SocraticGadfly: China just brought a new day to the Middle East

March 28, 2021

China just brought a new day to the Middle East

The New York Times has the MSM angle on a 25-year aid deal that Beijing has just inked with Tehran. Politico offers more. China gets a guaranteed oil supply, while also indicating that, with that guaranteed oil supply, the days of Trump's return to sanctions are over. (Would China have done this if Trump were still large and pretending to be in charge? Given that, per the NYT, an initial version of the deal was in place last July, the answer to that is a clear yes.)

From outside the MSM, James Dorsey, who's on my blogroll for exactly reasons like this, offers up his own analysis. He doesn't think China can fully thread the Iran-Saudi Arabia needle, but also notes that China is looking to "manage" and not "resolve" major bones of contention in the Middle East.

It's doubtful that, even if the Obama deal is put back into place, and Iran acts like a semi-good neighbor from there, that larger issues such as Iran's missile program and its support for Hezbullah can be restrained. Per Dorsey, on the "manage" not "resolve," it's also doubtful that China is going to go too far in trying. At the same time, the Saudis and the UAE back China's Uyghur crackdown, Dorsey notes.

That said, even if "manage" is the word, China has shown it's a new day indeed by inviting Israelis and Palestinians to Beijing for talks. If nothing else, as Beijing has no Zionist lobby or a Pat Buchanan-type Amen corner to supplement it, it will bring a different angle than the US. (And, having no large Jewish community of dissidents, also, a different angle than Russia.)

Back to Iran: If the final deal is like a draft from a year ago (which partially answers my parenthetical question) Beijing gets the oil at a discounted price. In return, not only does it invest in broad sectors of Iran's economy (which fits its Belt and Road strategy to a T), it also plans joint military training.

Also interesting: Xi Jinping proposed this in 2016, before he got his mandate to serve more than two terms. Playing some 11-dimensional chess. That said, the pain of Trump's sanctions probably led Iran to set aside qualms it's giving too much to China. But, Ayatollah Khamenei personally ordered the go-ahead.

That second NYT link has the details of what this presumably still involves, after last year's initial version. A Chinese Navy port is among the military cooperation. A possible Iranian version of China's Internet "Great Firewall" is another.

Side note: Politico is so ignorant of Mandarin and Chinese culture that the author of its piece, and their editor, apparently don't know that "surnames" come first in China.
Juan Cole has also weighed in, saying this is probably pressure diplomacy by Beijing, noting how it's already attacked Biden Administration foreign policy as part of general US foreign policy. Cole adds that this is the biggest China-Middle East connection since the days of the Mongol Empire.  And, Philip Weiss adds that Biden could, if he chose, with AIPAC looking weakened, go back to the Iran deal without adding new preconditions. He should have done that under cover of the new administration, but might have been worried about expending political capital. Beijing now gives him cover, unless he's worried about being accused of kowtowing.

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