republic of China, Jiang Zemin, sent a brief message of sympathy to the United States. It claimed that "The Chinese government has always condemned and opposed all terrorist acts of violence."
Yet actions speak louder than words. One sign of China's growing closeness to the Taliban came last December. The UN Security Council voted 13-0 to place an embargo on arms sales to the Taliban until they closed bin Laden's terrorist training camps in their country, and extradited him to stand trial abroad. Beijing, however, abstained. ("UN to tighten Afghan Sanctions," Los Angeles Times, 20 Dec. 2000.)
In the months since, Beijing has continued to hold secret negotiations with the Taliban. One result of these negotiations has been a recently signed contract between China's Huawei Technologies Co. and the Taliban which calls for Huawei to build an extensive military communications system throughout Afghanistan. ("The Taliban's supply cut off," Vremya Novostei, 21 Dec. 2000/Agency WPS/Defense and Security, 25 Dec. 2000; "China trades with Taliban," Intelligence, 15 March 2001.)
And while most members of the international community have spoken out against al Qaeda's terrorist training schools, China has remained curiously silent, despite its known concern about Islamic terrorism in its own Western provinces. Has some sort of private accommodation between Beijing and the Taliban been reached?
China's arms trade with other rogue governments in the Middle East-Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya-has a long history. Since the 1980s, Beijing has shipped large quantities of conventional arms, as well as technologies and hardware which can be used for the production of nuclear and chemical weapons, and ballistic missiles, to the Middle East. China's goal is to increase its clout in the Middle East, while diminishing that of the U.S. ("China's Arm Sales: Motivations and Implications," Project Air Force, www.rand.org/paf/highlights/china.html.)
China claims to desire peace in the Middle East, yet its actions-and arms sales-have been described as threatening to American soldiers, to the Arab-Israeli peace process and to Persian Gulf stability. China seems to invariably work at cross-purposes to the U.S. in the region, forcing Washington to devote an extraordinary amount of time to curbing China's penchant of attempting to arm rogue nations with the ability to strike out with weapons of mass destruction.
About a year and a half ago, The Jerusalem Post pointed out that the American government's bilateral relations with China largely "has revolved around efforts to prevent the sale of parts, arms, and technology to Middle Eastern states... and reflects the American position on terrorism originating from the Middle East. Thus," The Post ominously forecast, "Osama bin Laden's very independence from state sponsorship is considered all the more threatening because of the possibility he might use WMD [weapons of mass destruction] against, or even within, the U.S." ("The Region: Mother of all threats," The Jerusalem Post, 18 April 2000.)
But with the Taliban's support for al Qaeda-and China's support for the Taliban-just how much "independence from state sponsorship" does Beijing expect the U.S. to believe that bin Laden's truly has?
We tend think of the China threat in conventional terms of missiles, tanks and planes armed and aimed against ourselves and our allies. Into this category falls the report, received two weeks before the attack on the World Trade Center, that Beijing had employed additional missiles aimed at democratic Taiwan. And just last week, a U.S. spy satellite captured photos of road-mobile long-range DF-31 ICBMs being shipped by train from a Chinese manufacturing plant. It is expected that China will field these ICBMs, which have a range capable of reaching the Western United States, within the year. ("China ready to deploy its first mobile ICBMs," The Washington Times, 6 Sept. 2001).
But Islamic terrorism, armed and quietly encouraged by Beijing, represents another very potent kind of China threat.