China has a long-held policy of non-interference in other countries affairs
But Beijing is likely to quietly support the U.S. fight against ISIS, analysts say
NEW: China's foreign ministry says willing to enhance communication and cooperation
Support is likely to be symbolic rather than substantive
With a long-held ethos of non-interference in other countries’ affairs, risk-averse China is perhaps an unlikely ally in President Barack Obama’s pledge to “degrade” and “destroy” ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
But with Beijing’s growing unease about terrorist threats by Islamist extremists at home, analysts say China – a U.N. Security Council permanent member - is unlikely to oppose plans to build a “broad coalition” to go after ISIS.
“I think China in principle will quietly support this idea to curb ISIS,” says Chen Dingding, an assistant professor of government at the University of Macau.
“ISIS has openly listed China as a major threat to them and if they gain more influence, it’s likely they will target Xinjiang and even other parts of China,” he added.
Earlier this month, Iraqi news reports showed pictures of what they said was a captured Chinese national fighting for ISIS.
China’s foreign ministry said it could not confirm the reports.
Many domestic observers assumed the man was Uyghur, a mainly Muslim minority group that lives in Xinjiang, an ethnically divided region in China’s north west.
It remains unclear whether the captured man was actually Uyghur, but Xie Tao, a professor of political science at Beijing Foreign Studies University, says that there is “deep concern” among security analysts and commentators.
“If these groups have cells in Xinjiang, if it can be confirmed that ISIS members were recruited from China, if we are already becoming a ground for recruitment for these people then China has a stake in keeping ISIS away from its borders,” said Xie.
While China, along with Russia, has blocked U.N. Security Council action on Syria during the three-year civil war, both Chen and Xie said that China would likely support a generic resolution that condemns terrorist atrocities and authorizes an international force to target ISIS.
“This is not going to be a resolution that China will veto. This is not about sovereignty or (Syrian President) Assad,” said Xie.
In response to a reporter’s question on whether China would join U.S. efforts to combat terrorism, Hua Chunying, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said that China hoped that “with joint efforts of the international community, the countries involved will soon restore stability and order, achieve reconciliation, peace and development.”
“Abiding by the principles of mutual respect and equal cooperation, China is willing to enhance anti-terrorism communication and cooperation with the international community so as to safeguard international security and stability,” she added.
The United States has been critical of China’s reluctance to get involved in international security issues given its expanding global interests.
In August, Obama called China a “free rider” for its reluctance to contribute to international security while importing oil and other resources from places like Iraq.
China has sent a special envoy to the Middle East to help facilitate dialogue between Israel and Palestine but changes to its traditional non-interventionist foreign policy have been limited in scale.
Last week, National Security Adviser Susan Rice made her first visit to China, reportedly conveying hopes that China might join an international coalition to collectively combat terrorism.
But its support is likely to symbolic rather than substantive, says Xie with scant chance of Chinese combat troops on the ground.
“We’re not really ready to take that leap.”
CNN’s Serena Dong in Beijing contributed to this report