US can never escape its Mid-East history of onslaught and exploitation

October 3, 2012
Sarah Benton

China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in 2009; relations have soured since then as Netanyahu cancelled planned visits to Beijing in 2010 and 2012 (photo: Moshe Milner/GPO/Glash90).
An article from Al Jazeera on Palestine/China relations is posted 2nd.

Empire Trapped: The US’ Unpromising Role in the New Middle East

US is now hostage to the limitations of its own foreign policy.

By Ramzy Baroud, Palestine Chronicle
October 02, 2012

Editors representing many Asian newspapers stood in a perfect line. They were nervous and giddy at the prospect of meeting Li Changchun, China’s powerful member of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee. Personally, the Great Hall of the People and the fortitude of Chinese society mesmerized me. Despite its challenges and repeated accusations of corruption and power struggles, China appeared composed while an unwavering forward movement was propelling it. As for the country’s foreign policy, it is governed by a cautious slowly churning agenda, which is unambiguously clear in its long-term objectives.

On that day, nearly two years ago, we knew that Li was awaiting our arrival, for a solitary old jacket, which bore his name with a sticker fastened on the hanger, hung in a closet in the hallway leading to the room where the meeting took place. Li Changchun spoke frustratingly slow as if he were a Hollywood stereotype of a Chinese emperor. Self-assertive and unperturbed by our presence and the many probing questions, Li’s perception of history was much more far-reaching than one expected from the chief of propaganda. Li clearly saw his country’s foreign policy in light of US global military adventures, geopolitical advances and setbacks. No other country seemed to matter. It was a competition and China was determined to win.

A few months later, upheaval struck the Middle East. Its manifestations – revolutions, civil wars, regional mayhem and conflicts of all sorts – reverberated beyond the Middle East. Shrinking and rising empires alike took notice. Fault lines were quickly determined and exploited and players changed positions or jockeyed for advanced ones, as a new Great Game in the resource and strategic rich region was about to begin. The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ was rapidly becoming a game-changer in a region that seemed resistant to transformations of any kind. China was wary of its existing investment in the region. So they moved with predictable caution: Wobbled at times, as in Libya, appearing firmer in Syria, and almost entirely aloof in Bahrain.

For China however, the space for future political movement is boundless. Unlike the United States, a ‘new’ or stagnant Middle East will not change the fact that China is barely associated with an atrocious history of military onslaughts or economic exploitation, with which western powers are undeniably associated. The speed of the political transition underway in the Middle East may require Li Changchun to speak a bit faster, a tad louder and with greater clarity, but it will hardly demand a complete shift in China’s policies. It is the interests and rank of the US, as the dominant foreign power in the region, that will consequently suffer irreparable damage.

When discussed through the prism of sheer political analysis, history can be narrow, selective and problematically short. But based on a methodical historical investigation, reality is much less confusing, and the future is far less unpredictable. The seemingly unbridled conflict in the Middle East is no exception.

In his review of Fredrik Logevall’s recently published book: “Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam,” Gordon Goldstein wrote, “Over the centuries, strategic overextension by great powers acting on the periphery of their national interests has hobbled ancient empires and modern states” (Washington Post, September 28). Goldstein was referring to US conduct in Southeast Asia, where the US adopted as its own, the disastrous legacy of French colonialism in Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). Both powers were squarely and humiliatingly defeated.

Empires don’t crumble overnight, however. A fall of an empire can be as agonizingly long as its rise. Signs of that collapse are oftentimes subtle and might not be followed by a big boom of any sort, but can be unambiguous and definite.

Since the Second World War, US foreign policy has been largely predicated on military adventures, by severely punishing enemies and controlling ‘friends’. Diplomacy was often the icing on the cake of war, wars that seemed to follow similar patterns such as targeting powerless, economically browbeaten and isolated countries. It was a successful brand while it lasted. It allowed the generals to speak of the invincibility of their military might, the politicians to boast of their global responsibilities and the media to tirelessly promote American values. Few seemed to care much for the millions of innocent people who bore the brunt of that supposed quest for democratization of the Third World.

Few US foreign policy disasters can be compared to that of the Middle East. Similar to its Southeast Asia inheritance from the French, the US ‘inherited’ the Middle East from fading British and French empires. Unlike European imperial powers, US early contacts with the region were marred with violence, whether through its support of local dictatorships, financing and arming Israel at the expense of Palestinians and other Arab nations, or finally by getting involved – some say, entangled – in lethal wars.

The problem of ‘great’ empires is that their ability to maneuver is oftentimes restricted by their sheer size and the habitual nature of their conduct. They can only move forward and when that is no longer possible, they must retreat, ushering in their demise. US foreign policy is almost stuck when it is required to be most agile. While the Middle East is finally breaking away from a once impenetrable cocoon, and China – and Russia, among others – is attempting to negotiate a new political stance, the US is frozen. It took part in the bombing of Libya because it knows of no other alternative to achieving quick goals without summoning violence. In Syria, it refuses to be a positive conduit for a peaceful transition because it is paralyzed by its military failure in Iraq and fearful over the fate of Israel, should Syria lose its political centrality.

Even if the US opts to stave off a catastrophic decline in the region, it is shackled by the invasive tentacles of Israel, the pro-Israel lobby and their massive and permeating network, which crosses over competing media, political parties and ideological agendas. The US is now destined to live by the rules – and redlines – determined by Israel, whose national interests are barely concerned with the rise or demise of America. Israel only wants to ensure its supremacy in the ‘new’ Middle East. With the rise of post-revolutionary Egypt, Israel’s challenges are growing. It fears that a nuclear Iran would deprive it from its only unique edge – its nuclear technology and massive nuclear arsenal. If Iran obtains nuclear technology, Israel might have to negotiate in good faith as an equal partner to its neighbors, a circumstance that Israel abhors. Between the Israeli hammer and the anvil of the imminent decline of all empires, the US, which has held the Middle East hostage to its foreign policy for nearly six decades, is now hostage to the limitations of that very foreign policy. The irony is an escapable.

Listening to the monotonous voice of Li Changchun, it was clear that China was in no great hurry. Nor are the other powers now eyeing with great anticipation, the endgame of the Middle East upheaval.

Listening to US President Barack Obama’s lecture to the UN’s General Assembly on September 25, as he spoke of democracy, values and the predictable and self-negating language, it seems that there is no intention in changing course or maneuvering or retreating or simply going away altogether. The empire is entangled in its own self-defeating legacy. This is to the satisfaction of its many contenders, China notwithstanding.

Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally syndicated columnist and the editor of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story, Pluto Press

Palestine UN bid: Where does China stand?

China’s vote will fit into its framework of non-intervention, as it seeks to serve its own strategic interests.

By Nima Khorrami Assl, Al Jazeera
September 29, 2011

The Tianamen Square events in 1992 forced China to establish formal ties with Israel as a result of isolation [EPA]
In the decades after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China’s main interaction with the Middle East was its support for and cooperation with Arab “revolutionary groups”. Gradually though, public support for the Palestinian liberation movement became the key characteristic of China’s policy towards the Arab world, to the extent that George Habash called China Palestine’s “best friend”.

Beijing’s support for Palestine during this period was a matter of ideology and identity. Perceiving the Palestinian guerrillas/freedom fighters as fellow victims of imperialism and capitalism, the CCP leadership was keen to be identified with the Palestinians and provide them with both military aid and training. China was in fact the first non-Arab state to give diplomatic recognition to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Respectively, it refused to recognise the State of Israel, and in 1978 supported a UN motion classifying Zionism as a “form of racism”. However, China’s support for Palestine had another dimension as well: pleasing other Arab countries so they would recognise the People’s Republic as the “legitimate” Chinese state, not Taiwan.

By the early 1980s, however, China’s Palestine policy had entered a new phase. While it labelled the 1982 incidents at Sabra and Shatila camps as “Hitlerism”, Beijing was also forging covert ties with Tel Aviv. This was the direct result of Deng Xiaoping accession to power and the subsequent pragmatism that he brought to China’s foreign policy establishment. By the mid 1980s, Israel had effectively become Beijing’s main supplier of high technology, and China was now acknowledging “Israel’s right to security and existence”. Finally, events of Tiananmen Square and the resulting isolation of the Chinese state encouraged China to establish formal relations with Israel in 1992.

‘Valuable public diplomacy’
Today, however, it is China’s interest in improving its image in the Muslim world as well as its “long-term desire” to obtain strategic parity with the United States that encourage China to lend its backing to the PA attempt to gain recognition in the UN. Bordering Pakistan and home to 10 million Uighur Muslims, who insist on their distinct, non-Chinese identity, China has serious security concerns along its north western border as evident in recent knife attacks. Officials in Beijing are of the opinion that supporting the Palestinian cause is a “valuable public diplomacy tool” which will not only help China improve its standing amongst Muslims, but will, at a minimum, fend off any potential Arab criticism of Beijing’s unsympathetic attitude towards Uighurs.

Meanwhile, supporting Palestinians can considerably boost China’s approval rating in the Arab world, thereby further encouraging Arab governments to look to China “as a potential check on unrestrained American dominance”. With US popularity at its lowest point on both the state and public levels, and a diminishing Western influence in the horizon, the Palestine UN bid has provided China with a golden opportunity to further expand its soft power in a region that is of immense strategic importance to China’s uninterrupted economic growth, and hence the successful execution of its military modernisation plans.

An ancient civilisation which has managed to construct its own path toward modernity, a country free of the “colonial taint” of other external actors in the region, and a state that does not link trade with democracy, human rights, and political reform, is undoubtedly an attractive partner in the eyes of many regional governments. Supporting Palestinians also helps Beijing to compensate for its loss of credibility caused by its “attitude” towards the Libyan revolution, while safeguarding a privileged access to the future Palestinian market for its enterprises.

Yet, it would be naïve to expect China to take a pivotal role in managing the Arab-Israeli conflict; certainly not unilaterally. Such an expectation ignores the extent and reality of Chinese-Israeli ties, which are of paramount importance to the Middle Kingdom at a time when naval competition between China and India as well as China and the US is set to increase, Beijing’s distrust in Arab regimes’ determination to see an independent Palestinian state, and China’s preference to rely on the United States for the provision and maintenance of regional security in the Middle East.

‘Regional security arrangements’
Categorising herself as a regional power, China has real reservations with the geopolitical costs of a more assertive posture in the Middle East. Although not entirely content with Washington’s Middle East diplomacy, China has immensely benefited from the US-sponsored regional security arrangements, given that they both tend to have the same broad strategic interests in the region; namely, a Middle East nuclear weapons free zone, anti-terrorism, and energy/maritime security. Above all, it is the US military presence in the region that has enabled Beijing to base its regional policy on promotion of economic and cultural ties, helping her to preserve its image, and increase its popularity, as a power that stays aloof of other countries’ internal affairs.

In fact, the expected US veto and its negative effects on US standing in the region is proving to be a puzzling dilemma for Beijing. Clearly, an American veto will pave the way for a greater Chinese influence in the Middle East in a non-confrontational manner. Yet popular resentment to US dominance could also leave Beijing with no option but to share the financial burden of maintaining regional stability with the US. This will certainly lead to a reduction in Chinese military spending in two regions that are of the greatest strategic importance in the contemporary Chinese strategic vision: Asia Pacific and Central Asia.

Although nervous about the destabilising side-effects of an American veto, China is nevertheless reluctant to invest too much political capital in an issue that has caused unprecedented embarrassment for the “leader of the free world”. It will certainly vote in favour of a Palestinian state, but it will do so within the framework of its balanced approach towards Israel and Palestine until, perhaps, it comes to a clear understanding of the new realities of the post-Arab Awakening Middle East. The Chinese Foreign Ministry is determined to retain its core principles of non-intervention, pragmatism, and support for the status quo. As such, its search for a new strategic guide could become less difficult if Arab politicians are sincere in their claims that the “total submission of previous regimes has led nowhere” and thus it is now time for “a result oriented peace process”. For the time being though, the diplomatic mood in China stays as “remain silent and observe”.

Nima Khorrami Assl is a security analyst at Transnational Crisis Project, London. His areas of interest and expertise include the Middle East, Political Islam and De-radicalisation, China, Caucuses, Energy Security and Geopolitics.

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