China’s successful brokering of a rapprochement between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East is a milestone in a far larger plan to both counter what Beijing sees as US-led containment and reshape the world order to accommodate them better serves its interests.
In a bold departure from its trade-dominated policy in the oil-rich region, China entered the fray of Middle East peacemaking by brokering a deal – unveiled in Beijing on Friday – in which Iran and Saudi Arabia pledged to resume diplomatic relations and reopen embassies closed in 2016.
China has a vested interest in promoting stability and influence in the region that supplies most of its crude oil; Beijing’s economic clout and solid ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia enabled it to finalize the deal the two countries had been negotiating for two years.
But the diplomatic coup is also a concrete example of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s push for a broader and more ambitious agenda — liberating China from the isolation he says the West is imposing, and building a power base in the Global South from which it may be challenging US hegemony, China experts say.
Mr. Xi launched a rare public attack on the United States in a speech last week, blaming Washington for economic setbacks. “Western countries — led by the US — have launched full-scale containment, encirclement and repression against us, posing unprecedented severe challenges to our country’s development,” Mr Xi said, according to state media.
Faced with US pressure in Europe and Asia, “China is a headwind … saying, ‘We have alternative cinemas [where] we can foster our leadership and our credibility,'” said Yun Sun, senior fellow and co-director of the East Asia program and director of the China program at the Stimson Center in Washington.
China’s leaders “point to an alternative global security vision” – spearheaded by Beijing – which “has already borne fruit in the case of the Middle East” and suggest that “if it can succeed there, it can succeed elsewhere,” says Mrs. Sun.
Convert economic power into political influence
China’s rise to become the world’s largest trading power has led to a surge in Chinese investment in developing countries. Over the past decade, China has invested an estimated $1 trillion in the Belt and Road Initiative, a massive program to build railroads, highways and energy pipelines in nearly 150 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
Now Beijing is trying to use its economic clout in the Global South to create a base from which it can expand its political and diplomatic clout and gain greater influence in international institutions and world affairs, experts say.
“A great power is not only engaged economically with its neighbors. It is becoming more involved and prominent in global affairs,” says Nadège Rolland, Senior Fellow in Political and Security Affairs at the National Bureau of Asian Research. China’s new prospects are a “paradigm shift,” she says.
“China’s engagement is not just about trade and seeking natural resources and markets,” she adds. “China’s political elites increasingly feel that they must also deliver global public goods.”
In a recent speech in Beijing, the editor-in-chief of the influential Beijing Cultural Review, Yang Ping, argued that China should “build a new kind of international relations and system that has strategic depth and in which China and the countries of the Global South.” are integrated together.”
This would include adjusting the Belt and Road Initiative to make strategic investments in developing countries that may not be profitable, Mr Yang said, according to a translation of his remarks on the Sinification blog.
The governments of many of these countries are open to Beijing’s reach, which presents China’s economic success under a state-run, authoritarian system as an alternative model to that of the West.
China also benefits from a long history of solidarity with the Third World as one of dozens of anti-colonial developing countries that attended the 1955 Bandung Conference, a forerunner of the Non-Aligned Movement. During the Cold War, China tried to form a united front with developing countries to resist pressure from the US and the Soviet Union.
“The parallels are very similar to what we see today,” says Dr. Rolland, while Beijing seeks to work with the Global South to resist what it perceives as a Western campaign of isolation and encirclement.
A key aspect of China’s strategy is to focus on areas it believes the US is not paying enough attention to, experts say.
“The uncertainty of US power and influence … could allow Beijing to play an increasingly prominent role in regional politics, particularly within the global South,” Michael Swaine, director of the East Asia program at Washington’s Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, told an Online -Forum Tuesday.
Not everyone is so excited…
China’s efforts to boost its standing as a great power through diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East and elsewhere will not end with the Iran-Saudi Arabia deal. There are plans for Beijing to host a high-level summit between Iran and the Arab Gulf countries in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council later this year.
If this summit succeeds and demonstrates China’s ability to bridge historic rivalries, “that would be real [game] Changing international relations in the region,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Fellow for the Middle East at the Baker Institute, on Tuesday in the online forum.
However, experts say it is too early to say how far China-brokered agreements will be implemented and warn against overestimating China’s role. “China was in the right place at the right time with the right connections” to help finalize the Iran-Saudi Arabia deal, Ms Sun says. “It wasn’t because China has this amazing influence to be the peacemaker.”
In fact, experts stress that China’s ability to forge unity and dampen conflicts in the developing world is often constrained by the calculations of each country involved, many of which will try to balance their ties with the US and China.
While Beijing may see itself as a common cause with developing countries, as it did in the 1950s and 1960s, China’s status as a superpower has led many countries to mistrust its influence, Ms Sun says.
China “is in cold war competition with the United States. It divides the world in two in this competition and tries to get the third world to line up behind China,” she says. “The Chinese will say … China is just an innocent third party on the sidelines, but I’m sure many countries will see this message differently.”
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Source : news.yahoo.com