- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

BEIJING — An official Chinese delegation was in Pakistan on Tuesday — the day of America's horror — signing a deal with Taliban officials from neighboring Afghanistan to expand economic and technical cooperation.
In principle, Beijing still recognizes Afghanistan's government-in-exile, but in practice, it is steadily building ties to Kabul. The effort illustrates both Beijing's unique approach to fighting terrorism and the difficulty of including China in any U.S.-led coalition.
China is ready to strengthen dialogue and cooperation with the United States and the international community in combating all manner of terrorist violence, President Jiang Zemin reportedly told President Bush on Wednesday.
But Chinese diplomats hastened to clarify that Mr. Jiang meant cooperation through a multilateral forum like the United Nations, not support of American unilateral retaliation, nor any by NATO.
A better option, they suggested, may be China's own Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a recent gathering of four Central Asian republics, Russia and China, that is designed to revive commerce along the Silk Road and, more importantly, clamp down on the Islamic terrorist problem in China's own back yard.
Thanks to the globe-trotting Dalai Lama, Tibet is China's most celebrated ethnic and religious dilemma, yet the Turkic, Muslim region of Xinjiang, China's remote western province, arguably worries Beijing far more.
For more than a decade, its native Uighur people, some 8 million strong, have responded with anger and bombing campaigns to an influx of Chinese settlers now totaling at least 7.8 million.
Beijing believes Uighur separatists plotting an independent homeland are galvanized by militant strains of Islam seeping over Xinjiang's 3,200-mile border with eight different nations, including Afghanistan.
China's external response to such threats stresses dialogue, not force, and partly explains why Beijing openly courts the Taliban.
"We want to understand the Afghan situation," said Fang Jinying of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, a think tank linked to China's intelligence agency.
"In the past, all our information came from Western and Russian media, but we must see with our own eyes."
Miss Fang first visited Afghanistan last year, when she was impressed with the apparent peace and stability the Taliban had brought to most of a nation long scarred by war.
"We hope the Taliban and the Northern Alliance can stop fighting and set up a unified government," Miss Fang said in an interview. "Afghan peace is good for Chinese security."
China hopes that negotiations and economic carrots will persuade the Taliban, and other neighbors, to curb "hostile forces" within their territory.
Above all, Beijing preaches its belief in a multipolar world, not dominated by one superpower, that respects "noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries."
China's leaders live in dread of Western intervention in Xinjiang or Tibet. While those same leaders crave respectability on the world stage, badges of global approval like the Olympics and membership of the World Trade Organization, they also carry weighty historical baggage on their shoulders.
During the Cold War, China saw itself the champion of the developing world and still preserved relations with many of the United States' worst enemies.
The 1999 bombing of China's em-bassy in Yugoslavia, and this year's surveillance plane crisis, marked the latest chapters of more than 150 years of painful relations with the West. For 50 years, the Communist Party has kept these wounds raw, as indicated by celebratory, anti-American comments in Chinese language Internet chat rooms.
As one Western diplomat remarked yesterday in Beijing, the Chinese government has a problem, a psychological challenge, in seeing the United States as a victim. Yet it also will use this incident to push forward its own program of anti-terrorism and anti-separatism.


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