As the US-led campaign against the Islamic State grinds on, China has unexpectedly offered to help in the war effort, Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Lucy Hornby report for the Financial Times.
Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, has offered to help the Iraqi military defeat the militant group by providing support for ongoing air strikes. However, Chinese assistance would come unilaterally and outside of the framework of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State.
“[Mr Wang] said, our policy does not allow us to get involved in the international coalition,” Ibrahim Jafari, Iraq’s foreign minister who was in talks with Yi, told the Financial Times.
China’s unwillingness to join the coalition may make its military contributions to the war effort similar to Iran’s. Iran has started conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State along the Iraq-Iran border without membership in or even clear coordination with the US-led coalition.
China’s interest in Iraq is largely driven by Beijing’s investment in the Iraqi oil industry. According to the Financial Times, China is the largest foreign investor in Iraq’s oil sector. Beijing draws one-fifth of its oil from the country and about 10,000 Chinese nationals were working in Iraqi oil fields before the Islamic State’s blitz across the country this past summer.
Chinese intervention in Iraq would further demonstrate Beijing’s willingness to flex its military muscle in order to shield its economic interests abroad. In September, China announced it would deploy 700 infantry soldiers to aid the United Nations mission in war-torn South Sudan. It is suspected that China has sent the soldiers to protect oil interests, as China receives 5% of its crude oil from South Sudan.
China is also becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the Islamic State’s existence and may view the group as a national-security treat. An estimated 300 Chinese nationals, largely from the country’s Uighur minority, are believed to be fighting alongside the militants.
The 300 extremists are thought to have been members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a group based in China’s Xinjiang province that has carried out attacks throughout China.