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Dragon on Terrorism: Assessing China's Tactical Gains and Strategic Losses Post-September 11

Authored by Dr. Mohan Malik.

October 2002

69 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The U.S. relationship with China and the global war on terrorism are the two most significant strategic challenges faced by the Bush administration. Both are vital and complex; the way the administration manages them will shape American security for many years. While there is a growing literature on both key strategic issues, little analysis has been done on the intersection of the two. This monograph fills the gap as the author assesses how the war on terrorism has affected China. He concludes that the war on terrorism radically altered the Asian strategic environment in ways that negated China's foreign policy gains of the last decade and undermined its image as Asia's only great power. He then offers a range of recommendations for a more stable relationship with China.


Every major event in history has unintended consequences. A major unintended (and unsettling, from Beijing’s standpoint) consequence of the U.S.-led War on Terrorism has not only been to checkmate and roll-back China’s recent moves at strategic expansion in Central, South, and Southeast Asia but also to tilt the regional balance of power decisively in Washington’s favor within a short period of time, thereby highlighting how tenuous Chinese power is when compared to that of the United States. In this sense, September 11, 2001, should be seen as a major discontinuity or nonlinearity in post-Cold War international politics. New strategic and political realities emerging in Asia put a question mark over Beijing’s earlier certainties, assumptions and beliefs.

This monograph offers an overview of China’s foreign policy goals and achievements prior to September 11, examines Beijing’s response to terrorist attacks on the U.S. mainland, provides an assessment of China’s tactical gains and strategic losses following the September 11 attacks, and concludes with an evaluation of Beijing’s future policy options. It argues that if China was on a roll prior to 9/11, in a complete reversal of roles post-9/11, it is now the United States that is on the move. The U.S.-led War against Terrorism has radically altered the strategic landscape, severely constricted the strategic latitude that China has enjoyed post-Cold War, undermined China’s carefully projected image as the next superpower, and ushered in new geopolitical alignments whose ramifications will be felt for a long time to come.

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