China, the U.S, and the Future of the Middle East – By Sam Farah

Sam Farah

China, the U.S., and the Future of the Middle East
By Sam Farah
for Syria Comment – May 1, 2017

Richard Fontain, and Michael Singh propose Chinese – US cooperation to stabilize the Middle East in a recent article:

The United States and China undeniably have overlapping interests in the region, providing a possible basis for competition, collaboration, or both. They also share a modest record of cooperation, including the Iran nuclear negotiations and on antipiracy operations…. Given the likelihood that the United States and China will remain at loggerheads in East Asia for the foreseeable future, the Middle East could represent an important arena through which to lower bilateral tensions and demonstrate that the otherwise highly competitive relationship need not be zero-sum.

Fontain and Singh are correct. The benefits of a cooperative relationship between the U.S. and China in the Middle East can have tangible benefits for both countries. A stable Middle East is at the heart of China’s new vision for its One Road One Belt project, a strategy that underlines China’s push to take a bigger role in global affairs.

The increased instability and radicalization in the Middle East poses a security threat to China’s mainland.  Thousands of Chinese jihadists from the western province of Xinjiang have come to Syria since the country’s civil war began in March 2011 to fight government forces. And in 2016 a suicide bomb attack on the Chinese embassy in the Kyrgyz capital was ordered by Uighur militants active in Syria.

At the same time, the Middle East has become a major source of energy for China.

And while the Middle East remains a security threat for the U.S. as a source of terrorism, it is less strategically important than it once was. The U.S. has become more energy self-sufficient, and is projected to significantly cut its reliance on oil from the Middle East.

In the same article, Fontain and Sing make a misguided proposal that the U.S. should reengage in the region the” traditional way”:

The best way for Washington to minimize the opportunities for further inroads by Beijing or Moscow—or at least to set the framework by which other external powers engage in the region—is to shore up key relationships with allies like Egypt, Turkey, Israel, and the Gulf states.

This traditional engagement will polarize the Middle East further, and exacerbate the war in Syria.  U.S. officials know that these allies are arming and supplying the most radical terrorist organizations including ISIS and Al Qaeda in their bid for regional influence.

The traditional U.S.  peace-building effort in the Middle East has focused on individual conflicts and has yielded precious little despite intense effort by several American administrations. Neoconservatives, who argued that the promotion of liberal democracies is a precondition to peace in the Middle East, have pushed for regime change in many countries in the region, only to see violence, extremism and terrorism reach new heights, all at a huge cost to the American taxpayer.

The Chinese approach to the Middle East will be different. According to Yang Guang, the Chinese solution would pair a regional approach with economic development. This is a much different and likely a better approach to peace building in the Middle East. It is clear that the Syrian crisis is a regional war, and the Kurdish issue is a regional issue as is the Israeli – Palestinian issue. The Chinese would also have an easier time than the U.S. facilitating dialogue in the region. China won’t be viscerally rejected by the leftists in the region, and is less suspect than the Europeans whose colonial history in the Middle East has never been forgotten.

The current conflicts in the Middle East are not primordial. The same communities that are at war today have lived peacefully together for centuries. According to Philip Mansel’s book Levant; Splendor and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean, many of the cities in the Levant were multicultural, multilingual and mixed; mosques, churches and synagogues were built side by side. Trade bound its inhabitants, and their cities were at once Middle Eastern and Mediterranean. They were cosmopolitan then, as Singapore, London, and New York are today.

The descent of the Middle East into what seems today as perpetual war began with the rise of nationalism in the Middle East at the turn of the twentieth century.

When it comes to the Middle East today, all the major global powers are engaged in reactionary stopgap measures. What the region needs is a departure from nationalist and identity politics.  Creating the conditions and framework in which nationalistic and identity politics dissipate, allowing for communities to live peacefully side by side is the answer. That won’t happen at the bilateral level; it requires a regional approach.

A stable Middle East, neutralized political Islam (depoliticizing islam), and secure energy and trade routes are a win-win for Russia, China, and the U.S., not to mention Europe.

Neither China, the U.S. nor Russia can do it alone. It is also doubtful that any of these major powers want to “win” in the Middle East and be held solely responsible for the stability and security of the region.

Comments (8)

Jasmine said:

Economic ties between USA and SA have reached a new level,how much this can contribute to the peace in Syria?

May 2nd, 2017, 6:57 am


Eugene said:

Whether by design or not, colonialism is the real culprit in this and just about every other conflict down through the ages. Plunder, no matter how you paint it, is still plunder, even when the partners are members of the plundered country. Can said plundered country survive? Sure, if there’s cooperation with the neighbors. Of course, there’s exceptions today, but for the most part, it’s doable. Interest issue being birthed, Israeli businesses looking to go to U.S. if Trump gets his wish of lowering the tax rate to 15%. It that a juicily carrot? Consider the influx of Israeli citizens to the U.S. too. The question may be: “can the Israeli Jews merge with the U.S.Jews seamlessly?

May 2nd, 2017, 7:52 am


Ranin Yousef said:

Excellent article! It is credible because it is based on facts that is rare to read or see in the US corporate media anي Syria Comment! So if the US has been for “liberal democracies is a precondition to peace in the Middle East” policies why not starting with Saudi Arabia and Israel both are based on one religion against the basic principle of “liberal democracy”!? Because it is not democracy and it is not for freedom, it has been pure financial decision based on the misery of destabilizing the invaded countries that have been moving forward to financial independence which fulfill the basic definition of “liberal democracy”. All through the history, the main cause of empires’ disappearance was oppressing and slaving of the invaded people for greed and never was based on mutual benefits that China has been doing around the world for two decades.

May 2nd, 2017, 1:17 pm


SimoHurtta said:

Well the big question is does USA need or want a stable and peaceful Middle East. Europe, China and Russia certainly want that and need it for their own economical and social reasons. For USA this present situation with numerous US fueled wars, lucrative and wast arms trade, petrodollar system and those their lunatic dictators and kings ruling the oil and militant islam is the basis for their empire. The importance of the Middle East for USA comes that the present “system” allows US Dollar to stay as the dominant world currency through being the main currency in oil trades and the petrodollar recycling mechanism. The weapons trade is what keeps USA’s nose above the surface. Without it the trade deficit would be totally catastrophic, now it is only catastrophic. When China becomes the main customer for Middle East’s oil and other raw materials it is only a question of time when China begins to demand petro-Yuan Renminbi recycling. Then it is China which will sell the weapons to Arabs and give them the “security” USA has provided. Saudis are not stupid and they are in the end businessmen, they realize soon who are their new main customers and what is needed to keep them “happy”.

USA and Israel need the present instability and wars to keep their role and influence still for a while. Eurasia does need stability and peace. It is clear that when USA loses even partly the Middle Easts weapon markets and support for their currency USA’s role as the number one is over.

May 3rd, 2017, 5:32 am


Ali Alwahsh said:

“De-Escalation zones” is another masterpiece played by the mastermind of Syrian government. Now it’s obvious why the Syrian government was deporting all terrorists to these four areas in the last two years.

One might argue that these are the no-fly zones that Turkey, Gulf Sates, and USA was calling for since day one of this proxy war, and as a result it’s a great win to the terrorists and their handlers. However, in reality the Syrian government has out-witted the West (again) and simply outsourced the management, finance, and operation of these four massive prison camps to somebody else. The Syrian Army will have more resources in hand to liberate and spread over more Syrian territories while somebody else is playing the guard and principle role in keeping these animals within the cage.

When the time comes these camps will have the choice of re-joining the Syrian government or so some restructure/rebuild work required after obliterating them off the camp.

May 6th, 2017, 6:16 pm


ALAN said:

“De-Escalation zones” is a RUSSIAN term. And the tactics from beginning to the end Are a RUSSIANS, approved by the Syrian government.
Russia, Turkey, and Iran agreed upon the plan to establish four safe zones in Syria during peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. It is meant to provide a degree of safety to armed opposition groups that pledge to end their violent revolt and seek a political transition in Syria. Under the plan, Damascus and these groups have agreed not to engage in hostilities with each other in those safe zones.
The deal offers no protection to terrorist groups such as Islamic State (formerly ISIS / ISIL), which remains legitimate targets in Syria. The armed opposition is expected to keep the jihadists from using the zones as safe havens. The memorandum also states that the three guarantors will “take all necessary measurements to continue the fight” against the terrorists.

May 7th, 2017, 4:20 am


Ghufran said:

So, how a potential movement for freedom and democracy became a fascist campaign led by militants and terrorist sympzthizers ? It all goes back to cultural regression which has self hatred and hatred of others at its core. The only thing most of those who rose and took up arms love is their own version of Islam but they hated everything else: Assad regime, alawites, Christians, the west, Russia, Shia, their own country and at times life itself. You see that in their social media postings, in their media and in their behavior where they preferred to see their towns destroyed rather than giving up on an ill guided and foreigners driven military rebellion.

May 25th, 2017, 9:05 am


Hanibal mahdi said:

Ghufran: what you have uttered is the definition of sectarianism. How can you paint a whole country and whole religion and culture with one adjective. The roots of the problem in the middle east is 2. 1- Dictatorship and lack of democracy.Dictatorship will let a sectarianism survive, privileged few with total humiliated personality to prosper. The few ruling Alwaite: the elders suffers from poverty complex, used their sect to build up massive wealth( ask Rifat Alassad), the new alawaite rulers suffers from self grandiose and total lack of respect to humanity as obvious from the current state of Syria. 2-The conflict between Iran and Saudi ARABIA is the root of shia , sunni sectarianism. it is not the religion. But alas we have people like you and sam Farah still divert away from the simple fact that this Assad dictatorship used everyone to stay in power and build up massive wealth.

May 26th, 2017, 1:59 pm


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