China Intensifies Mideast Meddling
Energy-starved China is increasingly involved in the Middle East, meddling in–and, to some extent, manipulating–the Islamist-Israeli conflict to the detriment of the Jewish state and its chief ally and supporter, the United States.
The chief stratetgist is Beijing’s top Arabic-speaking diplomat and special envoy to the region, Sun Bigan.
On Friday, he called on the Palestinians to release captured Israeli soldiers to make way for the resumption of talks and build momentum towards peace in the region. Sun made his comments following a trip to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia, where he reportedly pushed all parties to engage in peace talks.
“We urged Palestine to make more efforts and to follow the principle of having prisoner swaps with Israel and release the captured soldiers as soon as possible,” Sun told reporters. “I expressed condolences and sympathy for the pain they have experienced and also for the suffering of these soldiers.
“We also called on Israel and other parties concerned to take further steps to ease the humanitarian crisis that is quite severely confronting the Palestinian people.”
Sun said he met relatives of the two Israeli soldiers, who were kidnapped in the cross-border Hezbollah raid in July that triggered a month-long war in which 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed.
Sun said he saw hope in the Saudi land-for-peace initiative originally floated in 2002 and relaunched at an Arab League summit in Riyadh last month, saying it was a sign of momentum towards renewed peace talks. He added that Arab countries supported the move.
“They have emphasised to me that this is their strategic choice,” Sun said.
He also denied that China’s growing interest in the region was being fuelled by its thirst for oil.
“I think those views are not well-founded and lack sufficient information,” he said, asserting that China’s role in the Middle East is active and fair and aimed at promoting peace, which is in the interest of all sides including China.
There are those who disagree with that assertion. Acknowledging that their government is keen on strengthening ties to China–for economic and political reasons–some Israeli analysts argue that escalating tensions in the Middle East actually benefit rising China, an ally and major oil customer of Islamist Iran. The Islamist-Israeli dispute and the nuclear standoff with the Iranian mullahocracy absorb US attention and resources and divert attention from China, making it easier for the country’s Communist Party rulers to maintain their dictatorship, threaten Taiwan, expand and modernize the Chinese military–including its increasingly ominous space-warfare programs–and compete with the US in terms of access to resources and markets around the world and international influence and prestige.
In short, the Middle East could be the key to further isolating and weakening the US, which China sees as a dying but still dangerous (and economically necessary) Hegemon.
Tensions in the Middle East also boost Beijing’s arms sales to the region–especially to Iran and Syria–encouraging further expansion and development of China’s defense industries.
The challenge for China, according to the above-referenced analysts, is to manage the tension. A crisis leading to full-blown conflict could disrupt oil supplies and send crude prices skyrocketing–not a good thing for the world’s second largest importer of the resource, after the US.