Thanks to events in Russia and Syria, Turkey lost its rivalry with Iran to be China’s Middle Eastern pivot. Here’s how.
By H. Akin Unver
The Diplomat - May 30, 2014
For a long time, China’s main foreign policy in the Middle East was
non-intervention in the internal affairs of other sovereign states.
That’s why Beijing was able to establish cordial relations with Middle
Eastern regimes that have grown resistant to American interventionism
after 9-11. China’s suspicion of its own internal opposition worked well
with the way Middle Eastern autocrats dealt with their own internal
dissent and this Westphalian “mutual understanding” emerged as the
foundation of China’s political overtures in the region.
The Arab Spring changed this dynamic. Middle Eastern regimes of
limited legitimacy were brought down in a domino effect, changing
established power relations and cooperation patterns, and presenting
China with a dilemma: pursue its low-risk, low-payoff approach to the
Middle East in this post-Westphalian dystopia, or opt for a more
ambitious track in which the use of regional pivots and military
Energy dependence determines the foreign policy activism of any
industrializing country and China is perhaps the prime example of this
rule. Egypt’s political future is uncertain, Saudi Arabia and Israel are
too close to Washington, Iraq is barely holding it together, and Syria
is in much worse shape. Nonetheless, China has invested heavily in Iraq
since 2003, buying almost half of the country’s oil production; it has
established close trade, oil exploration, and construction ties to Saudi
Arabia, and it is already the top buyer of Iranian oil as Beijing is
expected to become the world’s top net monthly buyer of oil in 2014.
Beyond that, though, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, and
Syria are too unlikely, weak, or pro-U.S. to be targets for potential
Chinese pivots. However, two countries have emerged as possible
candidates for Chinese overtures: Turkey and Iran.