War transforms once more: The rise of a new type of warfare in the pacific
Klaouzevits, had warned us almost two centuries ago, war is a chameleon, it changes its form constantly, hiding his phase and transforming from one type to another.
The latest transformation in the naval warfare took place in the World War II and introduced itself with an infamous act. The Japanese attack, in Pearl Harbor. The Japanese navy tried to win the war by sinking the entire US Pacific fleet, using not the big guns of its battleships, but the airplanes of its carriers. So, it was in the Pacific, where sea warfare as we understand it in the last 70 years, developed and formulated. Big carriers, loaded with airplanes, were seeking the enemy in the vast Pacific Ocean and they were launching them, to destroy him. In that war, enemy sailormen never saw each other. The carriers were launching their planes hundreds of miles away from the enemy forces. The battles were fought in the skies near and above the carriers. The actual fighting was taking place between enemy pilots who were trying to shoot down each other and between bomber pilots and the air defense capabilities of the carries and the other ships. In stark contrast the sea battles in the Atlantic were more of a traditional type and the last great battles between warships had taken place there, like the hunt and sinking of battleship Bismark.
The importance and the invincibility of the combined maritime and air power proved its value many times over during the cold war. USA carrier groups with the ability to project power everywhere in the world, the monstrous firepower and flexibility of their airplanes, secured the sea lines of communications, protected American interests all over the world and contributed to a great degree to the final victory over the USSR. Those magnificent and marvelous ships seems that they are about to meet an able opponent. The new weapon system that are promising to change once again the phase of sea warfare actually is a combination of an already existing technology and of one that is developing fast. The first technology, is the missile technology already mature and easy to master. The second technology is about flying at extremely high speed (hypersonic speed- that is in excess of mach 5 and up to mach 20). Flying a controllable vehicle in that speed sets a series of technical problems that are not solved yet. Probably the major problem is to create a jet engine that could work in that conditions.
To be accurate, supersonic antiship missiles are in service for many decades now with the once Soviet Navy and now its successor Russian Navy. Their development and adoption is due to qualitative and numerical inferiority of the Soviet naval forces in the cold war. USSR had to find a credible, cheap and easy way to negate the American threat, of course not globally but in the littoral areas of the Soviet empire. The soviet engineers came up with the use of supersonic missiles launched from a variety of platforms (planes, ships, land launchers). The first Russian cruise missile AS-1 was actually a modified MIG-15 in an antiship role. The development, production and use of supersonic missiles remains a vital and central Russian strategy today with the latest 3M82 / Kh-41 Moskit / SS-N-22 Sunburn and P-800 / 3M55 / Kh-61 Yakhont / Brahmos / SS-N-26 Stallion missiles.
Additionally, Russia became a major supplier of supersonic missiles both to China and India and the main partner of both countries in developing their own systems, providing the necessary technology and knowhow.China adopted and copied Russian supersonic missiles for much the same reason that made them indispensable to the Soviet war machine. PLA for decades lacked the appropriate naval power to defend and control its nearby seas. The latest member in the countries that built and operate supersonic missile is India which produces in cooperation with Russia the Brahmos missile. The Brahmos use a combination of a conventional missile for the first stage of its flight and a ramjet engine for the final approach to target. It has a cruising speed of Mach 2.8 (3,400 km/h) and a 290 km range and it can it can fly from an altitude of 15 km to mere meters above the waves.In contrast, and in full compliance with the paradoxal logic of strategy, as Luttwak another strategist claims, US and NATO choose to develop an efficient and capable air defense and not to engage in a competition in developing supersonic missiles of its own. Recognizing the grave danger to the fleet and especially to the most valued ships of all, the carriers, hurried up to beef up the air defenses especially in the antimissile field.The most prominent example is the combination of the F-14 Tomcat, a billion dollar airframe and the Phoenix missile, solely designed and built to engage and kill air breathing threats long before they reach the American flattops. The above combination is not the only defensive measure but one of many. Other systems including CIWS Phalanx, antimissile missiles, electronic counter measures etc., were developed in a more or less expected effort to protect Americas most valuable asset. Therefore West even at this time hasn’t got any supersonic missile equivalent to the Russian ones.
Eventually the cold war ended, leaving US as the only superpower in the world. Alas, new threats emerged like terrorism and new rivals appeared in the horizon like China. In response to the new security environment, new ideas about new weapons and the different use of old ones came up. The common theme and the main idea behind the new concepts, was one physical element, essential in warfare, namely speed. Speed regarded by American agencies as the new stealth, providing the necessary superiority to friendly forces. Superfast missiles compress the time defenders have to react to an attack and to successfully engage it and if used in large numbers can saturate the air Defence systems and defeat at low cost even an expensive and powerful carrier battle group.Among the first ideas, was the retrofitting of old nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles and arming them with conventional war heads. That way, they could be used against an array of targets without provoking a nuclear response. The idea quickly abandoned because of the obvious disadvantages. Once a ballistic missile is launched the enemy has no way of knowing what kind of warhead is carrying, thus a nuclear war may start due to an ambiguous act. Moreover a ballistic missile launched to strike a terrorist cave in Afghanistan, or Africa would follow the same ballistic path that could be used to target Chinese or Russian cities, provoking a nuclear response. US Congress taken into account these ambiguities and uncertainties stopped the development of the project, despite the many attempts by military planners to obtain approval of their plans and adequate funding.The plan was part of a program—in slow development since the 1990s, and now quickly coalescing in military circles—called Prompt Global Strike.On the other side of Pacific Ocean though, such qualms never appeared. China’s PLA probably copying the American concept developed the very same weapon that US Congress banned. China converted an intermediate nuclear ballistic missile into an antiship missile named Dong Feng 21D. This ballistic missile is launched toward space and arcing back to earth at speeds of about Mach 10 with a reported range of about 1,500 km. China, developed this missile as a “carrier killer”, an easy, effective and cheap way to challenge Americas naval supremacy in the Pacific Ocean, denying access to East China Sea to American vessels and ultimately leaving Chinese forces unopposed to secure the capitulation of the other Asian states and eventually regional hegemony.
So far, we have talked about already existing technologies, albeit in a new role. All the weapons are either modified ballistic missiles with conventional warheads or supersonic cruise missiles with speeds up to 3 or 4 Mach’s, nothing exotic and nothing new.The really interesting, revolutionary, new and game changing technology is hypersonic flight that enables vehicles to fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5 and up to Mach 20. These hypersonic vehicles are not missiles. Missiles carry their own fuel and oxidizer, a feature that permits them to operate in thin air upper atmosphere and outer space, but limits their flight profile and uses. In contrast, hypersonic vehicles are airbreathing vehicles that are using atmosphere’s oxygen just like turbofan and turbojet engines. Such vehicles,could travel at missile speed but will have the maneuverability and agility of an aircraft, making easier to avoid defenses, to change course en route to target and all that in a more economical way.
Where is the catch? Those wonderful capabilities demand the development of a new kind of engine that can operate reliably in those high speeds. Existing turbojet and turbofans engines can operate at speeds of about Mach2. Ramjets (jet engines without spinning blades like turbofan or turbojets but with specially designed inlets capable of slowing and compressing the airstream), can operate in higher speeds of about 3 to 4 Mach’s. Hypersonic vehicles operating at speeds above Mach5 require the development of scramjets (supersonic combustion ramjets) engines, capable of igniting and maintain combustion in a stream of supersonic air. Technology hasn’t provide a credible answer yet to this challenge. To make matter worse ramjets and scramjets cannot start flying on their own; they must be accelerated by a carrier aircraft or a first stage missile.The first successful flight test of a scramjet vehicle took place in the 1990’s by a group of Russian, French and American scientists, though it’s not quite clear if supersonic combustion was achieved in those tests. More recently, Russia and India are reportedly working together to produce a scramjet version of Brahmos missile. As for China beyond the DF-21D project that we have already mentioned, there are reports that is testing its own hypersonic vehicle. The Qian Xuesen National Engineering Science Experiment Base is one the centers that research and development about hypersonic technology take place. Recently, according to American and Chinese media, China tested an hypersonic vehicle that reached Mach 10 speed, above its territory. American media designated it as WU-14.Despite all that China, India and even Russia are still far away of their target to build a credible, reliable, operational ready, hypersonic vehicle.
Interestingly enough – or maybe not- the country that has the most advanced and more numerous such programs is USA. To begin with there is the X-51A Waverider, that was tested last summer, over the Pacific Ocean and is produced by a consortium composed of USAF, Boeing, DARPA, NASA, Pratt and Whitney, Rocketdyne and the USAF Research Laboratory’s Propulsion Directorate. The test ended after a malfunction resulted in the destruction of the vehicle. Of course the X-51A, it’s not the only program developed under the prompt global strike iniative, the Pentagon supports and funds DARPA’s Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 and Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon. And we’re not finished yet; another promising project is based on one of the Cold War legends, the famous SR-71 “Blackbird” spy plane. SR-71 had a revolutionary combo machine “J-58” consisted of a turbojet mounted inside a ramjet. That combination enables the SR-71 to start flying on its own and to go supersonic in high altitude. This project named SR-72 potentially would fly at Mach 5 and besides reconnaissance missions it would be capable of carrying and deliver air to ground munitions. Those munitions will have their own hypersonic features and Lockheed’s Skunk Work laboratories which are responsible for those hypersonic programs are calling them “High Speed Strike Weapon”, essentially an hypersonic missile that would be suitable for use by future bombers and fighter aircrafts. Lockheed believes that in the future “speed will be the new stealth”, meaning that if you’ re flying extremely fast the enemy will not have the time to detect you and shoot you down.
Furthermore DARPA recently announced the launch of yet another one hypersonic experimental program. It is called Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) and according to DARPA its purpose is to develop a reusable unmanned vehicle with costs, operation and reliability similar to a traditional aircraft yet capable to ascend to suborbital altitudes to deploy satellites into Low Earth Orbit. Despite the many advantages that hypersonic systems would have in future battle space we should not get too excited. The needed technology is still in its infancy and we’re probably many years away from their operational deployment. Furthermore the paradoxal logic of strategy is working even before those systems became operational, producing the antidotes that will provide the necessary means, mainly for a carrier battle group to counter a swarm attack by supersonic missiles.
Those technologies in contrast to supersonic missiles are for the most part already developed and ready to be tested in operational deployments. Among them the most promising is the laser guns that would be used to counter asymmetrical threats such as drones, speed boats,missiles and so on. The laser guns with their ability to fire fast, accurate and continuously without the fear of running out of ammunition are already installed in US navy ships. Other systems include electromagnetic rail guns and revolving missile launchers. Those weapons are also being developed but the US armed forces, an astounding fact that exemplifies their resolve not only to hold but to expand their superiority over their potential competitors.To conclude, Pacific Ocean once more is becoming the workshop of a new type of warfare. Warriors of both sides will never see each other in those wars but will depend on systems fast, lethal and accurate to destroy the enemy in mere minutes or even seconds. Additionally despite the strengthening of potential competitors, USA still is the most powerful, sophisticated and intelligent actor in the area. Furthermore, although anti access and area denial capabilities are an important element of maritime strategy, still the real and paramount ability of a navy, the only one that will ensure victory is to confront the enemy navy in the sea and defeat it.
Japan-Indian Equalizer of China’s Rise
The two-day visit of Japanese Minister Fumio Kishida to New Delhi on March 2023 suggests that political and geopolitical events are actively performed in the Indo-Pacific region. A military-political alliance or at least close, deep cooperation in the political, economic and military-technical areas is gradually and very systematically developing between Japan and India. The parties have a long history of connections, and we witness an incremental systematic deepening of these contacts. Now we are talking about interesting agreements in the infrastructure of the economy, trade and military-technical cooperation. It is especially worth mentioning the general military training, which is still in an air format. Still, I think it will soon be in other military cooperation areas. It has been said in commentary by Georgi Asatryan, Ph.D., political scientist, expert for ASOF (California), former associated professor for the Moscow State University, and senior lecturer for Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, political scientist Georgi Asatryan.
Of course, we need to say that India and Japan have certain competitive relations with the Asian superpower China. And in this regard, they are deepening cooperation to restrain the ambitions of a growing China. Here again, it is worth mentioning Japan’s security strategy, which was adopted in December, and as many as three key instruments were revised. This is the national security and defence strategy and the Japanese military construction program. A big part is given to cyber security, economic security, diversification of economic relations, and infrastructure relations.
And, of course, neither India nor Japan calls China an enemy or a threat. But there is an understanding that we are talking about a strategic challenge, and all this is aimed at preventing China. It is also worth noting that the USA is invisibly present in this group, and Japan has a significant agreement with the USA. In fact, it is a military alliance outside of NATO. In January 2023, Biden and the Japanese minister met. A complete joint statement was published where it was noted that this union does not have certain borders and that the union of the USA and Japan is ready to resist any threats these countries face. And, of course, Taiwan’s sovereignty is important for Japan.
For India, this is less essential. But in any case, the parties are actively building advanced relations within international organisations such as QUAD, which includes Japan, India, Australia, and the United States. Within this framework, a particular security structure is being created in the Indo-Pacific and the Asian region, which should restrain the excessive ambitions of a growing authoritarian China. It should be noted that the Indian and Japanese leadership are achieving some success in this matter. There is quite serious progress, which is permanent and visible in all areas of relations between these countries.
The goal of India-Japan cooperation is to stabilise the Indo-Pacific region by restraining Chinese behaviour. Geography shapes their responses differently, with Japan focusing on maritime capabilities, and India on the land. There are differences, too, in the fact that fellow Quad members Japan and Australia are formal military allies of the US, while India is not. But what is shaping the new initiatives and orientations are fears of China and in this, Japan and India provide the two key lynchpins of the free and open Indo-Pacific.
In December, the Kishida government revised three key documents relating to its security perspective in the region. These were the new National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy and the Defense Buildup Program. Taken together, these are addressing new domains and challenges, including space, cybersecurity and economic security. The new documents said that Japan was “facing the most severe and complex security environment since the end of World War II.” A major concern was that China could attempt to reunify Taiwan by force in the coming decade. Tokyo does not quite yet designate China as a “threat”, its chosen designation is “the greatest strategic challenge that Japan has ever faced.”
But perhaps the most significant development was the sentence in the Biden-Kishida joint statement January 2023 which said that not only had the alliance never been stronger but that the allies “strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion, anywhere in the world.” More than anything else, this statement marks the change in Japan’s global posture. But ties between the two on the economic front are way below their potential and India has a lot of catching up to do with China. As The Economist has pointed out, China accounted for 24 percent of Japan’s imports and 22 percent of its exports, while India accounted for 0.8 percent of Japan’s imports and 1.7 of its exports.
Will Xi Jinping Continue the Wealth Crackdown in his Third Term?
Of the 445 people who lost their billionaire status last year, the majority, almost 230 were from China, According to the recently released Hurun Global Rich List for 2023. Beijing’s crackdown on major tech companies which began in 2021, continues to hurt the country’s super rich. Tencent owner Ma Huateng lost three points and was placed at 31 on the list. Jack Ma Yun, founder of China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, dropped 18 points to 52nd place from 34th a year earlier. ByteDance owner Zhang Yiming is down by 11 points alongwith CATL chairman Robin Zeng Yuqun whose worth dropped by 13 points. Others leading Chinese entrepreneurs to drop on the superrich list included Netease CEO Ding Lei who was down 9 points and placed at 46th place tying with He Xiangjian co-founder of Midea, one of China’s largest appliance makers who fell 11 points.
Earlier this month Xi Jinping formally began his term as President for an unprecedented third time. Frustrations over lingering COVID-Zero policies, censorship, economic stagnation and hardships, led to rare yet legitimate protests in China which ultimately only led to a deepening crackdown on dissenters. Amidst increasingly antagonistic international relations, wherein Chinese companies are facing harsh scrutiny both domestically and by the US had curbed corporate enthusiasm .
Pursuit of Common Prosperity:
A central pillar of the economic miracle that took place in China in the past decade was the conscious decision to unleash the entrepreneurial energies of its business class by destigmatizing the accumulation of wealth. During the years of China’s market reforms (1978-2005) GDP rose by ten times, average wages grew six fold. By 2020 GDP per capita was averaging about $10,000 and China entered an era of wealth and prosperity. This led to a concentration of massive personal wealth. In 2020, mainland China had 626 billionaires, and the total wealth of China’s 400 richest soared to $2.11 trillion, from $1.29 trillion a year earlier. Advancements by technology brands like Alibaba, Huawei, Tencent were driving the global economy. But the Chinese government’s business-friendly record has wavered under leader Xi Jinping and his regulatory crackdowns on private enterprise, as he pursued a campaign of ‘Common Prosperity,’ aimed at driving down inequality by spreading wealth.
The tech sector’s breakneck growth worth some $4.5 trillion exposed market behaviours that raised the eyebrows of the Chinese leadership. Xi Jingping trained his eye on China’s class of billionaire CEOs. China’s cyberspace regulator fined ride sharing app Didi Global just over $1.2 billion for violating cybersecurity and data laws. Aside from this, a personal fine of $147,000 was imposed on Didi’s chairman and CEO Cheng Wei and president Liu Qing, respectively. Didi also saw its plans to list on the New York stock exchange go up in smoke. Regulations imposed on food delivery app Meituan, eroded over $25 billion its stock value. In the financial sector China has resorted to sporadic crackdowns, on cryptocurrency, on peer to peer lending and on fintech giants. Jack Ma, once the poster boy for the rapid rise of China’s technology industry delivered a now infamous speech on October 24, 2020 criticising the government’s financial regulation, claiming that these would stifle innovation. The government responded by suspending the Ant Group’s US$37 billion IPO in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Through 2022 Tencent, which owns 17% of Meituan, was engaging with financial advisers to execute a potentially large sale of its Meituan stake. Recently the Chinese government acquired the “golden share” in units of Alibaba and Tencent Holdings, to gain decision making control.
China also used the now scrapped zero-Covid policy to invade the private spaces of the elite class. Added to the tech crackdown are global monetary tightening, COVID-19 disruptions, a complex political climate resulting in many wealthy Chinese physically relocating to other countries. Platforms such as GitHub are swarming with chat groups discussing exit from China. Singapore, known for its tax-friendly regime, political stability, and widespread use of Mandarin has become a preferred destination. And although Japan doesn’t have the best of relations with the PRC it has welcomed wealthy Chinese with its attractive business investment visas. After his fallout with Chinese authorities Jack Ma moved to Tokyo and was only recently seen in Bangkok. Since the Jack Ma incident several CEOs like TicTok and ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming, online retailer JD.com billionaire founder Richard Liu, founder of e-commerce giant Pinduoduo Colin Huang.
Last year’s rare protests against Chinese leadership in the wake of Xi Jinping’s imposition of a zero-Covid policy that kept many urban residents under strict lockdown were an indication of how difficult life was becoming for ordinary Chinese, to say nothing of businesses operating there.
Growth Target set at 5%:
In 2022, the Chinese economy grew just 3%, missing its expansion goal of around 5.5% by a wide margin. Covid control policies took a heavy toll on a wide range of businesses and activities. At the National People’s Congress, the country’s annual parliamentary gathering, earlier this month a modest GDP target of 5% was announced. In his first press briefing, Chinese Premier Li Qiang, acknowledged China won’t find it easy to meet the goal of expanding GDP by about 5% this year, as the government focuses on delivering stable prices, creating jobs and supplying ample housing. Managing director of Beijing-based boutique investment bank Chanson & Co, Shen Meng feels that the 5% goal is more reasonable as it is “more in line with downward pressures including a weakening in exports and consumption.”
But with economic indicators not looking up, the possibility of achieving the relatively conservative target of 5% growth in 2023 looks difficult. Chinese exports slid by 6.8% by January and February, and imports were down by 10.2% during the same period. Meanwhile, the yuan lost about 8% of its value against a surging dollar in 2022, the biggest annual drop since 1994. In addition to the slowing economy this is also largely due to the Federal Reserve’s aggressive rate hikes. In the past year to end-January, in China, the benchmark Shanghai Composite index lost nearly 11%. The pace of the recovery in Chinese consumer demand has not been as strong as expected.
Declining Revenues In Property Sector:
The finances of local entities are already stressed from the burdens of financing years of COVID containment. Although the Chinese government has doled out generous fiscal stimulus, property investment has dropped by 5.7%. China’s crackdown on the property market, meant that the industry shrank 5.1% in 2022. The government sensed that the property sector had become one of the biggest drags on the wider economy. Although it has recently eased funding access for many real estate companies, Moody’s Investors Service forcesats that nationwide sales are likely to decline again in 2023 due to continued sluggish demand. Chinese conglomerate Fosun International, has total liabilities worth $90 billion, an increase of 8% from last year. Amid declining revenues from property sales, it remains to be seen how long the government coffers can float the economy.
Celebrities Under the Scanner:
Even some of China’s most popular media stars find themselves under the scanner of the “common prosperity” campaign to correct wealth inequality. In an effort to rein in the prevailing consumption culture in China, stars like Zheng Shuang, Zhao Wei, internet celebrity Viya, find themselves facing financial penalties and even arrest as in the case of Liu Xiaoqing, one of the most famous actresses in China. Such relentless targeting of media stars who draw traffic and drive up consumption, is making merchants and brands at Alibaba and across a number of its rivals’ platforms nervous.
Tencent Holdings which has spent most of 2022 reeling from the crackdown on the technology sector has seen two quarters of falling revenues. As authorities were focused on solving social problems like gaming addiction among the country’s youth, Tencent suffered from the lack of approval to gaming licences. Although the withholding of licences is now withdrawn, Tencent remains cautious about its posture. As if mindful of the President Xi Jingping’s posture towards technology billionaires, Tencent co-founder President Martin Lau said “We will definitely not reverse back to the relatively unrestrained development path prior to the pandemic,..We will improve efficiency in a discipline-oriented way,” at a recent media event.
Antagonistic International Relations:
The China-U.S. has intensified, with President Joe Biden administration seeking to curb tech exports to undercut the progress of Beijing’s technological and military advances. With several Chinese companies and other organisations on the US Entity List, prohibiting them from using strategic American technologies, the crackdown on China’s chip industry is beginning to bite. A subsidiary of ByteDance TikTok which has over 150 million American users, is under greater scrutiny accentuated by the dramatic congressional hearing of its CEO Shou Zi Chew last week.
Chinese companies are facing equally harsh scrutiny and consequences in other destinations. Amid concerns over China’s involvement in critical UK infrastructure, the UK government has removed China’s state nuclear company out of the nuclear power plant project on the Suffolk coast. In his speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that the UK needs to evolve its approach to China and that the “golden era” of relations with China had to end as close economic ties had proved to be naive.
Xi Begins his Third Term:
After receiving a unanimous endorsement from the National People’s Congress, President Xi Jinping was re-elected as president for a third term on March 10, effectively cementing his status as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. This was a certainty after the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China elected Xi Jinping as party leader for a third term last October. But even as Xi Jinping began his unprecedented third term, the political climate in China remains uncertain. A mix of economic slump and complex policies is making the wealthy rethink their stay in the country. The drive to reign in the economic influence of China’s private sector has diminished private sector expansion and business confidence. The regulatory policies unleashed in the past two years are unlikely to be relaxed anytime soon. Speaking to delegates on March 6, he reminded business leaders of their responsibilities to adhere to the law and support “common prosperity,” clearly indicating that in the campaign to makeover the economy the wealthy might yet be unsparingly targeted. Under President Xi Jinping’s stringent wealth crackdown, there are fears of arbitrary detention, expropriation, or at the least trumped up charges. These anxieties are fueling an emigration trend among the Chinese ultrarich. It is unlikely that with the current economic slowdown the common prosperity campaign will help bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. But meanwhile the brutal crackdown by Xi Jinping will have lasting effects and cause further damage to its economy.
Saudi-Iran Truce: China’s Highway to Diplomatic Exploitation
The time-ravaging rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia ranks below few in the assemblage of unresolvable, primeval conflicts since it is based on dogma, entwined in history, and fought through proxies throughout the Middle East. Therefore, being able to get these two arch-nemeses to sign March 10 historic agreement of truce, could potentially have colossal impacts on the world, particularly in terms of mutating China’s global image. At first, as the fog lifts, it could appear as though this development could contribute to greater stability in the region, which has been plagued by political and sectarian tensions, proxy wars, and terrorist activities in recent years. A rapprochement between both the regional major powers could most definitely lead to a reduction in hostilities and an increased focus on addressing common challenges. At the very least, a stable Middle East would be beneficial for the majority of the world especially in terms of global energy security as the region is a major oil and gas producer and exporter. Any disruptions in the production or transportation of oil and gas from the region usually has cataclysmic impacts on the global economy, particularly in energy-importing countries. As two of these are the most powerful countries in the Middle East, their toil for dominance has been felt throughout the region and beyond. However, many connoisseurs of international politics are increasingly starting to believe that China as a third-party player in this game, is set to benefit, immensely and cleverly.
China’s role in repairing the Saudi Arabia-Iran relationship could significantly enhance its own diplomatic and economic influence in the Middle Eastern region. As Beijing continues to expand its economic and political ties with countries in the region, its ability to play a constructive role in regional affairs could be further bolstered. The Chinese leadership has been quietly increasing its presence and influence in the Middle East for years, but the Saudi-Iran rivalry seems to have served the perfect opportunity for Beijing to promote its national objectives, on a silver platter. As the greatest oil consumer in the world, Beijing mainly depends on imports to meet its energy needs and with Saudi Arabia being one of its main oil suppliers, it cannot afford to ignore Iran which also boasts large oil reserves, serving as a highly crucial alternative source for energy supplies. By brokering a hostility-reduction agreement between the two countries, the Xi administration is able to influence the region’s energy environment by preserving close commercial connections with both nations. China is making significant investments in Saudi Arabian and Iranian infrastructure projects in addition to the energy sector. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan, which aims to diversify the country’s economy away from oil and establish a more modern and diversified economy, has seen significant Chinese participation. China has also contributed to the development of a high-speed rail link connecting Tehran and Mashhad as well as Iran’s energy, transportation, and telecommunications industries.
Global implications of this Chinese diplomatic triumph
These investments have expanded China’s political influence as well as its economic relations with both the nations. It has been able to sway Saudi Arabian and Iranian goals and policies through economic pressure, allowing it to participate in regional politics without getting involved in their skirmishes. Nevertheless, the growing influence and presence of the dragon in the Middle Eastern region has not gone unnoticed by other world powers. Beijing’s expanding influence in the region and its potential to harm its interests have raised concerns, particularly in the United States and also in Israel. The Israeli administration has been engaged in a long-standing battle with Iran and has decided to thaw the ice with Saudi Arabia; any initiatives to ease hostilities between these two nations might be viewed as a danger to Israel’s interests. Reduction in Saudi-Iranian hostilities also serves Russia and Turkey’s purposes of gearing towards a more multipolar order in the region, a goal they desire due to their perception of the US as a geopolitical rival. In the case of India, any Chinese role in tension-reducing efforts between Saudi Arabia and Iran poses a complex and multifaceted dilemma for its interests. India’s historically violent territorial disputes with China, along with its concern about the latter’s increasingly assertive presence in South Asia, particularly its investments in countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, are some of the main factors behind New Delhi’s apprehensions towards this Middle Eastern conundrum. Additionally, India’s close ties with the US, which has traditionally been a significant ally of Saudi Arabia and has been involved in attempts to contain disruptions in the area, make it unfavourable for the country. Any decline in US influence in the region will be perceived as a negative development for the Indian side.
Chinese mediation efforts: trust or scepticism?
Despite these concerns displayed by major powers all over the world, Beijing has continued to openly welcome the opportunity to play a role in reducing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Beijing’s professed policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries, has made it an attractive partner for other countries in the Middle Eastern region looking to reduce tensions and find peaceful solutions to various regional conflicts that persist there. From China’s perspective, its involvement in the region is driven by two main factors. First is to secure its energy needs until it finds an alternative source that makes it less dependent on the Middle East; until then at least in the short-term, its reliance on the region for energy is set to increase. Beijing’s decision to ramp up purchases of heavily discounted Russian oil, diminishing procurement of cheap Iranian oil, was met with uneasiness in the Middle Eastern oil community. This might have further influenced their decision to allow China to play the role of a broker in the Saudi-Iran dispute to regain the dragon’s trust. Second is to further promote its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the expansion of which may provide Beijing a backdoor entry into various partner countries’ political and security affairs, boosting its cover of non-interference even further. With the signing of this truce agreement, China has officially attained the peculiar role of a global peace-negotiator. It shows that Beijing is now ready to flex its economic muscle in the face of its observers as a third-party broker; its goal to reinvent the country as a world leader at the expense of the United States may be a deciding factor in the current global transition of power poles. China has used its position as both the largest consumer of Middle Eastern oil exports and the top economic partner for both nations to its advantage in mediating this dispute. What is quite straightforwardly obvious is that the Chinese government is more than willing to play the role of a mediator in situations where diffusing it serves in extending its own national objectives. Whether or not it applies to situations where its objectives stay completely unaffected, for instance, the India-Pakistan and Russia-Ukraine issues, remains to be seen. How it plays out for its own image as a regional aggressor or backyard bully, is also another matter to observe.
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