These days, 6 different countries of the Middle East, where conflicts seemingly never end, will welcome Wang Yi, Member of the State Council and Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China. Wang’s visit is expected to touch on topics as the nuclear agreement with Iran, Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Afghanistan.
The Middle East visit of Wang Yi started on the 24th of March in Saudi Arabia and will cover 6 different countries. Wang arrived in Turkey on the 25th of March and met President Erdoğan. Next steps on the trip are Iran, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain.
Following a tradition, Wang had made the first international travel to African countries, visiting Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, Tanzania and the Seychelles. In mid January, he had participated in meetings in Myanmar, Brunei, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Wang’s meetings in the Middle East are closely watched, as they follow upon a tense US-Chinese summit in Alaska, Western sanctions and a recent meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The Chinese Foreign Ministry is well aware of an international tendency to cold-war-like polarization and thus insists that the country’s foreign policy is not constructed on hostilities and conflicts. During the daily press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chungying expresses his country’s desire to construct an international system, where countries with different systems and values can come together and succeed together, saying “China follows the path to build a shared future for mankind”.
How to be the strategic partner of two enemies at the same time?
The Chinese pursuit to construct an international community with a shared future for mankind, where everyone wins, will doubtlessly most severely tested in the Middle East, where conflicts have prevailed for years. The Middle East struggles with uncertainties caused by external interventions and searches for solutions to historical contradictions and conflicts. China wants to play the role of a “internationally responsible power” within this atmosphere, and to the contrary of the expected, it has quite a number of tools at hand.
One of the most important tools is China’s ability to pursue relations with different countries, who among themselves are competitors or even enemies. For instance, quite differently from the US, China has succeeded to establish a strategic partnership with both, Saudi Arabia and Iran, while becoming one of the most important trade partners of Israel with a bilateral commercial volume of 15 billions dollars per year.
China’s success was based on the approach that was adopted since the times of Deng Xiaoping. This approach, summarized as “less ideological, more practical foreign policy”, watches carefully to establish a delicately balanced relationship to countries that have hostile relations to each other. The Chinese President Xi Jinping for example has during his Middle East trip 2016 visited both Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the Chinese navy has conducted joint military drills with both countries in 2019.
Chinese touch on the nuclear deal
The Chinese Foreign Minister’s travel agenda has Saudi Arabia and Iran on the same page. This reflects that Beijing acts free of ideological parameters, and opens new possibilities for China.
China has “kept its record clean” by staying out of regional conflicts in the Middle East. One of the main goals of Beijing today is to contribute to the reestablishment of the JCPOA Agreement with Iran. China was party to the agreement, which was cancelled by Trump. Currently, Beijing insists on both, the immediate lifting of sanctions against Iran as well as Tehran’s fulfilling of the agreement’s provisions. It is not clear yet how the Biden Administration will react to Chinese initiatives on the matter, but Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken has, despite all differences, mentioned the Iran policy as one of possible fields of cooperation with China.
Invitation to Israel and Palestine
The State Council Member and Foreign Minister Wang has met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman on March 24.
The nuclear agreement with Iran is not the only issue where China wants to create “harmony” via international diplomacy. The Chinese Foreign Minister has discussed on his stop in Saudi Arabia the free trade agreement between China and the Gulf and simultaneously announced his country’s disposition to host Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Wang made declarations to the Dubai-centered TV channel Al Arabia, where he mentioned a 5-point-plan and underlined again that his country supports the two-state-solution. Wang also stated that China supports the plan concerning Yemen, which establishes countrywide ceasefire and the opening of borders.
Previously, the Spokesperson of the Israeli Knesset, Hilik Bar, and the Advisor of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Nebil Shaas had gathered in 2017 in Beijing, without achieving concrete results for the problem’s solution.
Afghanistan might be topic in talks with Turkey
Another issue on Wang’s agenda are the peace talks in Afghanistan. The idea to establish a joint platform to solve the conflicts including Afghanistan came up in Wang’s recent meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. Details on the platform are not known yet, and it remains to be seen in the coming days whether it will provide opportunities as a kind of “Astana for Afghanistan”.
Although the official press text before the meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang does not mention the Afghanistan talks, the last minute inclusion of the issue will not be a surprise.