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China’s Middle Eastern ‘Dilemma’

Does China view the Syrian question as a challenge or an opportunity? The WSJ, here, estimates in an interesting analysis that Beijing is actually finding itself in a “dilemma.” Regime change makes Chinese leaders “nervous” and that has partly got to do with their Manichean fear about the (lack of) “legitimacy” of their own political system; the turmoil in the Middle East underlines the “reality” that the US is the lone superpower and China has a long way to go to match it; yet, China has growing economic interests in the Middle East and they include energy security, which is highly strategic, and that, in turn, poses existential choices — this is, broadly, how WSJ assesses. 

WSJ sees that the acute dilemma left Beijing “flat-footed” on Libya and with the benefit of hindsight prompted it to join hands with Moscow on the Syrian question. But there are nuances, too. Thus, the FO “noted” US’ evidence of Assad regime using chemical weapons but didn’t “evaluate”, while official Chinese media remains critical of any American recourse to military option. 
How does it add up? WSJ concludes: “China has grown powerful enough for the US to pay attention to such concerns [as Syria] — but not so strong that it can affect the outcome.” 
Indeed, China is deliberately keeping a low profile in the Middle East — keenly watching but not allowing itself to drawn in, diligently prioritizing its interests at this point in time and taking care not to be deflected from its path. 
However, to say China fears an Arab Spring or a “color revolution” is neither here or there. Nor is it within the realms of possibility that the US and its allies would ever seek a Middle Eastern-style “regime change” in China. Put differently, China’s “legitimacy” question is of an altogether different nature — and it is going to be addressed differently. 
Then, there is another way of looking at things: Who is on the right side of history in the Middle East — China or the US? The US claims polemically that it is, while China claims nothing. 
What if Beijing genuinely thinks that the US is pursuing a futile path in the Middle East when, as American pundits themselves admit, “many things are beyond the military power of the United States?” Looking back, China played a passive role in 2003 during the US’s invasion of Iraq. But, today, it has emerged as the “ultimate winner of the Iraq War.”   
The openness with which Chinese writings discuss the developments in Egypt shows Beijing is unwilling to take a one-dimensional view — such as, for instance, Russia takes regarding Muslim Brotherhood. Since the exact dimensions and nature of the US’ role in the coup d’etat in Egypt will remain a secret, we do not know the sincerity of the Obama administration’s stated position that the junta should accommodate the Muslim Brotherhood. But China has been transparent about the legitimate role of Islamism. 
And it goes to the credit of Chinese diplomacy that its transparent stance on Egypt has not upset Saudi Arabia or the junta in Cairo. China is, in fact, pursuing its business in Cairo with some elan despite the utter confusion prevailing there.
Coming to Syria, WSJ overlooks that the US stands isolated today in the world opinion and it is China, which is sharing the majority opinion in the world community. And if one were to look ahead, the US has no option but to return to the Security Council at some point. 
Even after militarily defining the Kosovo entity, the Bill Clinton Administration went back to the Security Council. How could we possibly say, therefore, that China can be taken for granted? In the ultimate analysis, it becomes a matter of China’s unique concept of time. As a much, much younger nation, the US obviously takes greater interest in time present than in time past or time future. 

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