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WQ: Al-Qaeda and the Rise of China: Jihadi Geopolitics in a Post-Hegemonic World

Summer 2011


The rise of China in economic, political, and military spheres have not just interested Western observers, but also al-Qaeda affiliated jihadi thinkers, says Brian Fishman in the Washington Quarterly.

Prognosticating about China's economic, political, and military rise has become a favorite conversation for Western politicians and policy wonks. But Western observers are not the only strategists debating the impact of increased Chinese power. A parallel conversation has been taking place among al-Qaeda affiliated jihadi thinkers for much of the last decade. That discussion ranges from debate about how best to support rebellion among Muslim Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang province to more abstract disagreements over how a transnational militant network such as al-Qaeda should adapt when a traditional state upends the U.S.-led system that has been its primary boogeyman for nearly 15 years.

Although the Uyghur question tends to receive more attention, it is the latter issue that will be more important for both jihadi groups and China over the long run. China's growing economy and subsequent search for resources will increasingly tie it to regimes that al-Qaeda and its allies believe to be fundamentally corrupt, a fact that leaves jihadis conflicted about how to direct their energy today and questioning who will be their enemy tomorrow. Some jihadis enjoy the fact that the United States faces increased economic and political competition from China, but others argue that replacing the denomination of currency from dollars to yuan propping up hated Arab governments will not advance al-Qaeda's ultimate political and ideological goals. In the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, his successors are likely to reassess the global geopolitical picture and al-Qaeda's role in it. China will undoubtedly play a larger role in that conversation than it did when al-Qaeda was founded in 1988 or when the group focused its energy squarely on the United States in 1998. Indeed, al-Qaeda and its adherents will likely shift some of their focus away from the United States as the geopolitical playing field levels, but those jihadis are more likely to focus on attacking local regimes before embracing the Sino-centric analysis of the jihadi movement's most farsighted strategic analysts.

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