Yesterday, together with the release of a picture of the alleged bomb that brought down the Russian airplane above Egypt, the ISIS propaganda magazine had another, perhaps even more actionable revelation: it confirmed that two hostages, a Norwegian national Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad, 48, and a Chinese captive, Fan Jinghui, 50, had been executed.
Two months before the release of yesterday's issue of Dabiq, in the September edition, on the second to last page, ISIS listed two prisoners, one Chinese and one Norwegian, as “for sale.”
Underneath the image of each hostage was a message: "To whom it may concern of the pagans, crusaders, and their allies as well as what are referred to as “human rights” organizations. This Norwegian prisoner was abandoned by his government, which did not do its utmost to purchase his freedom. Whoever would like to pay the ransom for his release and transfer can contact the following telegram number…"
The magazine did not offer any details on how the two hostages were captured or give a deadline outside of the postscript: “Note: This is a limited time offer.”
The tragic fate of both prisoners was revealed yesterday, when Dabiq announced that both had been "executed."
The news of the execution promptly raised what may be the most important question for the anti-ISIS conflict: will the last remaining superpower, China, join the conflict? This is what the Diplomat said yesterday: "With the Islamic State now directly killing Chinese citizens, will China be drawn into conflict in the Middle East?" It adds:
To date China has mostly stayed on the sidelines of the fight against ISIS, rather than supporting military operations against the group spearheaded separately by the United States and Russia. That’s in part because ISIS has not posed a direct threat to Chinese citizens, although Chinese officials have warned that the group has been successfully recruiting members of the Uyghur ethnic group.
That’s now changed – in addition to reports of Fan’s execution by ISIS, a Chinese citizen was shot during the attacks in Paris. China’s embassy in France reports that the victim is in good condition after being hospitalized. But China Daily notes that over 1,000 Chinese tourists were believed to be in Paris on Friday evening, when the attacks were conducted.
And, as a result of the latest announcement by ISIS, China's isolationist position has now changed and as Bloomberg reports "Xi Vows Terror Fight After IS Kills Chinese Captive" and as it further adds, China's President Xi Jinping condemned the Islamic State’s execution of a Chinese national, "an act that raises pressure on China to take a greater role in resolving Syria’s civil war."
Xi issued a statement on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila on Thursday, after Islamic State claimed credit for killing Fan Jinghui, 50, and another Norwegian captive. The group published pictures of the two dead men in its English-language Dabiq magazine on Wednesday under the banner "Executed." It was the first time the Islamic State had killed a Chinese captive.
"China strongly condemns the brutal murder of a Chinese national by Islamic State," Xi said, according to official China Central Television. "I express my deep condolences to the families of the victim. Terrorism is the common enemy of humanity. China resolutely opposes terrorism in any form and resolutely fights against violent, terrorist, criminal activities that challenge the bottom line of human civilization."
Some are sceptical that the execution of the first Chinese hostage by the Islamic State means an imminent military intervention by China: "While the killing might increase China’s urgency in seeking a resolution to the Syrian civil war helping Islamic State to thrive, it was unlikely to steer the country toward support for military intervention, said Li Wei, head of security and anti-terrorism research at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations."
Others, however, recall that during the 2013 Syria campaign, a reluctant China, after dragging its feet for months, did send several warships to the Mediterranean off the Syrian coast as the standoff between Russia and the US hit a crescendo unlike anything seen since the Cuban missile crisis.
As Bloomberg adds, China has for decades pledged to stay out of the "internal" matters of other nations, declining to back international sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or Russia over Ukraine, even as its overseas business interests proliferate. Last month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi outlined three proposals on the Syrian conflict, including political talks, humanitarian relief and greater anti-terrorism cooperation.
This time China may have no choice, especially now that both Russian and US aircraft carriers are headed for the Mediterranean sea, off the Syrian coast where in a rerun of 2013, they will encounter Russian warships once again. China can hardly avoid participating in what is certain to be another geopolitical showdown, even if one where the proxy enemy is a terrorist organization which seemingly the entire world is trying to eradicate and yet nobody has been able to for years.