China and India: Rival Middle East strategies

January 11th, 2012

The Asian giants are making calculated geopolitical decisions when it comes to their strategy in the Middle East – Published on Al Jazeera, by Nima Khorrami Assl, January 10, 2012.

… After decades of diplomatic passiveness between Chindia and the Middle East, Chindia’s ties with the region entered a new phase in the 1980s. As the direct consequence of a generational change in their leaderships and their market liberalisation efforts, both China and India embarked upon a path toward astonishing economic development, forcing the two Asian giants to develop near identical interests in the subregion of the Gulf.  

Today, India is interested in the Gulf as a source of oil and an oil services market; so is China. Indian elites and businesses are keen on pursuing opportunities in investment, sale of consumer goods and tourism; so are their Chinese counterparts. New Delhi is eager to enhance its ties with Saudi Arabia so to improve its standing amongst its Muslim population and the Muslim world; so is Beijing. Finally, India has sought to utilise Iran and the GCC states support in order to boost its power base on the international stage; so has China.

Similar policy: … //

… Backing Iran:

The Iranian public today have an aversion to China and Russia as perceived backers of their leaders, while many Iranian merchants and workers complain that imports of cheap Chinese goods are costing them their jobs and businesses. Should there be regime change in Iran, therefore, China’s whole Gulf strategy would collapse. This is not to mention that embracing Tehran could distort China’s image as a responsible actor on the world stage.

However, if, and this is a big if, the Iranian regime manages to remain in power, it could be argued that Beijing is acting more cunningly by taking into account the overall schemes of Chindia’s geostrategic interests. China, India, and the US are all pursuing a grand policy commonly referred to as the “New Silk Road” strategy, seeking to establish their dominance over the vast natural resources of the Middle East and Central Asia.

Given Iran’s geography, Tehran should naturally be the cornerstone of this strategy if it is to be realised. Yet, Washington, and by extension India, appear determined to bypass and replace Iran with a stable Afghanistan – in their imagining of a 21st Century version of the Silk Road.

The trouble here is that for Afghanistan to be stable, Iran and Pakistan’s co-operation is a must. Pakistan’s influence over Afghanistan is well documented. As for Iran’s influence, suffice to say that a large number of Afghans speak Farsi and there are strong cultural and communal ties between the two states.

Aware of this, and in line with China’s strategic tradition of carefully calibrated patience and long-term thinking, Chinese officials seem to have decided to lend their backing to the Iranian government so to be able to utilise Iran’s geography, influence over, and cultural proximity with its neighbours to advance China’s own Silk Road strategy.

Furthermore, India’s top national security concerns are likely to remain threats emanating from Pakistan and Afghanistan over the medium term, and thus India will inevitably seek closer co-operation with any state that can address those concerns more constructively. As such, if Beijing – with the help of Tehran and Islamabad – proves more capable of stabilising Afghanistan, it will then be in a strong position to render US efforts in embracing India ineffective, especially that it has the institutional means for doing so – though BRICS organisations and the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation. (full text).

(Nima Khorrami Assl is a security analyst at the Transnational Crisis Project in London. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy).

Link: Articles of Nima Khorrami Assl on Google Web-search.

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