Agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, negotiations for peace in Yemen, the return of Syria to the Arab League, normalization efforts between Türkiye on the one side and Egypt and Syria on the other: Diplomacy has become very active in the Middle East.
The People’s Republic of China is one of the rising actors behind the scenes. Beijing has actively mediated between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and has proposed a general Global Security Initiative.
I spoke with Dr. Wang Jin, a distinguished expert on Chinese foreign policy and Middle Eastern issues on these issues. Dr. Wang Jin is Associate Professor, and the Assistant Director, Institute of Middle East Studies, Northwest University of China.
In March 2021, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi presented a 5-point plan to “achieve security and stability in the Middle East”. How would generally evaluate the progress of this plan?
I think that the five-point plan to achieve security and stability in the Middle East is actually make some success. On the one hand, China’s ideas of treating the regional partners equally and hope to a develop ties with the Middle Eastern states based upon the truthful wishes has been widely accepted by the regional countries. One on the other hand there were some very major achievements especially the Saudi-Iran approachment deal. So I think it actually make a lot of progress.
Complementarity between Middle East and China
Since then, the People’s Republic of China deepened its relations with both the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, especially in terms of economic cooperation. What is Beijing’s perception of the economic potential of West Asia?
I think Beijing is perception of economic potential of West Asia is very positive, very profound, because on the one hand, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, especially the Arab countries have a large population and population growth is very fast. That means that their market is very big. So there will be a lot of economic opportunities. On the other hand that the these Middle Eastern countries especially the Arab states, they actually hope to develop ties based on very realistic corporation rather than on some ideological divisions or preconditions about some political ideas. So this provides good opportunities for China and Middle Eastern countries.
So that’s why I think that we have very good conditions for cooperation. Meanwhile if you look at the economic prospects, corporation potential prospects China and Middle Eastern countries have a lot of complementary aspects. For example China has the Belt and Road Initiative and very strong industrial chains, so that it can provide a lot of industrial products to the regional countries. While for the Middle Eastern countries, they have about a huge market and they need the industrial technology and industrial products. So we have a lot of win-win situations and prospects of possibilities in the future. So I think the potential is very big.
The economic cooperation was followed by the Chinese mediation of reactivating diplomatic ties between these two countries. The reestablishment of diplomatic relations seems to have already had consequences for the conflict in Yemen. What is the Chinese perspective for the relation of these countries and their role in the region?
China welcomes the re-normalization of relations of the regional countries because China believes this will help to stabilize the regional order and decrease uncertainties of possible regional crises. So China actually welcomes very strongly this move. And China hopes to continue to play a very active and constructive role in the process of normalization in the Asian regional order. I think China will continue to efforts.
The Global Security Initiative and the Middle East
In February, China announced the Global Security Initiative (GSI). Maybe more focused on the Ukraine, the document still bears potential also for remaining conflicts in West Asia, namely Syria and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Is China going to take more initiative in these two issues? If so, in which way?
I think China will hope to voice or put in new ideas of with the global security initiative to other regional topics such as Israel-Palestinian conflict or the Ukraine war. But we are talking about different issues here.
China knows that very clearly, because we are at the very beginning of the process of spreading the Global Security Initiative. The Global Security Initiative is composed by some ideas that are totally different from traditional ideas of competition and confrontation that have been upheld by some western powers. So we are still at the very early stage of spreading such ideas.
So that is why I think China knows exactly that its not so easy to just spread this idea to other issues, to expand its global security initiative to other regional issues so easily. Therefore, we have to wait and we need to have patience. We need to try to show our image first and that needs time. We don’t need to be in a very big hurry. I think we only need to wait and do our best. Than some achievement will appear there.
Generally speaking, what proposes the GSI and the Chinese diplomacy for Israel and Türkiye, two other important countries of West Asia?
Chinese relations with both Israel and Turkey, as the Chinese relations with other regional countries, are based upon the mutual respect and mutual equality. We don’t want anyone to be humiliated in bilateral or multilateral relations. And we do not want any interference into anyone’s national, domestic affairs.
And we deem great importance that third parties, especially some Western powers do not intervene into our bilateral relations with both Türkiye and Israel.
We want our cooperation to advance smoothly and successfully without interference. No matter which country, the Global Security Initiative has already stressed clearly that we want peace, stability, development, respect and equality. I think this a very different notion if compared to the ideas that Western countries have.
The United States “shouldn’t fear the realities”
Some sources in the United States have criticized the Chinese mediation in West Asia as a challenge to U.S. domination. How do you evaluate the US role in the region until now? Do you fear that American steps might undermine Chinese diplomatic efforts?
I think maybe United States will in someway feel threatened by China’s Global Security Initiative, which is composed by ideas totally different that those the United States pursues. And meanwhile China’s efforts to bring Saudi Arabia and Iran together also might create the feeling of threatening the United States’ the regional domination.
But I want to say that, actually from Chinese perspective, the United States shouldn’t fear the realities, because China has already been claiming many times that Middle Eastern countries are a geopolitical vacuum that needs be filled by third parties, especially external powers.
We should be equal partners, we just want to cooperate based on equal bilateral status, and we want to be partners based on equality and dignity. So this is a very new vision.
So that’s why I think there is willingness for bilateral cooperation between Middle Eastern countries and China, in difference to external pressure, threatening and deterrence that force them to come together. Therefore, this is a very different political ideology, totally very new idea ideas to direct the future of cooperation between china and other states. This is not limited to the Middle East but also includes the rest of the world.
We hope to construct a better world that will create the vision for win-win results that will benefit everybody not just the very few countries like what the Western countries always claim.