Rising Powers Initiative- Sigur Center for Asian Studies
Policy Alert #50- April 25, 2013
Boston Marathon Bombings Elicit Mixed Reactions from Asian Powers
In this Policy Alert, we examine the contrasting reactions of Russia, China and India to last week's bomb attacks on the Boston Marathon. Commentaries from these Asian powers reflect the differences in their attitudes on how to define and respond to problems of terrorism.
Editorials expressed mixed views on how the Boston bombings may impact US-Russia security relations while also using the incident to criticize US actions and policies against terrorism.
President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed their commitment to strengthen US- Russia security coordination in a recent telephone conversation. However, others expressed skepticism:
- Though Russia's Federal Security Service and the FBI have promised to focus on "all aspects of the challenge," intelligence sharing efforts are "hampered by mistrust, bureaucracy, and self-interest," said Russian intelligence expert Andrei Soldatov.
- "The Boston terrorist attack may provide for an uptick in the U.S.-Russian security partnership, but we should be careful not to overdramatize its significance for overall U.S.-Russia relations," wrote George Washington University's Cory Welt. "The history of post-9/11 relations suggests that a stable and constructive U.S.-Russian relationship cannot be built mainly on a counterterrorism foundation."
- Duma Deputy Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party member Vlidimir Zhirinovsky predicted that the U.S. faces a grim future of repeated attacks. "There is a clash of civilizations. The United States bombs the Islamic world, and what can they do in return? As long as Islamic countries are being bombed, attacks will occur in London and New York."
Several editorials criticized the U.S. for holding double standards regarding terrorism:
- The Nezavisimaya Gazeta observed that "Western countries and their partners in the Near East support some terrorists as much as they can, while trying to expose, bring to account, and sentence others to the longest possible sentences, and in some cases, even to use the death penalty against them... Until we stop dividing extremists and terrorists into friends and foes, the war against this evil will be reminiscent of tilting at windmills."
- "Anyone that the US backs in their war, in the US agenda, they are considered freedom fighters. Anyone who is against the US is seen as terrorists, or fundamentalists," added the Russia Times.
- "Hopefully, Russia's own war on terror...may now get at least more understanding, less bias and prejudice in the US and the West as a whole," wrote journalist Sergei Strokan.
Besides expressing condolences to the victims and condemning the perpetrators of the bombing, Chinese commentary drew attention to differences between China and the US in defining terrorism, particularly with regard to groups in Xinjiang. Similar to the Russian view on this, the Chinese criticized the US for its double standards:
- China and Russia "define terrorism without regard to the reason behind the attacks, while Western countries such as the US and the UK attach importance to the 'motives' of any attacks on civilians," stated a Global Times editorial. This is one aspect illustrating that "world powers are not in a long-term alliance in their anti-terrorism efforts, allowing terrorism to linger on among these powers."
In the Chinese view, the bombing also underscored a similarity between China and the US: the need to maintain domestic stability:
- "Public security is the basis for social harmony," argued the Global Times. "Expenditure on domestic social stability is something that both the US and China share." However, greater public awareness and vigilance are necessary to fight terrorism: "While the [Chinese] government is implementing all kinds of identification and tracking systems, the public almost invariably links them to effects on democracy and freedom, and few think about social security issues."
There was also criticism that "respect for life in the media appears to have different grades," given the disproportionate media coverage of the Boston bombings while other acts of terrorism were also occurring around the world. An editorial in the People's Daily specifically pointed to recent bombings in Somalia, Iraq and Pakistan as examples.
In contrast to the Russian and Chinese criticism of double standards, the Indian press focused mostly on India's own problems with terrorism and praised America's official and civilian response to the bombings as a model for India to emulate.
Editorials in papers from across the political spectrum lamented the way that Indian government and society have dealt with terrorism.
- At a basic level of emergency preparedness, "though India is more frequently attacked, each incident catches our system unawares, every lesson has to be learned all over again," said The Indian Express.
- Even more important than the efficiency of response, however, is the level of "civic trust" across sectors in society, argued The Business Standard. The editorial commended US law enforcement for withholding any speculation of the attackers' identity and motives, and praised the co-operation between the citizenry and police.
- A similar critique emphasized India's lack of national unity when confronting terrorism. The Hindu praised the US and UK, where "terror is seen as a common threat, a national challenge that requires and demands a unified response." The Times of India placed the blame on opportunistic politicians, pointing to an Indian congressman's comment that the April 17 bombing of the Bharatiya Janata Party's Bangalore office would help the party's electoral prospects: "Politicization of terror is largely responsible for India' ineffectiveness in fighting it."
Critics of the US at this moment were rare, with exceptions such as Kamal Mitra Chenoy of Jawaharlal Nehru University, whose op-ed in The Pioneer said "the inevitable happened" because since 9/11, "the
number of countries and people now hating America could fill up a medium-sized continent."
On the international implications of the bombings, The Hindu called for called for US-Russia cooperation in the next stage of investigation. "Among the many lessons from Boston is that international co-operation on fighting terror needs to be taken more seriously, irrespective of the nature of relations between two countries."