In 1839 Imperial Governor Lin Tse-hsu began enforcing Chinese laws against British traders selling opium in Canton. As he wrote in a letter to Queen Victoria, the British themselves had banned opium trade and consumption in their country because of its harmful effects; why then were they exporting opium to other countries? Unlike his predecessors, Lin was impervious to bribes… and so the British government sent in gunships. By the time the shooting stopped in 1842, Britain had won the right to sell all the opium it pleased; over the next thirty years opium trade - and addiction - doubled. So began what the West calls the era of "gunboat diplomacy" and what the Chinese call "the century of humiliation." The lessons of that painful century were not lost on the Chinese; nor were thinly veiled threats of nuclear attack made by the United States during the Korean War and throughout the 1950s.
The Chinese have a limited nuclear capacity - by most estimates no more than 400, as compared to the approximately 7,000 nukes in America's arsenal and 6,000 or so in Russia's. Their deployment strategy emphasizes mobility and pre-launch survivability. China's nuclear force is deployed in mountain caves, in deep gorges along the Yangzi River, and in thick tropical forests. In the Lop Nor nuclear testing area the Chinese set up six identical bases to confuse and discourage spy planes and satellites. China has repeatedly said that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in combat and that it will not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear power. However, it has been criticized for its support of nascent nuclear programs in Pakistan and Iran, despite its ratification of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. China and India have had chilly relations since the beginning, and China sees Pakistan as a regional counterweight against an enemy who could destabilize Tibet; it sees Iran in a similar light against the U.S., Russia and NATO.
China is keenly aware of the threat posed by Islamic Fundamentalism in Central Asia; in its Xinjiang Autonomous Province, Uighur Separatists are fighting for an independent East Turkestan. Since 1997 China has executed an average of two Uighurs a week for separatist activities; it has also pressured Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to turn over suspected Uighur separatists from their territory. The Xinjiang Autonomous Province remains a potential hotspot, and one which China will continue to monitor closely. They are not likely to accede to separatist demands - the Xinjiang province is believed to have oil deposits which rival Kuwait's - nor are they likely to sit back and allow Islamic radicalism to gain a foothold on China's border.
If the Chinese are not keen on allowing Islamic fundamentalists to gain the upper hand in Central Asia, neither are they comfortable with a strong American or NATO presence there. The Chinese are very protective of their borders, and might well decide to retaliate if they felt threatened: we found this out the hard way during the Korean War. The People's Revolutionary Army of 2.8 million soldiers is the world's largest; in a pinch, China could call upon a pool of some 150 million draft-eligible citizens.
China will most certainly be keeping a close eye on events in Central Asia and in the region. The Chinese are also very capable of playing their opponents off against each other; they've been doing foreign relations for some 4,000 years. In the long run, China considers NATO and Russia far more dangerous adversaries than Bin Laden; any support they give to the "War on Terrorism" will only be that which they believe advances their interests.
People's Daily (English Edition) http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/ China News Agency http://www.chinanewsagency.com/ Xinhua News Agency (English) http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/index.htm China News Digest (English Edition) http://www.cnd.org/Global/