Wednesday, March 12, 2014

When is Terrorism Not?

The item below has been posted on New America Media.

Eight assailants dressed in black wielding knives and daggers plowed through the crowd at China’s Kunming train station, slashing and thrusting at random human targets on the night of March 01, 2014. By the time the carnage ended, 29 civilians died and over 140 injured.

By any civilized measure of humanity, the random killing of innocent people, elderly and children included, qualified as an act of terrorism. Indeed, China’s official newswire promptly reported the incident as a terrorist attack and held the Xinjiang separatist movement responsible for the massacre. 

Western mainstream media such as AP, CNN, New York Times et al. re-reported the story as they learned from Xinhua and other Chinese sources. Since no one from the western media was on the scene, their reports attributed the news to Chinese sources and put quotation marks around the word terrorist to indicate that they were quoting from Chinese reports.

China's People's Daily promptly took umbrage about the use of quotation marks and accused the Western media for harboring double standards. China claimed that when acts of violence took place in the West such as 9-11, the perpetrators were ipso facto terrorists. When victims were Chinese in China such as the slaughter at the Kunming train station, there was a wink and nod intimating that the attackers were freedom fighters.

Indeed when the White House spokesperson were first asked about what occurred in Kunming, she grudgingly allowed that it was an act of terrorism, but only after much prompting from the press corp.

China’s thin-skinned reaction can be explained by a history of one story, two interpretations, i.e., China’s official version and a western version tinged with a dose of anti-China bias. 

In the case of Xinjiang, one clear example of the bias was what happened to the Uighurs rounded up in Afghanistan as suspected members of Al Qaeda. After years of internment in Guantanamo, they were not handed over to China at China’s request but released to some willing eastern European host nation. Apparently the mere possibility of their fighting for the non-existing East Turkestan state was enough to render them less than full-blown terrorists and should not fall into the clutches of Beijing.

Seven days after the massacre, the American consulate general from Chengdu went to the Kunming train station to lay a wreath expressing condolences to the victims of terrorism. Subsequent official statements from the US government also acknowledged that it was an act of terrorism-- without equivocating quotation marks.

China side seemed mollified by the subsequent US response. They seemed ready to turn their attention to the unofficial, informal visit of the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and her daughters to China taking place later this month.

Nonetheless, the world has come to expect the rule of double standards in American diplomacy.

For example, the US is persistent in criticizing China for their record on human rights and for one party rule rather than rule by free election. Democracy is the only acceptable form of government so far as Washington is concerned, notwithstanding the many democracies that have failed or are failing.

Further, the US has not been true to its own pro-democracy stance but has made exceptions when the exceptions were more conveniently aligned to its national interest. Past examples that come to mind: The CIA orchestrated collapse of the freely elected government in Iran and later in Chile because the elected leaders were not to Washington’s liking.

Egypt is a more recent example of American exceptionalism. Mohamed Morsi was the rightfully elected leader until deposed by street protesters which led to Egypt’s military strongman, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to take over. Since Morsi’s support base is the Moslem Brotherhood, not exactly on the White House favorite guest list, Washington is not complaining or interfering.

Ukraine is an even more blatant example. By most accounts, Yanukovych is a corrupt leader and he does not like the West but is pro-Russia and in Putin’s pocket. But he has not been vacated as the elected leader of Ukraine by any legitimate due process. Even so the U.S. couldn’t act fast enough to support the ad hoc opposition in Kiev.

Washington needs to get off the holier than thou, ideology based high horse and work to develop pragmatic relationships based on shared interests. China has to deal with terrorist organizations and so does the US. In a globalized world, terrorists can move to anywhere. Being the two major powers most susceptible to attack, the US and China need to cooperate to more effectively deter terrorism.

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