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China’s war on the “Three Evil Forces”

TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images China has been working with its neighbors lately to step up the fight against terrorism, ethnic separatism, and religious extremism, a triumvirate Beijing calls “The Three Evil Forces.” It sounds like something out of Tolkien, but “The Three Evil Forces” is no fantasy. In fact, Beijing is using the phrase both ...

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TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images

China has been working with its neighbors lately to step up the fight against terrorism, ethnic separatism, and religious extremism, a triumvirate Beijing calls "The Three Evil Forces." It sounds like something out of Tolkien, but "The Three Evil Forces" is no fantasy. In fact, Beijing is using the phrase both to promote cooperation and to rally China's western neighbors against nascent independence movements like that in restive Xinjiang province.  

China and its fellow members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (or SCO, which includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) are gearing up for unprecedented joint military exercises in August. According to the China Daily, these exercises "will demonstrate the determination and capability of SCO member countries to combat 'The Three Evil Forces'." Meanwhile, Chinese Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang recently reminded the Pakistani government of its commitment to fight these evils. The upshot? Pakistan invaded the Red Mosque.

TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images

China has been working with its neighbors lately to step up the fight against terrorism, ethnic separatism, and religious extremism, a triumvirate Beijing calls “The Three Evil Forces.” It sounds like something out of Tolkien, but “The Three Evil Forces” is no fantasy. In fact, Beijing is using the phrase both to promote cooperation and to rally China’s western neighbors against nascent independence movements like that in restive Xinjiang province.  

China and its fellow members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (or SCO, which includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) are gearing up for unprecedented joint military exercises in August. According to the China Daily, these exercises “will demonstrate the determination and capability of SCO member countries to combat ‘The Three Evil Forces’.” Meanwhile, Chinese Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang recently reminded the Pakistani government of its commitment to fight these evils. The upshot? Pakistan invaded the Red Mosque.

We can laugh about the language being used, but Chinese diplomacy is actually becoming pretty sophisticated. With the strong states of Central Asia, Beijing’s message is about combating evil and crushing dissent. In Africa, China’s tag line is “Friendship, Peace, Cooperation and Development,” while in Southeast Asia—where people are wary of a historically imperial China—the Chinese talk about “trade and trust.” Beijing carefully selects each of these slogans to suit the circumstance, as none would work as well in any other part of the world. It’s a diplomatic strategy that has been quite successful, as we can see from China’s booming trade and burgeoning popularity in all these regions.

Maybe even Washington could learn something from China about how to make friends.

Sam duPont is a Master's candidate at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School and focused his capstone research on transitional democracies and elections in fragile states.

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