The Chinese Regime’s Engagement With Bad Actors

August 31, 2021 Updated: August 31, 2021


The foreign policy of the Chinese regime assumes that the current ruling power in a country is the legitimate ruling power. Consequently, despite an international consensus to the contrary, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) engages with the Burmese junta, as well as with the Taliban.

China wants to avoid foreign entanglements and is not interested in changing regimes, only in maintaining stability which will keep their investments safe. China’s policy of non-interface also allows them to fund foreign terrorist organization, to protect Chinese interests, which it sees as a legitimate business expense.

Burma (also known as Myanmar) lies on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as One Belt, One Road). Consequently, the Chinese regime has numerous infrastructure investments and projects in the country, totaling over 28 percent of the country’s GDP. In return, Burma pays 4.5 percent interest to China. Although China has always traded with the junta, the CCP also funds various rebel armies, including the United Wa State Army and Arakan Army.

The Chinese regime’s policies of non-interference and non-intervention prevent Beijing from intervening during genocide, military coups, civil war or terrorism, which the CCP sees as the internal affairs of a sovereign nation. These policies also allow the CCP to engage with terrorist organizations.

Epoch Times Photo
Chinese leader Xi Jinping (C) attends a bilateral meeting with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (not pictured) at the Presidential Palace in Naypyidaw, Burma, on Jan. 18, 2020. (Nyein Chan Naing/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Maintaining domestic stability and ensuring stability in regions where China is investing are among the regime’s top priorities.

Between 2004 and 2014, Beijing claims that numerous Chinese citizens have been the victims of Islamic terrorist attacks abroad and at home. The Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan was attacked by a suicide bomber. Chinese citizens were killed in terrorist attacks in Mali, an ISIS bombing in Brussel’s Airport, as well as terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, Cameroon, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mali, Pakistan, Syria, Thailand, and the United States.

Additionally, the CCP claims that numerous Chinese have been killed in domestic terrorist attacks related to Xinjiang, home to ethnic Muslim minorities. The CCP has passed national security and counterterrorism laws, and beefed up the presence of the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Armed Police, as well as increasing surveillance and social control in the region. However, more than one million Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities are being held in internment camps in Xinjiang, in what the United States has designated a genocide. Beijing denies these abuses, and describes the camps as “vocational training centers” to combat “extremism.”

China is dependent on continued stability in numerous Muslim majority nations, as the BRI incorporates numerous Muslim nations, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Pakistan, and the Central Asian Republics.

While Beijing is willing to engage with the Taliban to protect Chinese investments in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it asked the international community to deem the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a “terrorist organization.” Originally, the U.S. government had supported calling ETIM terrorists, but this designation was later revoked by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a move which China condemned. The regime insists that fighting ETIM should be part of international counter-terrorism efforts.

About 70 percent of China’s petrol comes from the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the regime’s investments are exposed to the threat of Islamic extremist terrorism. After having made significant petroleum investments in South Sudan, Beijing found itself embroiled in a civil war which tested its usual stance on non-intervention. The actions taken by the CCP in South Sudan suggest that it was a trial run for China to eventually take an active role in geopolitics as a world power.

The civil war broke out in South Sudan in 2013. China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) had made major investments in the country, hoping to cash in on South Sudan’s 3.5 billion barrels of crude oil. Initially, Western nations criticized the CCP for supporting the Khartoum regime, which they saw as a bad actor, guilty of human rights violations, including genocide.

After deadly attacks on Chinese targets and the evacuation of Chinese workers and business people, the Chinese regime had to intervene, to prevent their investments from failing.

While China was supporting the government, they also hedged their bets, by giving financial support to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM/A-IO), a rebel group which opposed the government, in order to guarantee the safety of Chinese oil investments. The CCP’s simultaneous support for both a genocidal regime and the rebels opposing it underscores the fact that China will accept the incumbent power as a legitimate power, and that Beijing will engage with strongmen and other bad actors in the name of maintaining stability.

The attraction of crisis zones is that Chinese investors can tap into completely undeveloped markets, free of competition. For the regime, these are countries deeply in need of infrastructure investment and development. Many war-torn countries are unable to obtain financing through international channels due to default risk. Rejected by traditional lenders, these countries turn to China, who then becomes both the lender of last resort and a “friend” in time of need. This type of debt-trap diplomacy has won China the allegiance of Cambodia, Pakistan, Burma, North Korea, and soon, Afghanistan, among other nations.

Laborers walk through the Gwadar Port in Pakistan, a multi-billion dollar infrastructure project that China has invested in as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. (Amelie Herenstein/AFP/Getty Images)
Laborers walk through the Gwadar Port in Pakistan, a multi-billion dollar infrastructure project that China has invested in as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. (Amelie Herenstein/AFP/Getty Images)

Indian sources have claimed for years that China supported terrorist activities of the Naga separatist movement. As recently as 2020, Prime Minister Modi’s government had been warned that four of India’s most wanted insurgent leaders, including three Naga separatists, have received weapons and training in Kunming, China. Beijing denied these accusations. India also alleged that Burma’s United Wa State Army (UWSA), which is supported by the CCP, gave training to terrorists in India. The UWSA similarly refuted the allegations.

On Sept. 28, 2020, Indian security forces intercepted weapons being shipped to Naga insurgents, along the India/Burma border. India alleged that the weapons were sent by the Arakan Army, another insurgent army inside of Burma that is supported by China. It is believed that the CCP engages with the Arakan Army to protect its investments in roads and gas pipelines running from Burma to China’s Yunnan Province.

The official policies of the CCP are non-intervention and non-interference in the affairs of other sovereign nations. These policies serve Beijing’s objectives in several ways. First, they allow China to avoid participating in most peacekeeping missions and military interventions led by Western nations. Next, the policies allow China to engage with whichever party or entity holds power in a nation. China can then circumvent or refuse to participate in sanctions and boycotts brought by the international community. Often, sanctions and boycotts actually work in China’s favor, eliminating competition. These policies allow the CCP to earn positive returns on investments, without having to choose sides or making enemies. Extending a financial lifeline to a despised regime expands China’s sphere of influence.

Beijing interprets the rules on non-intervention as also applying to terrorism. Consequently, the CCP need not deem foreign groups as terrorist organizations and need not intervene, when called upon to do so by Western nations. When necessary, the CCP can even give financial support to these groups, justifying it as an investment, rather than aiding terrorism.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Antonio Graceffo
Antonio Graceffo
Antonio Graceffo, Ph.D., has spent over 20 years in Asia. He is a graduate of Shanghai University of Sport and holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University. Antonio works as an economics professor and China economic analyst, writing for various international media. Some of his China books include "Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion" and "A Short Course on the Chinese Economy."