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A Comparison on Anti-Terrorism Between China and the U.S.

CIIS Time: Oct 25, 2016 Writer: Teng Jianqun Editor: Wang Jiapei


The cooperation on anti-terrorism between China and the United States has been a shining point in the relations between the two countries. However, because of different understandings on anti-terrorism, in some aspects of this cooperation, the two countries are still facing some obstacles on its way to go ahead.

While terrorism has already become the common challenge of our international community, the two countries should rethink about their cooperation in this regard and to take such cooperation as an important step of the two countries’ relationship.


Part I: The Understanding on Terrorism


Scholars and experts have done a lot of studies on terrorism. There are more than 60 kinds of definition on what terrorism is. Different countries according to their interpretation will define terrorists who have done harm to the society and human beings while the other countries or ethnic groups will define these terrorists as hero.

They also have already shared different views on the cause to go extremely or radically.

(1) The hatred between the rich and the poor in the society. Today, more and more resources have been centralized to a small group of people while more and more people are growing poor. The big gap between the rich and the poor has made the hatred growing.

(2) The abnormal social system both at home and abroad. The governance of the weak administration at state level and at regional level will make non-state-actors play more and more important role in the society. The breakup of power in the Middle East gives ISIS much more space to recruit radicals to realize their dream.

(3) The clash between different kinds of civilization: including western civilization, Islamic civilization, Chinese civilization, Japanese civilization, Indian civilization, Latin civilization. Dr. Samuel Huntington from Harvard University discussed the concept in his book.

Any terrorist activity will be of some specific features:

(1) Symbolic target. Terrorist activity has very strong symbolic significance. On 28th ,2013, a group of terrorists launched an attack at the gate of Tian’an Men.

(2) Psychological impact on the ordinary people. Even after 15 years, the whole world still remembers the disaster of 9.11. The terrorists will not give any significant strike on physical building but they will kill a small group of innocent people and it is very hard to recover the psychological injury.

(3) Economic feature. Some terrorists would like to make life by participating in the terrorist attack. The recent strike by the United States and Russia in Syria has serious damaged the income of ISIS. They have to cut the payment for the so-called soldiers.

(4) Clear-cut political intention. ISIS is a non-state actor but it has a strong political intention, to establish an independent state in the Middle East.


Part II The Comparison on Anti-Terrorism


1. China

If you check the People’s Daily and other official publication, you can find that the first mention of terrorism by China was in its diplomatic expression in 1970s. China returned to the United Nations in October 1971. On September 22, 1972, Chinese Representative Chen Chu delivered a speech to UN. He said that China was not in favor of any irrational violence. The international community should give a clear division on what was a terrorist activity. The resistance to invaders, exploiters, and oppressors for independence and de-colonialism of a country should not be taken as a terrorist action. China actually supported the movement of national independence and de-colonialism in the developing world. When China adopted an ideology-oriented policy, the largest terrorist might be the imperialists and colonialists.

In later 1970s, China opened its door to the outside world and started its reform both in economy as well as ideology. During this stage, China adopted a trade-oriented policy. China entered several international treaties and agreements related to anti-terrorism. Since 1992, China has never mentioned the anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism. China only addressed that the international community should find the root-cause of any terrorist activities. Meanwhile, China also put the anti-terrorism in the national law and regulations.

From then on, China has comprehensively followed the international suite in fighting against terrorism. There are at least four features to describe the evolution of China’s attitude and policy against terrorism: 1As a sufferer of terrorism, China would like to fight against any kind of terrorism. (2) China has been actively participated in all the international cooperation against terrorism. China abides by all the international laws and resolution adopted by NU Security Council. (3) China insists that international community should eliminate the root cause of terrorism and no double standard will be acceptable. (4) The UN should play its leading role in fighting against terrorism.

The recently adopted counter-terrorism law by the People’s Congress on 27th , 2015 laid a new foundation for China to fight against terrorism home and abroad. The first draft was issued for review in October 2014, and then second draft in early 2015. After at least three draft reviews done, we have got the counter-terrorism law, with 10 chapters and 97 articles. It is one of the best counter-terrorism laws in the world.

There are some points in the revision of the draft:

(1) The definition. “any preposition and activity that by means of violence, sabotage or threat, generates social panic, undermines public security and menaces government organs and international organizations”.

(2) Flight control is addressed in the law. The civic aviation and public security authorities…must enhance management of aerospace, aircraft and flight activities, and stay on high alert against terrorist activities against aircraft or those conducted via flight activities.

(3) Strike on a balance between combating extremism and right protection, the security authorities access to citizen’s information via telecom and internet technology now must undergo strict approval procedures, and information obtained in accordance with the law only be used for the purpose of counter-terrorism operation.

(4) The use of PLA and police abroad. For the first time, the lawmakers of China have given the green light to the use of PLA and police abroad to protect not only the national interests of China but also contribute much more international products. The use will be under the leadership CMC.


2. The United States

The United States showed its concern over terrorism also from the same period of time. In 1972 during the Munich Olympics Games, 11 Israeli athletes killed by the PLO soldiers. While participated in the investigation of the killing, the Untied States also started the study of anti-terrorism mechanism construction and a specific team to deal with biological terrorism was also established by Nixon Administration.

When President Ford came into the White House, he suspended the assassination activities by intelligence agencies of the United States. However, the following presidents resumed the order of assassination of foreign leaders.

During the cold war time in 1980s, Rogan Administration gave a great support to Bin Laden and his followers in Afghanistan to resist the invasion of the former Soviet Union. The big concern from the United States was the resistance to the Soviet invasion. No one knew at that time these armed militants would launch an attack in New York and Washington.

The U.S government began to use international law and regulation to fight against terrorism. In 1988, the air crash incident let 189 American died but President Bush did not use military strike. He started a lawsuit against Libya and its leader Colonel Gaddafi. In 1996, President Clinton signed an anti-terrorist law—Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The two parties finally agreed to adopt the Act after the terrorist attacks in the United States: Oklahoma city hall and World Trade Centre.

The 9.11 attack has completely changed the U.S. anti-terrorist attitude. President Bush stated that the United States was at war. On October 26, 2001, President Bush signed a new Act—Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriated Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. New department and organs were established. The assignment of the U.S. armed forces also has been enlarged since then. The anti-terrorist war was ended by President Obama in 2011.


Part III The Cooperation over Anti-Terrorism


My observation in this area is that in at least 20 years, China has had a very good cooperation with SCO member states. China did its first joint military exercise with SCO member state in 2002. The joint drill between China and Russia has became an routine over the high sea and over the land in the two countries. China used to say that it had no single soldier in other country, but China now is the largest contributor of international peace-keepers among P5.

Though in recent years, China and the United States have repeatedly addressed the importance in fighting against terrorism and there are some join actions taken by the two sides, there is not so much progress made between the two countries in reality.

Several reasons to explain this phenomenon:

First, lack of trust between China and the United States. Both sides are not so comfortable when they discuss the cooperation. China of course is very willing to share the experience with the United States.

Second, different visions in fighting against terrorism. I do not think China will send PLA troops or police troops to the Middle East even the recently-adopted anti-terrorist law clearly indicated that the PLA and be deployed abroad.

Third, different standards by the two countries. We have watched closely on the response by the U.S. media and even the spoke-person of the government towards China anti-terrorist activities in Xinjiang and even in Tian’an Men. It is really irrational to say that some terrorist attacks are response to the oppression of the government against ethnic groups. China has shown its concern over the interpretation by the United States on China’s anti-terrorism in Xinjiang and Tibet. The United States has shown its double standard on its defining of the terrorist groups and adopted controversial policy toward China anti-terrorist effort. 


In conclusion, terrorism has already become the common challenge of our international community. All the countries concerned in the Middle East have their own national interests, however, while we are facing the common threat, the ISIS, for the sake of peace and stability, major powers should cooperate.




This article was the outline of the speech delivered by Teng Jianqun, Director of the Department of U.S. Studies, China Institute of International Studies, at the 7th China-U.S. Civil Society Peace Forum.