Sunday, June 1, 2014

Iran, Turkey and China’s Middle Eastern Pivot

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 interests prevailed?
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.