US and Chinese Cooperation in Counterterrorism in the Middle East and Central Asia

Finding Ways to Move Forward

The United States and China do have many reasons to cooperate in counterterrorism, but they also have different political systems and different values. The United States sees some Uighur and Tibetan movements as legitimate political and protest efforts that China sees as threats to its security. The United States sees Iran as an extremist nation and the leading sponsor of state terrorism while China sees it as a regime that it may be possible to deal with in pragmatic terms. The United States and China are also divided over more strategic issues like how to deal with Taiwan, and sovereign rights in areas like the South China Sea. There are natural tensions between an existing superpower and an emerging world power, differences over the search for influence in Asia, and both compete on a global basis at the economic level.

At the same time, the United States and China have an overriding strategic incentive to cooperate where they can and to avoid any form of confrontation that could repeat the mistakes of the past and lead to the kind of race for power that led to two World Wars. While the US and China may be competitors in some ways, both benefit from the economic strength and security of the other, and from the overall stability and health of the global economy. The US may emphasize democracy and human rights while China emphasizes security and stability, but these differences are relative and both nations are threatened by Islamist extremism. Both nations have a powerful stake in the stability of the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and the stable flow of critical commodities and materials.

The Burke Chair prepared a study of ways to improve US and Chinese cooperation as part of the University of Peking conference on “The Potentialities of Cooperation between China and the United States in the Middle East and Central Asia.”  This paper is entitled US and Chinese Cooperation in Counterterrorism in the Middle East and Central Asia, and is available on the CSIS web site at

Brandon Fite