China is pursuing a troubling, tricky alliance with radical, rightwing Islam, or Islamism, despite concerns about its own restive Muslim population.
In China's view, the potential rewards of cozying up to Islamist countries and terrorist groups outweigh the risks. In forging ties to Shiite Iran, its Lebanese terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, and the Sunni Palestinian Hamas, Beijing believes it can effectively buy protection against the export of Islamism to China's western province of Xinjiang, which is home to some 55 million Muslims, including radical fundamentalists and ethnic separatists.
The policy has the blessing of the Chinese military, which is also supporting and dictating policy toward North Korea (more about this below).
The architect of the pro-Islamist policy, Liu Yazhou, is an extremely influential Lieutenant General and Deputy Political Commissar in the People's Liberation Army Air Force, best known for his essays and books on international affairs and strategy. The 51-year-old non-combatant officer is a dedicated nationalist and hardliner toward the United States, Japan, and Taiwan--and the only serving PLA general to have visited the self-ruled island. He has traveled extensively overseas, including a stint in the US as a visiting professor at Stanford University (so much for the silly notion that cultural and educational exchange programs automatically foster warm feelings toward the host nation).
A son-in-law of the late Chinese president Li Xiannian, Liu is a so-called princeling--meaning, a privileged offspring of a high Communist Party official--who has also been linked to the Shanghai clique led by China's unpopular former president, Jiang Zemin.
Liu's wide-ranging views include the idea that the West is engaged in a losing civilizational clash with rising, radical Islam and that the world of military strategy has forever been changed by the US invasion of Iraq. Like other PLA theoreticians, he advocates "unrestricted warfare"--use of a variety of methods to isolate, weaken and ultimately defeat the enemy--and "winning without fighting" whenever possible, i.e. making maximum use of deception and diplomacy in the face of a technologically superior enemy, such as the "US hegemon." Liu also likes to talk in terms of the "Maoization" of the military, though it is not always clear what he means by this.
Liu deserves much of the credit for energy-starved China's warm relations with oil-rich Iran and for an agreement signed last month between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazef. The accord aims to deepen strategic and cooperative relations between Beijing and Cairo: Chinese state-owned enterprises will increase investment in Egyptian energy, textiles and electronics industries, while Egypt will provide preferential treatment to Chinese enterprises.
As the second largest US foreign aid recipient after Israel, Egypt gets $1.7 billion a year in economic and military assistance from the US. But China is seeking to exploit a downturn in US-Egyptian relations, partly stemming from US criticism of Egypt's human rights record.
China is also attracted to Egypt's increasing importance as an energy producer--its oil and gas industry is booming--and the potential opportunity of edging out the US in the event of a radical political change. Chinese intelligence officers have established contacts with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood--the Islamist organization that constituted the core of Al Qaeda--which seeks to topple the present secular regime and replace it with a Sunni theocracy. At least one of the officers dealing with the Brotherhood (which was responsible for the assassination of Egypt's peace-making President Anwar Sadat) is also aiding Hamas--specifically, its military wing.
China's military meddling is not limited to terrorist groups. In an audacious disregard for US interests, the PLA has recently initiated military contacts with a growing number of Washington's allies in the region, including Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Nor is Liu's strategic influence limited to the Middle East and political Islam. In April, he accompanied Chinese defense minister Cao Gangchuan during his four-day visit to Pyongyang. North Korean state media (the only kind) reported that the PLA officers and their Korean People's Army comrades discussed ways to “strengthen military ties” and exchanged “valuable” opinions.
Analysts tell China Confidential that they also discussed Iran. A delegation consisting of 10 Iranian missile scientists and Iranian military and intelligence officers, we are told, were on hand for North Korea's provocative July 4 (US time) missile tests. Japanese sources say the Iranians stopped in Beijing on their way to the secretive Stalinist state.
North Korea, as China Confidential reported yesterday, has supplied Iran with Chinese-made missiles, technology and know-how, which Tehran has in turn transferred to its terrorist Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. It would not be surprising if some of the Iranians who were present for the North Korean tests have also participated in Hezbollah's missile attacks against northern Israel.
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