Beijing: Efforts to forge a global united front against terrorism have become complicated as some countries have "abused" the definition of terrorism by portraying terrorists as "freedom fighters", a senior Chinese General has said.
Addressing the two-day Beijing Xiangshan Forum modelled on Singapore's Shangri-La Dialogue, Major General Wang Jingwu named Turkey, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia where he said terrorists are expanding their presence, while significantly omitting Pakistan, China's all-weather ally, from the list.
Counter-terrorism is facing new and increasingly complex challenges ranging from rising levels of online terrorist activity to state-sponsored terrorism, Chinese and foreign defence experts who took part in the interaction on international counter-terrorism cooperation at the forum said.
These problems will require more holistic approaches, stronger consensus and deeper cooperation among countries, official media here reported.
Speaking at the interaction on international counter-terrorism cooperation, Wang, Commandant of China's college of international studies of the National University of Defence Technology, said counter-terrorism efforts have become complicated as some countries are "abusing" the definition of terrorism and counterterrorism mechanisms to advance their own national goals, state-run China Daily reported.
"Terrorists in one country might be considered 'freedom fighters' and get support from another. If we can't even have a common understanding of what a terrorist is, the future of global counter-terrorism efforts will be very difficult," the newspaper quoted Wang as saying.
To tackle these issues, Wang suggested that countries should forge a stronger consensus against terrorists' acts against humanity and their use of violence to advance their goals.
India -- which has been alleging cross border terrorism from Pakistan for years -- proposed the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) in the UN in 1986. It is still pending due to lack of consensus on the definition on terrorism.
In his speech, Gen Wang called for more counterterrorism operations under the United Nations framework. He said that increased intelligence-gathering capabilities, online and legal collaboration between nations, promotion of cultural multilateralism and elimination of fundamentalist and radical thinking are also the key.
The global fight against terrorism is losing steam as the US, "one of the main pillars of counterterrorism", has recently switched its strategic priorities to competition between big nations, and tackling terrorism no longer carries the same significance as it once did in 2001, Wang said.
For its part, China is concerned over the sudden withdrawal of the US troops from Syria followed by Turkish offensive as it is apprehensive that large number of militants of the Islamic State, many of whom are Uighurs from China's volatile Xinjiang province, would escape and return to step up violence.
Wang said that apart from expanding their presence in countries such as Turkey, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, terrorists are also moving into the virtual realm by spreading propaganda, attracting recruits and financing their operations via social media and the darknet.
"Terrorists are becoming more globalised, internet-savvy and younger. This poses serious challenges to global counter-terrorism efforts because terrorists are becoming more scattered and elusive, and they can carry out surprise attacks in a wide range of locations,” he said.
"The internet is now a new battlefield for counterterrorism, and (fighting terror) is a herculean task that will require considerable effort from the global community," he said.
Despite the defeat of the Islamic State group in Syria, the threat of terrorism still looms large and is spreading within Asia and Europe, Wang said.
In 2017, the world witnessed around 8,580 terrorist attacks, leading to more than 18,700 deaths, he said.
So far, this year there have been around 1,545 terrorist attacks and 6,825 fatalities around the world, Wang said.