|The Chinese reaction to the circumstances surrounding Osama bin Laden's death were mixed with admiration for a successful covert operation, and fear for where Washington would start focusing its attention next [EPA]
The United States' most vilified terrorist foe has been dead only a week but China is already haunted by the phantom of the next big US enemy. Almost simultaneously with the spread of the news of Osama bin Laden's death in a covert US operation in Pakistan, Chinese analysts had begun the guessing game of where Washington will focus its attention next.
"Why didn't they catch him alive?" speculated military affairs analyst Guo Xuan. "Because he was no longer needed as an excuse for Washington to take the anti-terror war outside of the US borders. It is because of bin Laden that the US were allowed to increase their strategic presence in many places around the world as never before. But Libya and NATO's attack there have changed the game. They (the US) no longer need bin Laden to assert their authority."
Even before bin Laden's death, Beijing had expressed concern that the US strategists are diverting their attention from the war on terror to containing the rise of China and other emerging economies.
A long article on Libya stalemate published by the editor of Contemporary International Relations magazine, Lin Limin, argued that the US has been unwilling to take the lead role in the Libya conflict because it has "finally woken up to the fact that its main reason to worry are the emerging countries.
"If the US position on Libya is not only a tactical stance but a strategic one and they have really come to understand that they should not waste military power and energy in numerous directions 'spreading democracy' all over the world but should begin focusing their attention on the rise of emerging countries, then we do have a reason to worry," Lin argued.
The US presence in Afghanistan has always been a controversial one for Chinese politicians. China joined the global war on terror because bin Laden's political agenda of setting up an Arab caliphate and sponsoring terrorism presented a direct threat to its restive Muslim north-western region of Xinjiang. But Beijing has been suspicious of the US intentions, worrying that Washington is pursuing a broader agenda for long-term presence in the region, which China regards as its backyard.
Beijing officially hailed the killing of the terrorist leader by the US as "a milestone and a positive development for the international anti-terrorism efforts".
"Terrorism is the common enemy of the international community. China has also been a victim of terrorism," foreign ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying after bin Laden's death.
She was referring to Xinjiang, where Muslim separatists have been waging a bloody insurgency against Chinese rule. Beijing had linked the global war against terror with its struggle to quell separatist sentiments in the Muslim region, insisting insurgents are aided from outside.
Chinese public reaction to the news of bin Laden's death has mixed reluctant admiration at the success of the secret mission played out reportedly on screens in front of US president Barack Obama with outright fear over what comes next.
"The whole thing seemed like an intelligence operation lifted straight out of '24' (a TV series about US counter-terrorism agents)," said Huang Mei, a TV producer with barely concealed awe. "How advanced and confident they must be to ask their president to watch the killing mission on screens live!"
But some see bin Laden's demise as a blow to efforts to promote a school of Anti-American thought.
"The great anti-America fighter bin Laden was murdered by the US! How sad!" wrote one commenter on Sina's popular Weibo micro-blogging site.
"Is this real? Excellent!" wrote another of the news. "Now the only terrorist left is the United States!"
Commentators have begun analysing the political capital reaped by Obama and preparing for the possibility that he may win a second term in office. Writing in Beijing's Xinjing Bao, commentator Chen Bing predicted the US will exploit the death of bin Laden to expand its influence in the Middle East and bring the Arab spring to an end.
"What a great way to issue a warning to all anti-American politicians in the region," Chen said. "And a declaration that it (the US) intends to mould the Middle East according to its own design."
A version of this article first appeared on Inter Press Service news agency.