Are the Chinese next on Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s Hit List?

Algeria’s Kechba gas plant from the air. Photograph by Adam.

Although China’s role in North Africa generally gets less attention than its investments south of the Sahara, the Asian giant’s economic, political and security footprint in this region has also long been widening and deepening. China is heavily engaged in Libya and Algeria’s energy, mineral and construction sectors, the number of Chinese migrants to the region is believed to be steadily rising, and as with the rest of the continent, Chinese manufacturers are happily taking advantage of the demand for cheap manufactured goods.

However, along with China’s growing opportunities, influence and presence in North Africa, there have also emerged some new dangers – not least the rising threat from militant Islamist groups operating in the region.

Although these armed groups may be pleased at one level to see their traditional Western enemies being displaced to an extent by the Chinese, the new Eastern power could also find itself being targeted. After all especially since the Arab uprisings of 2011, China has made a number of diplomatic missteps in which it could have been seen to be backing the wrong horse, while its treatment of its own Muslim Uyghur population back home could mean its rise in North Africa is seen by some as one infidel replacing another.

Though China may want to conduct a strictly business approach to its foreign policy and try not to interfere in anyone else’s domestic affairs, it is finding that its heavy footprint will inevitably shake some groups up the wrong way.[More]