China gives cautious response to Obama's Islamic State call

Updated 11 Sep 2014


Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. — Photo by AP
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. — Photo by AP

BEIJING: China responded cautiously on Thursday to a call by US President Barack Obama for a broad coalition to root out Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, saying the world should fight terror but that the sovereignty of countries must be respected.

Obama also told Americans on Wednesday that he had authorised US air strikes for the first time in Syria and more attacks in Iraq in an escalation of a campaign against Islamic State.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the world was facing a terror threat that was a “new challenge” to international cooperation.

“China opposes all forms of terrorism, and upholds that the international community must jointly cooperate to strike against terrorism, including supporting efforts by relevant countries to maintain domestic security and stability,” Hua told a daily news briefing when asked about Obama's comments.

“At the same time, we also uphold that in the international fight against terrorism, international law should be respected and the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of relevant nations should also be respected,” she added.

“China is willing to continue increasing exchanges and cooperation on fighting terrorism with the international community on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation.” China has repeatedly expressed concern about the upsurge in violence in Iraq and the march of Islamic State, but it has also opposed any outside military intervention in Syria.

In July, China's Middle East envoy said that Muslim extremists from China's far western region of Xinjiang had gone to the Middle East for training and some may have crossed into Iraq.

Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people who speak a Turkic language, has been beset by unrest for years, blamed by Beijing on Islamist extremists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.

While many experts outside China doubt these groups have anywhere near the abilities Beijing accuses them of, some Uighurs have made their way to Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years.

China is Iraq's largest oil client, and its state energy firms, which include PetroChina, Sinopec Group and CNOOC Ltd, together hold more than a fifth of Iraq's oil projects after securing some of its fields through auctions in 2009.

Obama vows Syria air strikes to destroy Islamic State

United States President Barack Obama on Wednesday ordered a “relentless” war against the Islamic State, including air strikes in Syria and expanded operations in Iraq to “destroy” the marauding jihadist army.

  US President Barack Obama delivers a live televised address to the nation on his plans for military action against the Islamic State. — Photo by Reuters
US President Barack Obama delivers a live televised address to the nation on his plans for military action against the Islamic State. — Photo by Reuters

Obama — the president who hoped to go down in history for ending wars, not starting an open-ended escalation in the Middle East — also pledged to bolster Iraqi forces and to increase military assistance to Syria's opposition.

In a somber, measured prime-time televised address, Obama said the Islamic State, which has beheaded two US journalists and seized a swathe of land in Iraq and Syria, was a uniquely brutal group even by the blood-soaked standards of the Middle East.

“They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape and force women into marriage,” he said.

Such barbarity could occasion only one response, Obama said.

“Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy,” Obama said, steeling his nation for a new foreign war.

“I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq,” he said, using an alternative acronym for the self-declared Islamic State.

“This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven. “A senior US official left no doubt that Obama's words represented an order for military operations in Syria, despite his long-held reluctance to get embroiled in the country's civil war.

“There will be action in Syria,” the official said, but declined to say when the first strikes would take place. “We are not going to telegraph our punches. “A senior defense official added: “The US military is ready to conduct direct action against ISIL targets in Syria.

Neither Iraq, nor Afghanistan

But, seeking to preserve his doctrine of replacing strength-sapping wars using bogged-down land armies with limited but lethal arms-length warfare, Obama compared the new conflict to anti-terror operations in Somalia and Yemen.

And he made clear in the 14 minute address that the new front against terrorism will not become a repeat of the exhausting ground wars of the last decade.

“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Obama said.

“It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. “Instead, Washington will empower local partners like the Iraqi forces, Kurdish fighters and Syrian rebels, to fill in territory opened up by US air power.

US operations in Somalia and Yemen have largely used drone strikes and air raids, though US special forces did stage a raid in Somalia last year, which failed to snare its target, a prominent Islamist militant.

A US official also said that Obama would loosen the previous criteria for air attacks on IS in Iraq, which were stipulated on the need to safeguard US diplomatic personnel and avert humanitarian tragedies.

“If there is an ISIL target in Iraq that we need to hit, we will hit it, “the official said.

Obama also announced the dispatch of another 475 military personnel to help train Iraqi forces to take on the Islamic State, bringing the total number of US troops in the country to 1,600.

Obama made clear that the burgeoning challenge of IS, which has carved out a haven in Iraq and Syria that has made national borders obsolete, had made him change his mind about arming Syrian opposition forces.

He also called on Congress to swiftly authorize an operation to train and equip moderate Syrian fighters.

Saudi King Abdullah, to whom Obama spoke earlier on Wednesday, had promised to support the effort, officials said.

Obama also warned that Washington would never work with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to combat IS, arguing he had lost legitimacy by waging a brutal civil war against his own people.

He urged lawmakers to swiftly approve a $500 million request for funding for the Syrian training mission which he first made in June.

He said he believed he had the power to conduct the campaign against IS under existing anti-terror authorisations.

Politically, Obama's address, on the poignant eve of the September 11 attacks in 2001, which pitched the United States into an unresolved confrontation with radicalism, was an attempt to shore up his position after a few tricky weeks.

'Steady, relentless'

His admission last month that he didn't yet have a strategy to take on Islamic State in Syria exposed him to withering political attacks from his Republican foes.

In this speech, in which he promised a “steady, relentless” combination of US air power and foreign partners he repeatedly used the word “strategy.

“Speaking from the ceremonial State floor of the White House, looking directly into the camera, Obama said that his new strategy had only been possible because Iraqi politicians had converged and formed an “inclusive “government to unite the country and take on IS.

He also urged US national unity as he girded his countrymen for a new battle in the Middle East that could outlast his presidency.

“We stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity,” he said.

“Tonight, I ask for your support in carrying that leadership forward. “Obama's Republican foes welcomed his robust new anti-IS policy -- but many accused him of dithering for weeks over what to do.

“I support the president's plan to train and equip the Iraqi Security Forces and Syrian opposition, but I remain concerned that those measures could take years to fully implement,” said House Speaker John Boehner.

House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, was more generous, saying Obama's plan was “an encouraging step in the right direction. “Michael McCaul, chairman of House Committee on Homeland Security added: “Tonight the president seemed to have faced reality.“