The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has thus emerged as a new component of the Chinese security calculus. Beijing is worried that the rise and spread of Sunni militant Islam so close to its borders, including neighboring former Soviet “Stan” countries of Central Asia, will kindle radical elements in Xinjiang. Sunni militant Islam also threatens to become a strategic and an ideological nightmare for China’s massive and unprecedented multi-billion dollar investments from Xinjiang westward across Central Asia, the linchpin of Beijing’s future vision of energy security and economic development. Sunni radicalism could hinder, if not derail, the realization of Beijing’s Silk Road Belt initiative, presenting a major obstacle to building out a vast overland transcontinental transportation and energy infrastructure.
And so China gravitates increasingly towards Iran, which it believes can act as a buffer zone against the eastward advance of Sunni radical Islam. In November Meng Jianzhu, who heads domestic law enforcement in China, paid a visit to Tehran, where he struck deals to expand cooperation in the fight again terrorism.
“China and Iran have broad common interests in fighting terrorism,” Meng said, “and China is willing to further step up cooperation with Iran and play a proactive role in maintaining both countries’ security interests and promoting regional peace and stability.”