New emerging alliances in ME
After years of hands-off approach, Beijing has finally decided to navigate the stormy waters of a crisis-ridden Middle East in its own ingenious way.
Xi deliberately avoided mentioning Daesh while addressing the Arab leadership in Cairo last month even though elements from China’s western province of Xinxiang have reportedly joined the ranks of the beastly terror organization in the recent past. Striking the right chord Xi declared, “Middle-East is a land of abundance. Yet we are pained to see it still plagued by war and conflict. Where should the Middle East be headed? This is the question the international community keeps asking. The people here want less conflict and suffering, more peace and dignity.”
It is amply clear that Beijing has a much higher goal that goes far beyond the scope of customary bilateral issues. China wants to extricate Middle East from the legacy of violence and exploitation, while consolidating and intensifying all-round, multi-layered and wide-ranging cooperation with Arab nations to safeguard regional peace and stability and promote overall development. Accordingly, the Chinese political leadership is reshaping the country’s diplomacy at a time when the American influence in the region is clearly waning for various reasons and Washington, it seems, has lost the appetite to fight wars with boots on the ground. Besides, the Russians too are no longer accepted as an honest arbiter after Moscow plunged into Syria’s civil war, taking sides. In fact, the Chinese can boast of an age-old Sino-Arab civilizational bonding citing a 14th century non-Muslim Ming Dynasty ruler Zhu Yuanzhang scripted hundred words eulogy in Mandarin, praising Islam, Allah and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) lavishly. Above all, China, unlike the West, carries no imperialistic baggage in the Arab world, which might fuel a sense of suspicion about its real intent in public minds or high echelons of the ruling establishments across the region.
Rather, the Arab-Chinese affinity that Xi stressed on so eloquently is based on ancient cultural and trade links and exchanges, which expanded to “sharing weal and woe” in the fight for national independence and helping each other in nation building. Indeed, the common civilizational ideals and values of peace, moderation and tolerance coupled with aspirations for development and progress serve as a guideline to Chinese policymakers in enhancing the level of Sino-Arab relationship. China’s “soft power” is highly appreciated in the Arab world and its policy of non-interference has endeared the Asian giant to Arab populace by and large. And it is this unbreakable affinity that brings hope for marked improvements in Arab-Chinese relations, premised on mutual trust and accommodation. As Middle East presents itself before the international community as a boiling cauldron where even the best of mediatory efforts yields very little or no result, Xi’s recipe for a fruitful partnership hinges on some inviolable templates, which includes win-win strategy of cooperation based on convergence of interests; no forceful interference to solve regional problems; resisting external intervention in regional crisis; giving primacy to the “will and role” of local stakeholders in conflict resolution; rejecting policy of planting spheres of influence; formulating comprehensive strategy to address symptoms and root causes of extremism; encouraging intra-regional dialogue for holistic development while upholding unique sociocultural attributes; chalking out an all-encompassing action plan to galvanize the region’s industrialization, technology transfer, personnel training and financial support; infrastructural upgradation to boost manufacturing, energy production and strengthen people-to-people relations.
Most importantly, Xi stressed on the need to establish a China-Arab research center on reform and development, use China-Arab States Cooperation Forum to hold regular roundtable on inter-civilizational dialogue for confronting extremist ideals and organize exchange of visits by renowned religious scholars frequently. All because, Beijing is apparently not interested in treading the hegemonic path of the western powers, but aspires to be an honest enabler in the Arab world’s pursuit of national rejuvenation.
The fact remains, China is more interested in cultivating a Middle East sans instability because of a pronounced long term economic objective. However, experts see this effort to promote pragmatic cooperation as a Chinese ploy to expand its sphere of geostrategic influence. But then, with half of the crude imports for its resource-intense economy coming from the Gulf, Beijing is in no position to happily sit back and let the flame of instability grip the region slowly but steadily. Not many realize that allowing West Asia to descend into veritable chaos is not in the interest of either the developed or developing world. The global economy will be the biggest sufferer if a sudden flare-up affects the region’s vast oil infrastructure.
And Beijing does have a vested interest in a stable MENA region because of its sustained effort to stimulate Asian economic growth and create new markets for Chinese goods and services through the ambitious “One Belt One Road initiative.” Now that the Chinese leadership is committed to creating shared economic interests for fostering regional interdependence and stabilizing Middle East, New Delhi must leverage its historic relationship with the Arab world to ensure that Asia’s two powerhouses can jointly manage the many pitfalls instead of working at cross-purposes.
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