Saturday, May 10, 2014

China: A Major Power in the Middle East?

U.S. policy is creating an opening for China in the Middle East, which Beijing is exploiting skillfully.

By Andy Polk

The Diplomat - April 01, 2014

Over the last decade, the United States has been drawn into a series of imbroglios in the Middle East and South Asia, sapping military and financial resources and frustrating policymakers who seem to have no good options for managing regional troubles. In Asia, by contrast, the picture is clearer. America has tangible economic, political and military interests there. The region is also where many believe America’s global superpower status faces the most obvious challenge: China. Thus, realists such as John Mearsheimer, writing in The National Interest, approve of the “pivot” or “rebalance.”
In Asia, America is trying to support its allies and preserve regional stability in the face of rising tensions and nationalist recrudescence, while avoiding unnecessary confrontation with China. The recent diplomatic conflicts over air defense identification zones and increasing confrontations over territorial disputes demonstrate that playing referee in Asia while protecting American interests is no easy task. While Asia deserves America’s focus and resources, the real dress rehearsal for China’s challenge to America’s superpower status is already taking place—in the Middle East. Here, Mearsheimer’s insistence on the need for Middle East retrenchment, in order to concentrate on the more serious rivalry with China, suffers from a major flaw in logic.
History suggests that when a great power draws down from a region, another takes advantage and fills the void. And indeed, as America grows weary of its involvement in the Middle East, China is filling the vacuum. As a result, states in that region are using relations with China to push back against America, with few economic or political consequences. Unfortunately, American policymakers seem blind to this fact, looking at countries such as Syria and Iran, or those in Asia, as discrete issues, rather than as constituent parts of the broader great game that is taking place.

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