Archive for June, 2011

A new post for Whose World Order? this time based around comments I heard at an event I attended in Shanghai. Very interesting debate, more of which will feature in future posts once I get around to writing them. Note the quote that I left under the original post, a lovely quote I meant to include but omitted. Oh well.

Shanghai View: China as an external actor

Date: 30th June 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: ChinaMiddle East And North Africa,
Tags: None

Recently, with Jonas Parello Plesner, I wrote a policy paper in which we suggested that China’s reaction to Libya was something that reflected the glimmers of a new foreign policy direction for China. While I have since had some push back from foreign friends who tell me that we are focusing too much on one instance to read a bigger trend, I listened to an interesting presentation by a Chinese friend the other day in which he berated his leadership for their incapacity to act on the international stage.

The presentation came during a two-day conference on what Afghanistan was going to look like post- the US withdrawal. The event itself was a small discussion with long presentations and short discussions. Two elements leapt out at me: first was the fact that over two days of discussions (with mostly Chinese speakers) there was next to no outline of what a Chinese strategy towards Afghanistan (or Pakistan) might look like, and second, the final presentation by a Chinese friend that was a full-on broadside at China’s inactive foreign policy. In no uncertain terms he said that non-interference was another way of saying, “do nothing at all.”

With specific reference to Libya, he praised the successful evacuation of Chinese citizens, but also quoted Churchill’s comments after Dunkirk, that “wars are not won by evacuations.” In fact, he was rather condemning of the fact that it had taken the Chinese government so long to reach out to the rebel’s side when it was clear that they were headed for victory in the long run. Gadaffi was a busted flush, and the Chinese government (that has never liked Gadaffi for various reasons – his support of Taiwan, his former foreign minister’s comments about Chinese colonialism in Africa and Gadaffi’s own comments comparing what he was doing to Tiananmen Square), should have taken less than 80 days to get around to reaching out to the other side.

And the problems were not solely linked to indecision: there was also a very basic lack of capacity within the government in foreign policy terms. People had no idea about the Sunni-Shia difference and there was incomprehension about why the Iranians and the Saudis hated each other so much. This is something I have also heard in industry, where the big State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), have difficulties figuring out whom to send abroad to run their factories or branches since their staff have very little experience with the world. The government has been advocating for companies to reach out to gain managerial capacity and expertise from American or European counterparts.

Overall, his sense (and that of most participants) was that China had generally chosen to abrogate its policy in the Middle East and North Africa since it was a bit too far from home and it was a European/American sphere of interest. While China may have interests there, there was no particular interest in the body politic to actually go out and do anything about this. Instead, the focus was domestic, or more generally focused on waiting to see how things shake out over time while continuing to pursue new investments where they can be advanced.

But the problem with this is two-fold: first of all, this means China will wander into more situations like Libya where almost $20 billion has been written off and 30,000+ people have been evacuated at great expense and effort at short notice. And/or secondly, China will be obliged to simply go around paying people off to protect their interests in the world. The problem with this of course is that pay-offs will simply attract more predators. After it was discovered that the Italian government would tend to pay for its people who were being kidnapped in Iraq or North Africa, Italians were more actively targeted.

The discussion did not particularly come to an absolute conclusion. Instead, it circled around a group of serious thinkers who all seemed to agree with the broad conclusion that China’s foreign policy needed adjustment and in a more proactive direction. While a fellow foreign participant who was new to discussions with China was quite alarmed by this, in many ways it struck me as a potentially positive shift, showing China’s growing willingness to mature as a foreign policy actor. This was not quite the “responsible stakeholder” that Robert Zoellick had called for, but it was the inklings of a China that saw its interests lay beyond its borders as well. How it advances them, however, will be the subject of discussion for the next five years at least.

A short post for Whose World Order? on the pending birthday of the CPC. I am planning on doing another one on the upcoming film that is being released to coincide with it. Will undoubtedly be a big melodrama – Chinese friends are already warning me about it.

Shanghai View: Happy Birthday CPC!

Date: 24th June 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: , ChinaShanghai

July 1st marks the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) 90th Birthday, and the country is gradually gearing up for the big event, with large red Communist party flags going up all over the place. I noticed a giant flag appear on the huge shopping mall near me: a somewhat incongruous location for the hammer and sickle logo of socialism to appear, but strangely in keeping with the slightly surreal nature of this anniversary.

The mall itself has a certain history. Ba Bai Ban (八佰伴) was one of the first giant malls to appear in Shanghai (and I believe China), established in December 1995 by a Japanese company. It has eight floors of retail space and is somewhat comparable to something like Selfridges in London – selling high end consumer goods with concessions inside dedicated to recognisable brands like Hugo Boss, Zegna, and so on. According to a factoid I picked up online, it remains a leader in terms of volume of sales, shifting the most goods nationally for a single day’s sales on December 31st, 2008.

So to see the giant symbol of socialism to appear on it is a bit strange, though apt within the general contradiction of viewing Shanghai as a city in a Communist state. The city is awash with conspicuous consumption, with Ba Bai Ban long having been overtaken as the most high-end mall in Shanghai. Liujiazui, the most recognizable part of Shanghai, is littered with giant malls, an Apple Store and- I noticed the other day – a new Ferrari and Maserati showroom, which is soon to open.

Yet at the same time, Shanghai-ren are still proud of their Communist heritage. The city boasts the location of the first Communist Party of China National Congress, and has one of the three main national Party schools in it. But even the site of the first CPC meeting has been swept up in China’s more capitalist recent history, located as it is in the middle of Xintiandi, one of the city’s most affluent tourist attractions. It is surrounded by branches of Starbucks, and some of the Shanghai’s priciest restaurants whose prices top (or match) London’s best.

This contradiction exists at an ideological level too. For a planned central government to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship is bizarre, but the very ongoing existence of Party Schools is also strange. Senior individuals, or individuals who are tipped for the top, have to pass through these institutions of higher learning before they ascend further. As far as I can tell, while they are there they are drilled in the latest party doctrine and reminded that Mao and Marx are still their ideological forefathers.

I was asking around the institute whether people are excited about the CPC birthday, and for the most part received blank stares. Everyone is aware of it, and everyone will attend the big party meeting that is going to take place, but few seemed that enthused – dismissing it as “politics.” This is likely because, as they tell me, they are not getting a national holiday to mark the anniversary. That decision is probably intended to emphasise that it is industry and not indolence that should be celebrated, though I imagine productivity will be quite low.

For the time being, however, everything is going red, and the hammer and sickle is emblazoned everywhere. The newspapers are full of stories praising the CPC and looking forward to next period of high growth and success. An unnamed party official recently claimed that party membership has risen to 80 million – more than the population of France – though it remains the case that most people join because they think it will advance their careers. Whether it really makes any difference or not, the fact that people think it does shows the ongoing power that the CPC continues to have after nine decades.

A new piece for Jamestown analysing the recent video release in Chinese by the TIP. Not entirely sure what to make of this. It has since also been pointed out to me that it looks like the video was actually made back in April, which further raises questions about why it was released now. Any thoughts or reactions would be greatly appreciated.

Turkistan Islamic Party Video Attempts to Explain Uyghur Militancy to Chinese

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 25

June 23, 2011 04:15 PM Age: 5 hrs

Almost completely overshadowed by the death of Osama bin Laden, jihadi publishing house Sawt al-Islam released a bilingual video from the Turkistan Islamic Party in mid-May. [1] The video recounted various historic grievances held by western China’s Muslim Uyghur people against Chinese communist rule while promising new efforts to achieve the independence of “East Turkistan” (China’s western province of Xinjiang). While the substance of the video is not that novel, the fact that it has been released with a narration in Mandarin Chinese would seem to mark a new twist for TIP, a group that has thus far largely restricted itself to publishing magazines in Arabic with occasional videos in Uyghur.

The video is delivered bilingually, with a speaker identified as Faruq Turisoon speaking Mandarin in the flat tones typical of some Chinese minorities. The language he uses is fluent and rapid, demonstrating a level of linguistic capability that would suggest he has at least lived in Chinese speaking communities for some time. The Uyghur version is dubbed over the Mandarin, while the Mandarin version has subtitles in simplified Chinese characters similar to those commonly used in Chinese television and cinema.

During the course of the video we see Turisoon standing before a group of eight heavily armed men brandishing machine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers, with two men on horseback flying the black flag of jihad and the traditional blue flag of East Turkistan. The video is interspersed with footage from Abu Yahya al-Libi’s October 2009 video called “East Turkistan: the Forgotten Wound,” that was released in the wake of the rioting in Xinjiang in July 2009 (ansar1.info, October 7, 2009).  The new video also contains footage of unknown men in Middle Eastern garb talking about the situation in China on television and what appears to be footage from a release by al-Qaeda in Iraq in response to the 2009 riots.

The video is in the format of a “Letter to the Chinese People,” laying out Uyghur claims for independence and freedom for East Turkistan from the Chinese state (the region was independent of China for brief periods in the 1900s). In his speech, Turisoon repeatedly invokes China’s experience with Japan to make the Chinese people understand Uyghur perceptions of their treatment at the hands of the Chinese.

Turisoon cites the Cultural Revolution (the 1966-1976 period when Mao unleashed a purge of capitalist elements that ripped China apart) and Tiananmen Square (the June 1989 incident when the People’s Liberation Army cleared Beijing of protesting students) as incidents of when the Chinese government “wantonly killed” its own people. Added to this list he includes the rioting in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi in July 2009 that left around 200 people dead (of both Han Chinese and Uyghur ethnicity) and an uncertain number of Uyghurs incarcerated or executed subsequently.

Within the context of Uyghur complaints, his statements are quite traditional, and in the video he highlights well-known Uyghur grievances with Chinese government family planning policies, the large-scale immigration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang and the supposed emigration of Uyghur women from Xinjiang to other provinces. [2] He also discusses the exploitation of Xinjiang’s natural resources by the Chinese government and singles out the work of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a group founded subsequent to the Communist Party’s take-over of Xinjiang using demobilized Chinese soldiers to establish a foothold in the province. The XPCC still controls much of the province’s economy.

The exact reason for releasing the video now is unclear. In the weeks prior to its publication, a report in the Pakistani press claimed that Abdul Shakoor al-Turkistani, the supposed chief of the TIP, was elevated to the role of “chief of [al-Qaeda] operations in Pakistan,” so it is possible that this video was a reflection of a new push by the group to assert itself (The News [Islamabad], May 21). However, given the relatively low interest that al-Qaeda or any other groups have shown thus far in the plight of the Uyghurs and the close security connection between China and Pakistan that has likely stymied Uyghur groups’ efforts to carry out any attacks, it would be surprising if the release of this single video made much of an impact. During a visit last year to Beijing, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed the death of Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, the former leader of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM – an alleged predecessor of the TIP), and declared that they had “broken the back”  of the ETIM (Dawn, May 7, 2010; see also Terrorism Monitor, March 11, 2010).

It should be noted that at around the same time as the alleged meetings were taking place in which Abdul Shakoor al-Turkistani was elevated to his new role, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) undertook a counterterrorism operation along the Kyrgyz-Tajik-Chinese border northwest of Kashgar in Xinjiang. The exercise took the format of forces hunting down a training camp on the Chinese side of the border and rescuing a bus full of hijacked citizens. Commenting subsequently, Vice Minister of Public Security Meng Honwei declared that there were “signs [that] the ‘East Turkistan’ terrorists are flowing back….the drill was designed against the backdrop that they are very likely to penetrate into China from Central Asia” (China Daily, May 9).

The video received no coverage in the Chinese media (or anywhere else for that matter), likely a reflection of a Chinese official desire to keep the information out of public circulation, but also due in part to the fact that the Turkistan groups have largely failed to conduct any successful attacks and remain low-level players in the world of global jihadism. Aside from some (disputable) claims of responsibility for small-scale and low-tech efforts to attack buses or airplanes in China, the group has not particularly demonstrated a capacity to carry out terrorist attacks within China or beyond.

Nevertheless, documents released by Wikileaks concerning suspected Uyghur militants detained in Guantanamo show that there is a contingent that has in the past moved from China to training camps in Central Asia in response to the oppression they believed they faced. [3] When one couples this with the ongoing tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese that are clearly visible in parts of Xinjiang, it is easy to visualize the sort of potential for threat that exists. Whether this video in Mandarin is a direct threat that presages action is unclear, but it certainly shows the groups eagerness to continue to prove its existence.

Notes:

1. majahden.com/vb/showthread.php.
2. The phenomenon was described by Abu Yahya al-Libi in his October 6, 2010 video, “East Turkistan: The Forgotten Wound” (al-Fajr Media Center). Abu Yahya denounced “the forced displacement and transport of Muslim girls to the major inner cities of China. These girls are cut off from their families for many years, perhaps forever, under the guise of vocational training so that they are able to work in factories and elsewhere (so these atheists claim). Indeed, hundreds of thousands of these girls were displaced to drown in the sea of corruption, godlessness, longing for their homeland, and organized capture and dishonorable employment. This has left many Muslim women with no choice other than to kill themselves in order to escape the cursed law.”
3. See the Guantanamo records of Uyghur prisoners at www.wikileaks.ch/gitmo/country/CH.html

A short article for a new outlet, the International Relations and Security Network (ISN), a Swiss think tank that publishes a fascinating diversity of articles about key topics. Got a few more on this topic in the pipeline – much of which is the culmination of work I have been doing in China with EU support.

China and Europe: A Dual Track Strategic Partnership

22 June 2011

empty railroad tracks at sunset, courtesy of flickr
Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 GenericCan dual track relations converge?

While China-EU relations may not exhibit much strategic depth, each side remains an important trading partner for the other, and they maintain a high level of socio-cultural contact. Could this dual track dynamic simply be symptomatic of what “strategic partnerships” will increasingly look like?

By Raffaello Pantucci for ISN Insights


 

In the last several years, EU-China relations have been turbulent. Most recently, the Chinese government reacted angrily to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo and the broad European support for the choice, with the state press arguing that the decision “was tantamount to overt support for criminal activities in China.” This rage continues to impact Norway, where the Committee is seated, with Norwegian salmon exporters reporting that their fish are being held up by Chinese customs, rendering them inedible. Salmon exports have dropped 70 percent since last year, while discussions about a Norwegian Free Trade Agreement have been put on hold indefinitely.

EU-China Summits have also been marked by tumult in recent years. 2008 was a particularly bad year when, already spooked by events in Tibet and tensions during the Olympics, the Chinese leadership was infuriated by the Dalai Lama’s positive reception during his visit to Europe. When the French and sitting EU President Nicholas Sarkozy made time to meet with the Dalai Lama in December 2008, the Chinese responded by pulling the plug on that year’s summit. While the following year’s gathering was largely uneventful, 2010 proved problematic again when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who was expecting that his country would be granted the long-awaited Market Economy Status (MES) – which confers European recognition that China is a market economy and provides some anti-dumping protections – was instead handed a list of demands, during his Brussels visit. The meeting collapsed and a planned press conference was cancelled.

Trade – the tie that binds?

Nevertheless, strong economic and sociocultural ties exist. China remains reliant on, and has continued to do business with, Norway’s extractive industries in the wake of the Nobel Prize decision. And this relationship with Norway is representative of that found across Europe more generally. Economic relations have moved forward quite well – to the tune of 113.1 billion euros in European exports to China and 281.9 billion euros from China to Europe in 2010. And Wen, Hu Jintao and Li Keqiang’s recent trips to Europe all resulted in promises of significant investment to help bolster faltering European economies.

Social and cultural exchanges are also on the rise. A whopping 210,000 Chinese are studying in Europe, while some 25,000 Europeans study in China. Chinese business schools have expressed a keen desire to learn managerial skills from their European counterparts. Already the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai is one of the world’s best, and, at a recent conference, a senior foreign ministry official announced that a delegation from the National Party Congress would be dispatched to Europe to learn more about managerial and technical expertise and build further links with their European counterparts.

But such socio-cultural links also show fissures. While China might encourage the development of personal contacts and cultural or educational exchanges, it restricts the volume of foreign films that enter the Chinese market, and European and American shows do not play on Chinese television. And the British Council, the UK’s main instrument for global cultural outreach, is not permitted to teach English in China, depriving it of one of its main sources of income.

China may welcome Europeans and their investment, but they continue to make it difficult for companies that want to bring new technologies into the country. As Juergen Hambrecht, the CEO of German chemical multinational BASF, said, in response to Chinese demands that foreign companies wanting to enter the Chinese market had to hand over technical information: “forced disclosure of know-how in exchange for investment decisions” is something “that doesn’t conform entirely to our expectations.” In addition, companies that work in what China considers ‘strategic sectors’ are only allowed to enter the Chinese market as part of joint ventures. At a recent round-table of European business representatives in Shanghai, a number of participants complained about the bureaucratic obstacles they encountered, for example, when the central government might look favorably on their investments, but a local government would exclude them in favor of local competitors.

But none of this is very surprising. A country naturally looks out for its own interests, and China is merely following that course. That the companies involved tend to be state-owned simply means that the government-business linkages are clearer than in Western scenarios.

Bridging dual track relations

Indeed, China’s financial pressures are significant. While the country has witnessed dramatically high levels of annual growth in recent years, its leaders continue to insist that China remains “a developing country.” And, in some ways, this is of course true. A visit to the wilder regions of Xinjiang will reveal people living in almost medieval conditions – a stark contrast with the dizzying, glamorous heights of Shanghai’s Pudong New District.

Contradictions also exist within EU-China relations. On the one hand, Europe and China remain highly interdependent with significant trade flows in both directions. At the same time, however, deep tensions obviously exist, and security relations are largely absent from the bilateral dialogue. While this may seem to fall far short of a genuine strategic partnership, existing ‘strategic partnerships’ rarely exist without these kinds of serious contradictions. For example, while France and the US fell out dramatically over Iraq in 2003/2004, they nevertheless remained close partners, with their respective national intelligence services continuing to work together out of Paris to counter the threat of international terrorism. This was at a time when the US Congress was speaking of “Freedom Fries,” and French leaders spoke out against the war and United States to rapturous applause at the UN.

The point is that strategic relationships between states are complex bilateral interactions with both positive and negative elements. China and the EU may not have a relationship with the same sort of strategic depth as the transatlantic alliance, or, for example, China’s relationship with Pakistan, but, at the same time, both parties have overwhelming incentives to make it work. In this way, the EU-China strategic partnership is similar to the relationship between the US and China, the key distinction being that the US has a clearer decision-making structure than the EU. This key difference can be found in most of the EU’s bilateral relationships, where a lack of clarity from Brussels, and competing opinions from member states, leaves partners frustrated.

modus vivendi must be established before the EU and China can become more than just trading partners. Issues like MES and the continuing European arms embargo against China weigh heavily on the relationship and have no clear resolution in sight, while any European effort to speak out on human rights draws a sharp rebuke from China. Europe needs to establish a coherent voice on these issues and figure out what, beyond trade, it wants out of the EU-China relationship. From China’s perspective, the relationship is both frustrating and effective – on the one hand, efforts to get the technology it wants are blocked; on the other, EU member states are always clamoring for Chinese investment, leaving China to pick and choose where and when it wants to engage.

Unfortunately, dramatic changes in EU-China relations are unlikely anytime soon. China will continue to want what Europe cannot give, while Europe’s fractured decision-making will impede any capacity to move things forward. At the same time, both sides will remain crucial trading partners, with China’s recent investments in European debt merely strengthening the link. This may not be a strategic partnership that will be able to re-shape the world anytime soon, but it is one that works and needs to work; for the time being, accepting the limits of current dynamics would be a good start.

 


 

Raffaello Pantucci is a China Program Associate at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. The research for this article was made possible thanks to the EU STF Program.

A post for Whose World Order? offering some thoughts to have emerged from a recent conference that I helped organize in Shanghai around the EU-China Year of Youth. Should be some more bits coming out from this soon.

Shanghai View: Generation gaps in China & Europe

Date: 21st June 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: , EuWelfareYouthChinaCultural Revolution

We were lucky this week to be able to help organise a conference in Shanghai around theEU-China Year of Youth, supported by the EU STF Programme and co-hosted by theShanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS). The one-day event was entitled “What World Have They Left Us? A discussion about generations between Chinese and European Youth,” and brought together a group of young Chinese and Europeans to talk about generation gaps, and what they would advise their leaders to do to address the problems these gaps create.

One major point of discussion was the expanding welfare burden that both China and Europe face, thanks to ever-growing aging populations. In both, current younger generations are paying for welfare and pension benefits that they are unlikely to be able to enjoy themselves. But in China, these problems are exacerbated by the fact that there is estimated shortfall of 30-70 million girls, due to the combination of the one child policy and a preference for male children over females. This is going to lead either to a lot of frustrated men in the future or a large influx of foreign brides (or maybe both). The one child policy was continuously raised as an issue, but no-one could offer a solution to it. Most of the Chinese participants said that they felt that the government was right to introduce it, given the over-population in China.

From a European perspective, the aging question is not a new one. It was noted, however, that while in Europe the young used to be seen as a problem and a threat, aging populations suddenly mean that they are now seen as a potential resource that must be exploited more effectively.

The other big focus of discussion was the question of values between generations. The difference in life experience between old and young in China is huge: one generation has lived through the ardors of the cultural revolution, while the younger one is enjoying an Apple-designed and Starbucks-fuelled lifestyle, and being told that China is the new superpower. As one European characterised it, China has gone from a “no culture” generation to a “Chinese culture is the best in the world” generation.

A young Chinese recalled being in Australia when the patriotic film The Founding of a Republic was screened. She described sitting in a cinema full of Chinese students, who got up when the flag appeared at the end and sang their national anthem – much to the surprise of the Australians in the theatre. The intriguing thing was that the young woman who raised this story used it in the context of being quite concerned about the extreme nationalism she noticed among her age group. Another young Chinese later launched into a rather angry diatribe about the utter loss of values amongst younger generations – his particular anger focused on the sexual amorality he saw around himself.

From a European perspective, it seemed as though the generational dislocation was less dramatic – one European participant said that he felt that his values were probably quite similar to those of his parents. Perhaps the bigger gap in Europe’s case is one generation further back – it was his grandparents’ generation that experienced the earth-shattering events of World War Two, and which often has very different values and experiences to those of their children, our parents.

In the end, one of the key conclusions was the fact that there was a homogenisation of views on the problems that younger generations face in China and Europe. Younger generations are going to be dealing with problems that are remarkably similar, and what is striking is the fact that both seem to be responding in similar ways. A bland conclusion maybe, but at the same time one that perhaps bodes well for the broader EU-China relationship, pointing towards an increasing confluence of opinion that might help the two overcome the current tensions that dominate the bilateral relationship.

Another op-ed for the South China Morning Post, this time written in conjunction with my friend Lifan Li who has been immensely helpful during my time in China. The article is timed to be pegged to the 10th anniversary of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and it is highly likely that this topic in general, China and Central Asia, is going to be a big focus in the near future. It is a fascinating subject that I have looked at before and did my post-graduate work on. At this point, unfortunately, the article is behind the SCMP’s paywall, but if you drop me a note I can probably help out.

Cosying Up

China’s holistic approach in Central Asia is gradually paying off. Ten years after its founding, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is helping Beijing advance its cause peacefully.

Lifan Li and Raffaello Pantucci

June 15, 2011

Ten years on and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) remains a work in progress. It has achieved much in its short life, but its hesitation in resolving unrest in Kyrgyzstan last year and its ongoing inability to contribute much to improve stability in neighbouring Afghanistan have shown the limits of its power. All of these raises questions about the grouping’s aims and hopes for the next decade.

China is increasingly becoming a force in Central Asia, a predominantly Russo-Turkic region. On the ground, it is still possible to find expressions of tension towards China, but, nevertheless, growing numbers of Central Asian families are electing to send their children to China to study. From Kazakhstan alone, there are some 1,600 students now in Chinese universities; Shanghai has 800 students from Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, numbers electing to go to the West are shrinking.

Find the rest here.

A new piece over at the Guardian, looking at the perennial question of al Shabaab and its western recruits. I realize the conclusion might be seen as a bit exaggerated, but it does seem to me that we are potentially running the risk of going in this direction and at the end of the day it is often what we don’t expect that happens. The question is how long will this sense hang over us. As usual thoughts and comments warmly welcomed.

Al-Shabaab: the American Connection

There’s ample evidence of radicalised US citizens wooed to fight in Somalia. We need to ensure they don’t bring the jihad home.

A fighter from al-Shabaab, Mogadishu

A fighter from al-Shabaab runs for cover from a burnt-out African Union tank during fighting in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, 2 July 2010. Photograph: Feisal Omar/Reuters

The news of another American suicide bomber shows, once again, the deadly allure of jihadism among a small number of young US citizens, but it also casts a light on the potential danger that allowing the conflict in Somalia to continue unabated poses. Now that we are at the third possible American suicide bomber in Somalia, it is time to take stronger measures to solve this problem – before it comes back to haunt us in the west.

In a cynical way, the news is a tidy resolution for security services. The fact that these young men have died abroad means they will no longer be able to pose a threat at home. But this fails to take into account the larger threat that these deaths represent, both in terms of the embedding of jihadist ideas in North America, but also the growing menace internationally of the al-Shabaab group.

The story of the American jihad is not new. At this point, we have seen jihadist plots in the US with links to all of the major jihadist battlefields abroad, and in many cases, they have involved US citizens. And within the US, there have been a number of plots uncovered involving Americans who have radicalised and chosen to participate in plots that may have concluded in terrorist attacks. The conviction of Tahawwur Rana for his role in a plot targeting Denmark was merely the latest manifestation.

Somalia and al-Shabaab (whose name literally means “the youth”) is a subset of this issue, but one that has been growing in importance as it becomes clear that the group has been able to draw to itself both young ethnic Somalis and an ever increasing number of radicalised young men and women from other ethnicities. Young Shabaab leader Omar Hammami, for example, is a Daphne, Alabama native of Syrian descent who left the comfort of the US to serve as a leader in the Somali group using the nom de guerre “Abu Mansur al-Amiriki”. And he is not alone, with some of his compatriots agreeing to act as suicide bombers in that war-torn country.

But in parallel to this trend of young Americans leaving to fight jihad, al-Shabaab has gradually escalated the tenor of its violence. From a group that was a wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which emerged from the rampant warlordism gripping Somalia, Shabaab has steadily risen to become a formidable fighting force that has absorbed other groups and taken and held increasing chunks of territory. It has also demonstrated a capacity to launch coordinated attacks beyond its territory of control. In October 2008, it sent six suicide bomber teams deep into usually peaceful northern Somalia; one of those bombers was Shirwa Ahmed, a 26-year-old Somali American from Minneapolis. Then, in July of last year, as people enjoyed the football World Cup final, a pair of suicide bombers sent by Shabaab blew themselves up in Kampala, Uganda, killing some 74 people.

In between, there were numerous other bombings, attacks and firefights inside Somalia, alongside a growing trend for terrorist plots or attacks in the west – all with links to Shabaab. A group in Australia, frustrated in its ambition to go fight in Somalia, was disrupted while apparently plotting to attack an army base in Melbourne. A young Somali Dane, who was picked up and repatriated to Denmark by Kenyan forces as part of an alleged network planning an attack against Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, tried to kill cartoonist Kurt Westegaard for his role in the Mohammed cartoons. And a group of young Britons, who had attended outward-bound camps in the UK alongside attempted London suicide bombers in the UK, went to Somalia seeking connections with a-Shabaab.

It is unclear whether al-Shabaab directed any of these attacks or groups, but the connections are worrying. As the head of Britain’s MI5 said last September, “I am concerned that it is only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside al-Shabaab.”

Yet, the prevailing western tendency has been to observe the problem, rather than engage with it. While direct intervention in Somalia is clearly a bad idea, a more focused effort is needed. Broad sweeps of the Muslim community, exemplified in New York Representative Peter King’s recent congressional hearings on radicalisation, are not helpful: they put people’s backs up while failing to address a problem that only affects a minority within a minority. Instead, efforts should be focused on demythologising jihad. Former fighters who have returned and changed their minds can foster a counter-narrative, while jihadist websites in the west need to be taken down and the webmasters identified. Fundraising and support networks should be pursued, and the community needs to be persuaded that turning a blind eye to this activity is only going to attract negative unwanted attention. Some of these measures are likely already being deployed, but clearly, they are not proving totally effective.

The pattern that can be observed in the Somali jihad is one that replicates almost precisely the pattern that culminated in the 7 July 2005 bombings in London. Let us learn from those mistakes and ensure that it does not culminate with a similar atrocity in the US or elsewhere.