China is manoeuvring to avoid being sucked into the Middle East’s numerous disputes amid mounting debate in Beijing on whether the People’s Republic will be able to remain aloof yet ensure the safety and security of its mushrooming interests and sizeable Diaspora community.
China’s challenge is starkest in the Gulf. It was compounded when US President Donald J. Trump effectively put China on the spot by implicitly opening the door to China sharing the burden of guaranteeing the security of the free flow of energy from the region.
It’s a challenge that has sparked debate in Beijing amid fears that US efforts to isolate Iran internationally and cripple it economically could lead to the collapse of the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program, accelerate Iran’s gradual breaching of the agreement in way that would significantly increase its ability to build a nuclear weapon, and potentially spark an unwanted military confrontation.
All of which are nightmare scenarios for China. However, Chinese efforts so far to reduce its exposure to risk are at best temporary band aid solutions. They do little to address the underlying dilemma: it is only a matter of time before China will have no choice but to engage politically and militarily at the risk of surrendering its ability to remain neutral in regional conflicts.
Israeli intelligence reportedly predicted last year that Iran’s gradual withdrawal from an agreement that Mr. Trump abandoned in May 2018 would ultimately take Iran to a point where it could create a nuclear military facility within a matter of months. That in turn could provoke a regional nuclear arms race and/or a pre-emptive military strike.
That is precisely the assessment that Iran hopes will persuade China alongside Russia and the European Union to put their money where their mouth is in countering US sanctions and make it worth Iran’s while to remain committed to the nuclear accord.
The problem is that controversy over the agreement is only one of multiple regional problems. Those problems require a far more comprehensive approach for which China is currently ill-equipped even if it is gradually abandoning its belief that economics alone offers solutions as well as its principle of no foreign military bases.
China’s effort to reduce its exposure to the Gulf’s energy supply risks by increasing imports from Russia and Central Asia doesn’t eliminate the risk. The Gulf will for the foreseeable future remain a major energy supplier to China, the region’s foremost trading partner and foreign investor.
Even so, China is expected to next month take its first delivery of Russian gas delivered through a new pipeline, part of a US$50 billion gas field development and pipeline construction project dubbed Power of Siberia.
Initially delivering approximately 500 million cubic feet of gas per day or about 1.6 percent of China’s total estimated gas requirement in 2019, the project is expected to account with an increased daily flow of 3.6 billion cubic feet for 9.5 percent of China’s supply needs by 2022.
The Russian pipeline kicks in as China drastically cuts back on its import of Iranian liquified petroleum gas (LPG) because of the US sanctions and is seeking to diversify its supply as a result of Chinese tariffs on US LPG imports imposed as part of the two countries’ trade war.
China is likely hoping that United Arab Emirates efforts to stimulate regional talks with Iran and signs that Saudi Arabia is softening its hard-line rejection of an unconditional negotiation with the Islamic republic will either help it significantly delay engagement or create an environment in which the risk of being sucked into the Saudi-Iranian rivalry is substantially reduced.
Following months of quietly reaching out to Iran, UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash told a recent security dialogue in Abu Dhabi that there was “room for collective diplomacy to succeed.”
Mr. Gargash went on to say that “for such a process to work, it is essential that the international community is on the same page, especially the US and the EU, as well as the Arab Gulf states.” Pointedly, Mr. Gargash did not put Russia and China on par with Western powers in that process.
The UAE official said the UAE envisions a regional order undergirded by “strong regional multilateralism” that would provide security for all.
Mr. Gargash made his remarks against the backdrop of a Chinese-backed Russian proposal for a multilateral security arrangement in the Gulf that would incorporate the US defense umbrella as well as an Iranian proposal for a regional security pact that would exclude external players.
Presumably aware that Gulf states were unlikely to engage with Iran without involvement of external powers, Iran appeared to keep its options open by also endorsing the Russian proposal.
The various manoeuvres to reduce tension and break the stalemate in the Gulf put Mr. Trump’s little noticed assertion in June that energy buyers should protect their own ships rather than rely on US protection in a perspective that goes beyond the president’s repeated rant that US allies were taking advantage of the United States and failing to shoulder their share of the burden.
Potentially, Mr. Trump opened the door to an arrangement in which the United States would share with others the responsibility for ensuring the region’s free flow of energy even if he has given no indication of what that would mean in practice beyond demanding that the United States be paid for its services.
“China gets 91 percent of its oil from the Straight, Japan 62 percent, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships…,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
China has not rejected Mr. Trump’s position out of hand. Beyond hinting that China could escort Chinese-flagged commercial vessels in the Gulf, Chinese officials have said that they would consider joining a US-backed maritime security framework in the region that would create a security umbrella for national navy vessels to accompany ships flying their flag.
Chinese participation would lay the groundwork for a more comprehensive regional security arrangement in the longer term.
China’s maritime strategy, involving the development of a blue water navy, suggests that China already de facto envisions a greater role at some point in the future.
Scholars Julia Gurol and Parisa Shahmohammadi noted in a recent study that China has already “decided to take security concerns in the (Indian Ocean) into its own hands, instead of relying on the USA and its allies, who have long served as the main security providers in this maritime region… If tensions continue to escalate in the Persian Gulf, Beijing may find it has no other choice but to provide a security presence in the Middle East.”
China’s Inclusive Diplomacy for Global Cooperation
President Xi Jinping’s address at the recently held 2023 CIFTIS resonates as a powerful call for inclusive development and cooperation in the services trade sector. China’s commitment to expanding market access, increasing connectivity, and aligning policies with global standards demonstrates its commitment to ensuring a level playing field for all nations.
This commitment extends across different sectors, including telecommunications, tourism, law, vocational examinations, and the larger services sector. President Xi’s address emphasized China’s intention to expand broader, broaden market access, and support inclusive development in the services trade sector. His sentiments resonate with the global world as China seeks to create new prospects for openness, cooperation, and economic equality.
Over the last few decades, the services trade landscape has changed drastically, becoming an essential component of international business. However, this expansion has not been uniform, with developing countries frequently encountering difficulties such as limited market access, complex rules, and capacity limits that prevent them from fully participating in international services trade.
Notably, China is committed to promoting inclusive growth in the services trade sector. It assured of taking continuing steps to accelerate Chinese modernization through high-quality development, to open up new avenues for openness and collaboration for all countries.
Through openness, cooperation, innovation, and shared services, China emphasized the need for inclusive growth and connectivity. Recognizing that a rising tide in services trade should raise all boats, particularly those from nations with limited resources, China has launched a series of ground-breaking initiatives. Additionally, China is actively expanding its network of high-standard free trade areas, participating in negotiations on the negative list for trade in services and investment.
China is setting an example by aligning its policies with international standards. President Xi highlighted in his speech that national integrated demonstration zones for increased openness in the services sector, suitable pilot free trade zones, and free trade ports will be at the forefront of aligning policies with high-standard international economic and trade regulations. These zones demonstrate China’s commitment to fostering an atmosphere conducive to international cooperation and growth.
Real-world examples vividly demonstrate the practical impact of China’s assistance to developing countries in the services trade. China’s investments in transport infrastructure, such as the Standard Gauge Railway, have considerably facilitated the flow of goods and people in Kenya, boosting the services sector indirectly.
Pakistan’s experience with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is similar, with improved physical connectivity catalyzing the expansion of digital services and e-commerce. Various infrastructure developments in Indonesia have resulted in spectacular advances, opening up new potential for services trade.
Ethiopia, too, has reaped the benefits of China’s commitment, with active participation in industrial parks reviving the services sector, which includes logistics, banking, and education. These real-life success stories highlight China’s critical role in facilitating the expansion and development of services trade in developing countries.
China’s commitment to capacity building and technical aid is critical in its support for developing countries in the services trade. China provides these countries with the knowledge and skills they need to participate effectively in the services trade by offering specialized programs. Furthermore, China’s significant investments in infrastructure projects such as ports, logistical hubs, and telecommunications networks play an important role in facilitating the smooth flow of services.
Furthermore, China’s commitment to reducing entry barriers and optimizing regulations indicates the country’s persistent commitment to creating an equitable environment. This approach not only promotes equitable possibilities but also simplifies market access, making it easier for developing countries to export their services to China’s enormous and dynamic market.
Furthermore, China gives significant financial support in the form of loans and grants for service trade-related initiatives, recognizing the financial problems that many developing countries confront. This financial assistance enables nations to overcome economic challenges and invest in the expansion and improvement of their service sectors, thereby encouraging economic equality and cooperation.
As the world continues to evolve, services trade will play an increasingly important role in global economic growth, and China’s leadership in this realm is helping to shape a future where opportunities are shared, disparities are reduced, and cooperation knows no bounds. It is a vision worthy of appreciation and support since it is consistent with the ideals of justice and equality, moving the globe closer to a more linked and wealthy global community.
China’s Multilateral Engagement and Constructive Role in the G20
The recent G20 Summit in India has once again taken center stage, attracting global attention as it gathered together leaders and delegates from the world’s 20 most powerful economies. This high-profile event was significant in shaping international relations and addressing serious global concerns due to its broad presence and crucial talks. This high-stakes gathering occurs at a pivotal juncture, marked by escalating divisions among major powers on a multitude of pressing global issues, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, global economic recovery, food security, and climate change.
The recent inclusion of the African Union (AU) as a permanent member within the G20 serves as a positive signal, signifying consensus among major economies. However, lurking concerns persist about the formidable challenges involved in achieving unity and issuing a joint declaration in the midst of these complex global dynamics.
Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s opening remarks at the 18th G20 Summit in New Delhi resonate as he underscores the paramount importance of unity and collaboration among G20 member nations. He emphasizes the critical need for effective coordination of macroeconomic policies to restore hope and generate momentum for long-term economic growth.
Premier Li eloquently highlights the interconnectedness of humanity’s destiny and calls upon nations to demonstrate mutual respect, seek common ground while momentarily setting aside differences, and work tirelessly towards peaceful coexistence. In a world characterized by profound crises and shared hardships, he aptly observes that no nation can thrive in isolation. Therefore, the only plausible pathways for guiding humanity forward are those rooted in cooperation and harmony.
The G20, originally established to navigate global financial crises and forge collective strategies for addressing economic challenges while fostering global economic development, has, regrettably, experienced a decline in consensus and a rise in differences among major powers. This shift has been particularly evident since the onset of the Ukraine crisis and the United States’ strategy of containment against China. Consequently, the G20 is increasingly devolving into a forum marked by discord, rather than the once-productive and constructive multilateral mechanism it was intended to be.
Nevertheless, the G20 retains its significance as a pivotal forum for international collaboration in confronting global challenges. With the increasing contributions of developing nations like China, India, and African countries, the voices within the G20 have diversified, no longer solely dominated by Western perspectives. As a response, the United States seeks to regain control of the multilateral process to further its agenda of great power competition. However, this approach is unlikely to be warmly received by the broader international community.
China remains steadfast in its commitment to deepen reforms and open up further to foster high-quality development and its unique brand of modernization. China views itself as a catalyst for additional momentum in global economic recovery and sustainable development. China stands ready to collaborate with all stakeholders to contribute to the well-being of our shared Earth, our common home, and the future of humanity. Despite Western media’s attempts to sensationalize China’s stance and magnify perceived differences, China continues to play a constructive role within the G20, dedicated to its multilateral mission.
To ensure that the G20 remains a platform focused on global governance rather than being overshadowed by geopolitical conflicts, China remains determined to fulfill its constructive role within the group, regardless of attempts by Western powers to politicize the mechanism. China’s efforts have expanded the G20 to include the African Union, effectively transforming it into the “G21.” China was the first nation to endorse African Union membership in the G20 and advocates for the African Union to assume an even more significant role in international governance.
The growing divisions and disputes within the G20 have eroded its effectiveness as a platform for addressing global challenges. These divisions, primarily driven by American actions and policies, have spawned tensions with far-reaching global implications, from the Ukraine crisis to escalating tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea. These developments underscore the critical role the G20 plays in promoting cooperation and unity.
Amid the current geopolitical landscape characterized by major powers’ divisions, tensions have surged, resonating globally and causing ripple effects. From the Ukraine crisis to tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea, the significance of the G20’s role in fostering cooperation and unity cannot be overstated.
All G20 member nations must recognize the urgent imperative of cooperation in building a world that is safer, more prosperous, and increasingly peaceful. Given the global challenges that transcend narrow national interests, effective responses can only be crafted through international cooperation. The G20 stands as a pivotal arena for this cooperation, with China’s positive contribution being indispensable in promoting cohesion.
Despite Western media’s efforts to sensationalize China’s position and magnify perceived gaps, China remains a committed multilateral partner within the G20, dedicated to constructive engagement. The G20 continues to serve as a critical platform for addressing global concerns, fostering unity, and promoting international collaboration. As the world grapples with intricate issues, it remains imperative that nations adhere to the principles of multilateralism and collaborate relentlessly to secure a more prosperous, peaceful, and sustainable future for all.
Al-Assad’s Beijing Visit: A Stepping Stone to a Strategic Partnership Between the Two Nations
The Chinese government is adopting a new diplomatic stance, marked by a bold challenge to American directives. This strategy aims to bolster ties with nations that the U.S. has sought to alienate, with Syria being a prime example.
Recently, Beijing welcomed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The outcome of this visit was the announcement that their ties had been elevated to a “strategic partnership of resilience.” This status is the pinnacle of China’s diplomatic relationships, and so far, only three countries—Pakistan, Russia, and Belarus—have been granted this distinction. Could Syria be next in line?
For China, their interest in Syria is multifaceted. It’s not just about the country’s economic riches; it’s a geopolitical gamble. In Beijing’s eyes, Damascus stands as an ideological outlier in the Middle East, defined by its unique intellectual and ideological foundations. This, coupled with the nation’s rich cultural diversity and pluralism, makes it all the more appealing.
Syria’s value for China transcends its natural resources. Geographically and civilizationally, its significance and the influential role it plays in Middle Eastern geopolitics make it indispensable.
Despite the ongoing war, China’s relationship with Syria has persisted. However, the depth of their ties hasn’t always mirrored China’s firm stance in the Security Council, where it has wielded its veto power in support of Syria on numerous occasions.
In 2012, China exercised its veto power against a Washington-proposed resolution calling for the withdrawal of all military forces from Syrian cities and towns.
In February 2017, Beijing vetoed a draft resolution that sought to impose sanctions on the Syrian government, accusing it of deploying chemical weapons. Then, in July 2020, Beijing opposed the extension of aid deliveries to Syria via Turkey.
China’s foreign policy towards Syria is shaped by the interplay of interests and ideology. These twin pillars have historically been foundational to China’s external relations and are deeply rooted in Chinese political philosophy.
Syria’s geopolitical and economic significance to China, paired with Beijing’s steadfast stance against meddling in sovereign nations’ internal affairs and its commitment to justice and rights restoration, has allowed China to craft its Syrian foreign policy. This alignment ensures both the safeguarding of national interests and the upholding of principles intrinsic to China’s unique political identity.
China’s stance on the Syrian conflict has always been principle-driven, aligning with its foreign policy ethos which advocates non-interference in the domestic matters of other nations.
Subsequently, Beijing has made concerted efforts to bring an end to the Syrian war, proposing numerous initiatives aimed at resolving the ongoing strife.
Beyond matters of interest and ideology, China’s position on the Syrian conflict is also informed by its aspirations to maintain and bolster its influence within the Middle East’s global power dynamics. As China emerges as a dominant force on the world stage, its evolving foreign policy towards Syria mirrors its ascending stature and influence.
Anyone examining the ties between the two nations will see no clear evidence suggesting their relationship has evolved into what the media frequently labels a “strategic partnership.”
This could be attributed to the deliberate ambiguity and behind-the-scenes diplomacy both countries favored, given their respective circumstances. It’s possible that this approach was more a Chinese preference than a Syrian one.
Particularly since Beijing is careful with its actions, striving not to unnecessarily antagonize the United States while it focuses on its grand strategic endeavor, the Belt and Road Initiative.
While Syria is in dire need of allies during its challenges, it recognizes the interests and circumstances of other nations. It understands that relationships can’t be purely evaluated on a “profit and loss” basis; there’s a strategic depth that heavily influences the decisions of major powers.
China has consistently supported Syria both diplomatically and humanitarianly. It maintained its embassy in Damascus, championed Syria’s interests in the Security Council, and readily provided humanitarian assistance, notably during the Covid-19 pandemic and after the earthquake Syria experienced a few months back.
While the evidence might not strongly suggest that the relationship between the two countries qualifies as a strategic partnership, it’s the unseen dynamics between them that appear to play a significant role in elevating their ties to a “strategic relationship” level.
The deployment of popular diplomacy was evident, with Damascus benefiting from China’s endeavors to amplify its “soft power.” Exchanges of party and economic delegations between the two nations persisted, and there was a notable increase in the number of Syrian students attending Chinese universities, funded by the Chinese government.
Interestingly, direct visits between officials of the two nations were sparse. It appears that the respective embassies served a pivotal role in cultivating and fortifying these ties.
The visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Damascus on the day the results of Syria’s presidential elections were announced on July 17, 2021, wasn’t just serendipitous. He was the first to extend congratulations to President Al-Assad on his electoral triumph.
This visit held immense significance, marking a shift in China’s foreign policy towards challenging Western influence in various global regions. It was the first visit by a high-ranking Chinese official to Syria since 2011, following the onset of the conflict.
Wang’s meeting with President Al-Assad, where he congratulated him on his re-election, was symbolic. Additionally, Chinese President Xi Jinping dispatched a congratulatory message to Al-Assad on his election victory, expressing: “China staunchly supports Syria in safeguarding its national sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, and will extend as much assistance as possible.”
Following Wang’s visit to Damascus, Beijing advocated for the removal of sanctions on Syria and proposed a four-point initiative to address the crisis. This plan encompassed:
- Upholding Syria’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity, allowing the Syrian people the autonomy to determine their nation’s destiny.
- Fast-tracking the reconstruction process and immediately lifting all sanctions on Syria, a crucial step to ameliorate the country’s humanitarian crisis.
- Combatting terrorist organizations recognized by the UN Security Council.
- Championing a comprehensive and conciliatory political resolution to the Syrian conflict, bridging divides with all Syrian opposition groups through dialogue and consultation.
Wang’s trip followed the Syrian government’s successful reclamation of a majority of its territories. This transition signaled a shift towards reconstruction, a phase where Beijing is poised to assume a significant role due to its ample financial and political resources.
Given the intensifying tensions between China and the United States, China found itself drawn into a subtle yet assertive counteraction against the U.S.
Beijing has strategically ventured into regions historically under American influence, notably the Middle East. This move is significant, especially considering China’s traditional reluctance to entangle itself in the complexities and challenges of that region.
For many years, the United States has depicted the issues in the Middle East as “intractable problems,” rooted in religious disputes that span centuries.
China’s success in bolstering Arab-Chinese collaboration, particularly following the Arab-Chinese summit in Riyadh, served as an impetus for several Arab nations to pursue closer ties with Damascus. This renewed rapport culminated in Syria’s reintegration into the League of Arab States. Although the Arab initiative with Damascus seems to be progressing slowly, and at times hesitantly, it hasn’t hit an insurmountable roadblock.
Furthermore, the fruitful outcomes of Chinese mediation in narrowing the differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran, resulting in the re-establishment of diplomatic ties and ambassadorial exchanges, should positively impact Arab-Syrian relationships.
China now navigates the Syrian situation with a sense of ease, steering clear of rivalry with major international players in Syria, notably Iran and Russia.
Amid intensified actions against Damascus, manifested by the deployment of additional American troops to the area and discussions about severing the connection between Syria and Iraq via a corridor from Al-Tanf to Al-Bukamal, the foundation of American intelligence leverages regional factions with specific local allegiances.
This period also saw heightened protests in southern Syria (Suwayda) and skirmishes between the SDF militia and tribal forces in northern and eastern Syria.
Syria’s challenging economic landscape has played a significant role in exacerbating these conflicts, amplifying concerns about their potential spread throughout the country.
The root of these protests can be largely attributed to differing perspectives. The Syrian government views American sanctions as the primary culprit, while many Syrians believe the escalation in corruption, which has surpassed tolerable levels, is burdening the populace.
China’s involvement in the Syrian crisis at this juncture offers robust political backing for Syria and should be complemented by heightened economic support, which Syria urgently requires.
Hosting the Syrian President in Beijing would signify a pivotal moment in the ties between the two nations, underscoring China’s aspiration for a more equitable global order.
The Syrian conflict may have been the catalyst for this shift, and the Ukrainian war further solidified it, making the strategy of international alignments more evident on the global stage.
President al-Assad’s sole visit to Beijing took place in 2004, centering on economic collaboration between both countries.
While development hinges on political and security stability, this shouldn’t deter efforts to address challenges potentially impeding economic collaboration or reconstruction involvement.
It’s beneficial to foster and stimulate dialogues between Syrian and Chinese entrepreneurs, particularly in devising solutions to reconstruction challenges, such as financing. The goal should be to transition from mere economic cooperation to a tangible economic partnership, incorporating road and rail links and connecting energy lines from Iran, China, Iraq, and Syria. This vision, proposed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2002, aimed to transform Syria into a pivotal gas transit hub and a free-trade nexus bridging the East and West by linking the Five Seas. China interpreted this as a rejuvenation of the Silk Road, envisioning a vast economic corridor from Syria to China. This aligns seamlessly with the Belt and Road Initiative introduced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.
Syria needs to modernize its banking system and could benefit from China’s expertise in this domain, exploring payment mechanisms that aren’t reliant on the US dollar. Strengthening ties between the chambers of commerce, industry, and agriculture and creating joint chambers between the two nations can be valuable, among other cooperative ventures.
There are numerous potential collaboration areas between the two countries that could yield significant outcomes for both if they can navigate bureaucratic hurdles and establish direct communication channels.
Such cooperation may not be well-received by Syria’s adversaries, notably the United States, which is reportedly extracting Syrian oil from the wells it controls, all the while claiming its forces are in the region to combat terrorism, specifically ISIS.
The Chinese media has extensively highlighted this act, deeming it a blatant international theft conducted openly.
China appears to be growing in confidence and is more assertive in demonstrating its global influence, especially given the rising tensions with the United States. This dynamic presents Syria with an opportunity to enhance its ties with Beijing.
Anticipation is building around the forthcoming visit of the Syrian President to Beijing. Current predictions suggest it will mark a significant moment in the relationship between the two nations, potentially reshaping the geopolitical equilibrium in the Middle East and possibly on a global scale.
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