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Players’ Skewed Maps complicate Eurasia’s 21st Century Great Game

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The United States and China are playing Eurasia’s 21st century Great Game from different but equally skewed maps. While the US map appears to be outdated, the Chinese map portrays a reality that is imagined.

If the skewed realities of both China and the United States have one thing in common, it is in strategist Parag Khanna’s mind the fact that neither realizes that the Great Game’s prize, a new world order, has already been determined.

“We are living – for the first time ever — in a truly multipolar and multicivilizational order in which North America, Europe and Asia each represents a major share of power,” Mr. Khanna says in his just published book, The Future is Asian.

While the United States sees the Great Game as an as yet open-ended battle for influence in Europe and Asia and looks at Russia as a European rather than a Eurasian power, China overestimates what its future position, aided by its US$1 trillion infrastructure and energy-driven Belt and Road initiative, is likely to be.

The skewed perceptions of both the United States and China create spaces for multiple other powers like Russia and various Middle Eastern states to carve out positions of their own.

China, nonetheless, alongside Russia has one advantage. In contrast, to the United States, it adopts the notion put forward by former Portuguese Europe minister Bruno Macias that the number of the world’s continents is shrinking from seven to six. Increasingly, Europe and Asia no longer see their common landmass as two separate continents and are gravitating towards what Mr. Macias calls a “supercontinent.”

Mr. Khanna implicitly acknowledges Mr. Macias’ notion by concluding that contrary to perceived Chinese expectations “ultimately, China’s position will be not of an Asian or global hegemon but rather of the eastern anchor of the Asian – and Eurasian – mega-system.”

China’s perceived other advantage, its economic and financial muscle, in the juggling for position on the new supercontinent is also proving to be its Achilles Heel.

The belief that the driver of the Belt and Road is geopolitics rather than economics is bolstered by predictions that none of China’s Indian Ocean port projects have much hope of financial success.

A Financial Times study last year concluded that 78 countries targeted by China for project development are among the world’s most risky economies. On a scale of one to seven, the highest level of country risk, Belt and Road countries ranked 5.2, a significantly higher risk than the 3.5 average for emerging markets. They had a median rating by Moody’s, the credit rating agency, that was the equivalent of non-investment junk investment grade.

The risk was reflected on the balance sheets of major Chinese state-owned companies that build, operate and invest in many Belt and Road projects. The study reported that China’s top internationally active construction and engineering contractors were almost four times more highly leveraged than their non-Chinese competitors.

In a bid to avert a financial crisis, the government has ordered state-owned companies to reduce their debt burden, in part by attributing greater importance to the viability of overseas projects.

The risk to China is not purely economic. It is also geopolitical and reputational. Increasingly, China is forced to focus short term less on the Great Game itself and more on countering the negative effect of a growing perception that China’s projection of the Belt and Road as a mutually beneficial proposition is more fantasy than fact.

A growing number of countries, like Pakistan, Malaysia, Myanmar and Nepal, question the benefits of Belt and Road projects and are resisting China’s often onerous commercial and funding terms.

Ironically, China’s immediate rivals in efforts to maintain its status and ensure that it does not lose hard-won ground are not the United States, India or Japan but its newly assertive, geopolitically ambitious friends in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as Iran.

That is nowhere truer than in Pakistan, a Belt and Road crown jewel, where Saudi Arabia and the UAE have exploited to their advantage Chinese irritation with Pakistani demands to shift the emphasis of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from infrastructure and energy to agriculture, job creation and the enabling of third-party investment, primarily from countries in the Gulf.

Chinese chagrin has been evident in China’s hesitancy to respond to Pakistani requests for help in averting a financial crisis.

Filling the gap, massive Saudi and UAE aid and investment to the tune of US$30 billion in balance of payment support, deferred oil import payments and investment in the troubled Pakistani province of Balochistan that borders Iran has helped the government of Imran Khan avoid asking the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cap in hand to bail it out.

China fears that Pakistan’s mounting dependence on Saudi Arabia and the UAE coupled with a US campaign intended to curb Iran’s regional projection potentially complicates the security of its massive US$45 billion plus investment that to a large extent targets Balochistan.

The United States and Saudi Arabia see Balochistan as a possible launching pad for possible efforts to destabilize the Islamic republic by stirring unrest among its Baloch population and other ethnic minorities.

Increased Saudi and UAE influence in Balochistan could, moreover, suck China into the escalating maelstrom of the two countries’ rivalry with Iran.

Ironically, Saudi and UAE investment has at the same time shielded China from potentially embarrassing disclosure of the financial terms of CPEC-related projects that the IMF was demanding as part of any bailout. Media reports said that Pakistan had informally told the IMF that it would be paying China US$40 billion over 20 years for US$26.5 billion in Chinese funding of CPEC-related projects.

The impact of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, like much of the rest of the Middle East, goes far beyond Balochistan. It also puts its mark elsewhere on the Eurasian supercontinent. In the words of analyst Galip Dalay, the Middle East or West Asia will, for better or for worse, shape each other.

“The contemporary Middle East is no longer the geopolitically US-centric space that the Europeans once knew. Europe can respond in several ways: proceed with its largely ad-hoc, incoherent and crisis-driven policies of recent years; continue to be incorporated into someone else’s game plan, as with the French-German involvement in the Russian-led Astana (peace) process for Syria; or craft a more coherent policy towards the region, with a strong emphasis on democratisation, reform, good governance, inclusion and reconciliation… If Europe doesn’t engage and invest in the transformation of the Middle East, regional developments will dramatically transform it, whether through radicalism, refugees, terrorism, xenophobia or populism. Interactions between Europe and the Middle East will be transformative, for better or for worse.,” Mr. Dalay said.

The Middle East is similarly crucial to the success of China’s Belt and Road with Iran and Turkey representing key nodes that further the rise of Eurasia through Chinese-funded rails that link the Atlantic coast of Europe to the People’s Republic.

The Middle East’s impact is one facet of a bigger game in which world and regional powers are competing for position in Mr. Khanna’s multipolar and multicivilizational order.

Robert Malley, a former Obama National Security Council official and head of the International Crisis Group argues that autocratic and authoritarian leaders are testing the limits of the Great Game as the power of Western nations erodes and embattled concepts of multilateralism no longer serve to constrain them.

“As the era of largely uncontested U.S. primacy fades, the international order has been thrown into turmoil. More leaders are tempted more often to test limits, jostle for power, and seek to bolster their influence—or diminish that of their rivals—by meddling in foreign conflicts… Having annexed parts of Georgia and Crimea and stoked separatist violence in Ukraine’s Donbass region, Russia is now throwing its weight around in the Sea of Azov, poisoning dissidents in the United Kingdom, and subverting Western democracies with cyberwarfare. China obstructs freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and arbitrarily detains Canadian citizens… Saudi Arabia has pushed the envelope with the war in Yemen, the kidnapping of a Lebanese prime minister, and the gruesome murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate in Istanbul. Iran plots attacks against dissidents on European soil. Israel feels emboldened to undermine ever more systematically the foundations of a possible two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Malley said.

By implication, Mr. Malley was suggesting that efforts to push the envelope were enabled by the US’ failure to recognize that Europe and Asia were becoming one supercontinent.

That failure was mirrored in the U.S. National Security Strategy published in 2017 by the White House and a study by Rand Corporation in 2018 designed to conceptualize current geopolitics as an era of intensifying international competition.

Rather than recognizing an increasingly evident divergence of interests between the United States and Europe, the study suggested that the US would continue to have the opportunity, if it chooses, to lead a predominant coalition of value-sharing democracies and other largely status quo states to help preserve stability.”

The study appeared to downplay any divergence by reducing differences to “identity-fuelled nationalism” that aims to recapture (countries’) “rightful place” in world politics,” a reference to Russia, China, Iran and North Korea as well as European nations grappling with the rise of nationalist, populist and far-right forces and a Middle East that is shaping Europe through highly emotive issues such as migration, political violence and religious identity.

The US focus on Russia as a European rather than a regional power with global ambitions also means that it underestimates Moscow’s play in the Middle East despite its military intervention in Syria.

Russia national security scholar Stephen Blank argues that President Vladimir Putin’s strategy in the region is rooted in the thinking of Yevgeny Primakov, a Middle East expert and linguist and former spymaster, foreign minister and deputy prime minister, who like Mr. Khanna envisioned the emergence of a multi-polar, multi-civilizational world with Eurasia at its centre.

Mr. Primakov saw the Middle East as a key arena for countering the United States that would enable Russia, weakened by the demise of the Soviet Union and a subsequent economic crisis, to regain its status as a global and regional power and ensure that it would be one pole in a multi-polar world.

By identifying the region as a preferred battleground, Russia benefitted in the words of historian Niall Ferguson from the fact that its significant oil reserves made it “the only power that has no vested interest in stability in the Middle East.”

Mr. Blank argued that “in order to reassert Russia’s greatness, Primakov and Putin aimed ultimately at strategic denial, denying Washington sole possession of a dominant role in the Middle East from where US influence could expand to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS),” a regional grouping of post-Soviet nations.

They believed that if Russia succeeded it would force the United States to concede multi-polarity and grant Russia the recognition it deserves. That, in turn, would allow Mr. Putin to demonstrate to the Russian elite his ability to restore Russia to great power status.

Syria offered Russia the opportunity to display its military prowess without the United States challenging the move. At the same time, Russia leveraged its political and economic clout to forge an alliance with Turkey and partner with Iran. The approach constituted an effort to defang Turkish and Iranian influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Similarly, Russia after brutally repressing religiously inspired Chechen rebels in the 1990s, was proving to be far defter than either China or the United States at promoting politically pacifist or apolitical Islam in a complex game of playing all sides against the middle.

Russian engagement runs the gamut from engaging with militants to cooperating with Muslim autocrats to encouraging condemnation of the kind of Islam adopted by partners such as Saudi Arabia.

Said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and a former Russian military officer: “Russia is not the Soviet Union. It does not see the Middle East as a region that it can dominate. Displacing the United States from the leading position in the Middle East is way above Russia’s capacity, and keeping the region in its sphere of influence is way above Russia’s resources. Russia has certainly benefited from waning U.S. interest in the Middle East as, absent an active America, Russia can act with more confidence and ease.”

Describing Russia as “a lonely power,” Mr. Trenin went on to say that the difference between Russia and the Soviet Union was that the “Soviet Union was heavily engaged around the Middle East in spending money on an ideological and geopolitical project, the Russian Federation is active in the region trying to make money. The Soviet Union was about an idea. Russia’s idea is about Russia itself.”

In the Great Game’s jostling for position, Mr. Trump’s America First approach mirrors Mr. Trenin’s portrayal of Russian policy. That leaves China tied up in the contradictions of a policy that is packaged in assertions of lofty ideals but like the United States and Russia is in effect first and foremost about the pursuit of Chinese interests.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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East Asia

U.S.- China Strategic Competition in The East Asia

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East Asia has been the most dynamic region where development has been internationally recognized. The regional politics of the region has developed a paradox that has flamed up the economic environment of the region. The trends have shown the increased intensifying security issues along with the strategic completion that has spread the security and economic tensions across the East Asian Region. In a global circle, China is known as the revisionist state. The historical manners suggest the reclaim of East Asia by the Chinese. This claim has intensified the relations between the US and China in East Asian Region.  The main challenge for China is to shift the US intervention from the East Asian region for the balanced equation at the strategic level. This might provoke the US and its allies in East Asia such as Japan that will help the US to jeopardize the Chinese rule from the region. The challenge for the US and its allies in the East Asian Region is more complicated because of the economic stability of China at the International Level. This might be a proxy war for both the superpowers in the East Asian region where the conflict may rise compromising the strategic stability of the region. The strategic location of the US lies in the actual form of ability and project power over great sustainable intervals. The strategic behavior increases the policies and shapes the allies.

One prevalent belief in the United States about China’s long-term policy goals in Asia is that Beijing aspires to be the regional hegemon and wants to restore a Sino-centric order in the region.

First, Beijing favors unipolar ties at both the global and regional levels and believes that with ongoing economic growth, this trend will continue intra-regional political consultation in Asia, influence on regional affairs is going to be more diversified and more evenly distributed. Secondly, although China expects some relative increase in its influence in Asia, it understands that thanks to the boundaries of its hard power and particularly its soft power, China can never achieve a grip cherish its role within the ancient past or to the U.S. role within the region at the present.

Beijing’s perspective:

From Beijing’s perspective, the US is an East Asia power, although not an Asian power, and its political, economic, and security interests within the region are deep-rooted, as are its commitments to regional stability and prosperity. Beijing has always welcomed a constructive U.S. role in regional affairs. At the identical time, however, Beijing also feels uneasy with certain aspects of U.S. policy. As a superpower, The US has been too dominant and intrusive in managing regional affairs. It fails to pay due regard to the voices of other regional players and sometimes gets too involved within the internal affairs of other states, lacking an understanding of their culture, history, and values.

The US and European aspects towards the South China Sea and East Asia should involve long-term perspectives of engaging ASEAN states. Such impacts will create room for the US to tackle China in the East Asian region. The development of any comprehensive strategic security policy is the need of the hour that assures one’s interest in the region. Both the states perceive a threat from each other and try to further advance their capabilities for the sake of safety and security. The US is not in a position to deal with the other power far away from its homeland, sustaining its military and protecting allies. Aggressive behavior in strategic competition can lead to unwanted results. The US would have to accept the strategic realities of China to normalize the relations. China on the other hand should rethink its policies in East Asia and Indo Pacific. However, as yet, deterrence has played its part by keeping states from a large-scale action. States running in the race of acquiring arms conventionally due to uprising strategic competitions are worsening any likely condition of conflict.

Key points for US:

In terms of identifying specific actions for a U.S. strategy for competing strategically with China in East Asia, a key element would be to possess a transparent understanding of which actions are intended to support which U.S. goals, and to take care of an alignment of actions with policy goals. Cost-imposing actions are actions intended to impose political/reputational, institutional, economic, or other costs on China for conducting certain activities within the East Asian Region, with the aim of persuading China to prevent or reverse those activities. Such cost-imposing actions need not be limited to the East Asian Region only. 

Conclusion:

The development of any comprehensive strategic security policy is the need of the hour that should involve joint military maritime exercises. The US and China have set their limits in coordinating military to military joint cooperation due to their desired interests and competition. Both the states perceive a threat from each other and try to further advance their capabilities for the sake of safety and security.  

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Summit for Democracy Attempts to Turn Multicolor Modern World into Black and White Divisions

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One of the most important takeaways from the recent sixth plenary session of 19th CPC Central Committee is that Beijing flatly rejects Westernization as the path to modernize the Chinese society and the national economy. Instead, as it was underscored in the plenary Communiqué, the country will continue to stick to “socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.” The leadership will preserve and further develop the system that served the people so well over last more than 70 years.

This statement did not come as a surprise to numerous China watchers all over the world. In fact, the critical choice between socialism and Western-type liberalism was not made in November of 2021, but decades ago.

One can argue that the outcomes of the sixth plenary session are yet another manifestation of a more general global trend: The world has been and will continue to be very diverse in terms of political systems, social models and economic patterns of individual nation states. Moreover, the odds are that this diversity will increase further literally in front of our eyes. Instead of the “end of history,” we will observe more intense multifaceted competition between different types of social development.

One way to react to this emerging reality is to accept it as a positive trend that enhances the overall stability of the global social system. The more diverse and complex the system is, the more resistant it is to various shocks and disturbances. To make a rough analogy with biology, a natural forest, which is a very diverse and complex ecosystem, is much more resistant to whims of the weather and natural disasters than a man-cultivated monocultural field. Accepting the trend, we should focus on how to manage competition within the increasingly diverse and complex world so that this competition will ultimately benefit all of us.

The other way to deal with this reality would be to start fighting against social, political and economic diversity by trying to advance one single model over all others. This is exactly what the Joe Biden administration is committed to doing by launching an ideological crusade against China, Russia and other nations that dare to deviate from the fundamentals of the Western development model. To make its case, the White House has announced a virtual Summit for Democracy to be hosted by the US on December 9–10 with the goal “to renew democracy at home and confront autocracies abroad.”

This vision reduces the multi-color palette of the modern world to a minimalist black and white graphics of a global fight between “democracies” and “autocracies.” It divides the international system into “us” and “them,” into “good” and “bad,” into “legitimate” and “illegitimate.” Such a reductionist system, if constructed, cannot be stable and shock-resistant by definition: Any major international crisis or a regional conflict could spark high risks of implosion.

It goes without saying that the nations of the world should firmly oppose corruption, abuses of power by state authorities and gross violations of human rights. If the goal of the Summit for Democracy were to confront these evils on a global scale, there would be no need to make the event exclusive by inviting mostly US friends and allies. If the goal is to advertise the US political, social and economic model, Washington should probably delay the summit and put its house in order first. If the goal is to isolate Beijing and Moscow in the world of politics, this is not likely to work well for the US.

Nations of the world have a right and even a duty to experiment with their political and social development paths. This experimenting contributes to the overall social experience of the humankind. Only history is in a position to judge what models turn out to be efficient, productive and fair and what models will find their place at the dump of human delusions. And history has a lot of means at its disposal to punish leaders, who believe that they possess a “one size fits all” model, which could successfully replace the existing diversity with an imposed universalism.

From our partner RIAC

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The Chinese diplomatic force in the IAEA to confront Western leadership

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At the level of international relations, through China’s presence in all the relevant international organizations, and its membership in all of the United Nations organizations, specifically in the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA”, China aims to play the role of the (international balancer),  in light of its quest to maintain a certain level of competition with the United States of America politically and economically, this is in line with its desires to constantly play the role of the pole calling for (multipolarity and multilateral international pluralism through the Chinese political speeches of Chinese President “Xi Jinping”), in order to oppose American hegemony over the world and Washington’s policies to maintain its position as a single pole in the international community. China’s increase in its foreign investments, in order to enhance its economic hegemony over the world through its political and diplomatic tools with countries that have equal economic power with it in a number of (trade, scientific and technological issues, in addition to military and intelligence tools, as a reference for China’s new foreign political center).

  We note that the patterns of Chinese foreign policy is (the pattern of dependence, which is based on the high level of foreign participation in all current global issues), to restrict the attempts of the United States of America to pass its decisions internationally, and therefore China is trying to enter the membership of all international organizations so that China’s foreign policies remain more comprehensive, broader and more effective in the global change, and to change all directions of these issues and control them in the United States, and this is one of its new political tools that serve its global expansion through the (Chinese Belt and Road Initiative).

   In the same context, China focuses its external and competitive strength on its presence in effective international organizations, and rapprochement with the European Union, especially (France, Germany), despite not denying their relations with Washington, because of their strong influence in the global economy.  In addition to China’s reliance on the plan of foreign and foreign investments in countries that influence American influence through the Belt and Road projects, as well as China’s resort to the import policy of many resources necessary to develop its economic capabilities from certain European countries to open influential relations with them, leading to (the Chinese strategy to obtain  political support through the policies of alliances, consulates, representations, and its membership of international organizations), with the aim of influencing countries’ policies economically to pass important international decisions regarding the US challenge to China, such as: (the Iranian nuclear file, North Korea, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Syria, Venezuela, etc.), to increase with this  The level of external penetration of China economically and politically).

    China is mainly aiming to increase its membership in international organizations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, to (create a new balance of power and get rid of unipolarity restrictions through the medium powers and small states that the international system prevails with real pluralism, instead of the current state of American unipolarity).

   In my personal opinion, the countries of the Middle East may find in the rise of China and Russia, and perhaps other international powers to re-compete the United States,  as a (real opportunity to advance the effects of the pluralism of the international system at the regional level, and this would create more space for movement and opposition or bargaining and flexibility of movement for all to confront the policies of American hegemony, according to Chinese planning with Russia), and this also works to alleviate those restrictions and American dictates, and perhaps the sanctions and pressures it imposes on opponents of its approach internationally.

  The strategy of competition between China and the United States has become China’s long-term strategy, which is based on (the necessity of a heavy Chinese presence in all international organizations and forums, which allows China to communicate with various global powers and balance its relations with them compared to Washington), as well as diversifying the People’s Republic of China for its relations and distribution of its power among the competing countries, which allows China to show wide options on all important issues, and the most dangerous is that this Chinese presence, which (allows Beijing to prejudice the foundations of its relationship with the United States of America and the other various powers around the world).

  China and Russia also aim to form an alliance into all international and regional organizations to change the current provocative approach of the American policies in their confrontation, especially those related to mobilization policies and American alliances against them around the world. The Chinese alliance with Russia was so clear with the (Russian Foreign Minister “Sergey Lavrov’s visit” to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, while on the other hand, both Kuwait and Qatar have received a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the CPC Central Committee “Yang Jiechi”).

    On the other hand, China is among the Security Council countries that have the largest number of (Chinese peacekeeping forces around the world), and China is at the forefront of the (most contributing countries to the international peacekeeping budget, in addition to sending naval fleets to carry out maritime guard missions according to according to the UN Security Council resolutions), and therefore China may play an important role in establishing security in many countries in the world, and this is perhaps what China plans to ensure its use, in the event of a decline in American interest in the security of many regions in the world, within the framework of (the strategy of pressure of the American expenditures, retreat and withdrawal from many places around the world and devote its concern to the American interior issues and its worsening economic crises).

  The point is worthy to be considered here, is the report issued in July 2021 by the (International Atomic Energy Agency), entitled “Nuclear reactors around the world”, in which he analyzed China’s plan to (establish the dream of nuclear sovereignty around the world by starting to build and establish about 11 reactors). There are other Chinese nuclear reactors under construction, as well as the (new Chinese planning to build other 29 nuclear reactors), while the International Atomic Energy Agency’s work report on the other hand indicated that the known total number of reactors that are actually in service, other than those planned for construction, and other reactors under construction, is up to  About 50 Chinese nuclear reactors, a step that confirms that “China is clearly shifting towards nuclear energy in the production of electricity, and depends on it directly in its industrial renaissance during the coming period, especially as it is the number one country in the world that is expanding in the establishment of nuclear plants, followed by Russia, which plans to build other 20 new nuclear reactors, while it has 38 nuclear reactors in active service”. Some leaks indicate the presence of Chinese nuclear reactors, exercises and tests in the “Doklam Desert” region on the borders of “Xinjiang” province in northwest China.

   It also notes that, from the reality of the report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA”, its confirmation regarding (Chinese planning to become the first country in the world in the production of nuclear energy during the next ten years, in return for the decline in the share of the United States of America in nuclear reactors, which continues to the continuous decrease with the exit of new American numbers of reactors annually), as the future plan of the United States of America does not include the establishment of new reactors, which indicates that (the expansion of this type of energy tends towards China and Russia during the coming period, and these countries will have accumulated experiences, enabling them to dominate and control this new nuclear industry in various countries of the world, and this is what is actually common happening in the region).  Knowing that its uses will be mainly peaceful and to serve the interests of peoples and countries, so we may witness the coming period intensifying the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in many files around the world to study them, inspect different regions and various other areas to ensure (their peaceful uses of nuclear energy in many development projects around the world).

   Hence, we almost understand (the importance of the Chinese presence and presence and its membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency in the first place), given that it actually owns 50 nuclear reactors in service, and its contribution to the production of electricity and providing energy to one and a half billion citizens, and China also has new nuclear reactors under construction, so (China seeks to be near the International Atomic Energy Agency, to embarrass, restrict and limit the American influence on the one hand against Beijing’s allies, led by Iran and then North Korea. Therefore, China has developed a strategic plan in the coming years, which is based on the intensity of the Chinese international presence and passing its foreign policies and decisions with the help of its Russian ally internationally).

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