Na­tion ready for a more con­struc­tiveMideast role

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping is on a three-na­tion tour of the Middle East, dur­ing which he is vis­it­ing Saudi Ara­bia, Egypt and Iran. Be­fore Xi’s first for­eign trip of this year, For­eignMin­is­terWang Yi met with Khaled Khoja, pres­i­dent of Syria’s main op­po­si­tionNa­tional Coali­tion, ear­lier this month and urged him to par­tic­i­pate in ne­go­ti­a­tions to end the Syr­ian con­flict, and Vice-For­eignMin­is­ter Zhang Ming vis­ited the three­Mid­dle East coun­tries.

TheMid­dle East is vi­tal for Bei­jing not only as a ma­jor oil sup­plier and a po­ten­tial in­vest­ment and trade mar­ket, but also as a key to the suc­cess of its Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive.

China’s me­di­a­tion to re­solve the Libyan cri­sis, the Ira­nian nu­clear is­sue and the long­stand­ing Is­rael-Pales­tine con­flict has played a very im­por­tant role in de­fus­ing ten­sions in theMid­dle East.

Syr­ian For­eignMin­is­terWalid Muallem said his govern­ment would hold talks with the op­po­si­tion par­ties when he was vis­it­ing Bei­jing last month. This was the first time that Da­m­as­cus re­sponded to the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 2254 on Syria. China’s me­di­a­tory ef­forts have been wel­comed not only by the Syr­ian govern­ment but also Syr­ian op­po­si­tion lead­ers such as Khaled Khoja, who said his party sup­ported the res­o­lu­tion and is com­mit­ted to find­ing a political so­lu­tion to the cri­sis dur­ing his visit to Bei­jing ear­lier this month.

The his­toric break­throughs in the Ira­nian nu­clear deal, too, have a lot to do with China’s ef­forts, which have been praised by the United States and Iran both.

For years, Bei­jing had been ad­vo­cat­ing peace­ful set­tle­ment of the Ira­nian nu­clear is­sue, in­sist­ing that ne­go­ti­a­tions and per­haps mod­er­ate sanc­tions be used to draw Te­heran to the talks ta­ble, with­out vi­o­lat­ing its le­git­i­mate in­ter­ests un­der the cur­rent non-pro­lif­er­a­tion regime. Apart from its me­di­a­tory role, China also helped break the tech­no­log­i­cal bar­ri­ers in the fi­nal-stage ne­go­ti­a­tions, which in­volved a slew of sen­si­tive agen­das and dis­creet stances.

Bei­jing has been pay­ing closer at­ten­tion to­Mid­dle East affairs since the end of the ColdWar. When ten­sions be­tween Pales­tine and Is­rael es­ca­lated in 2002 and the en­tireMid­dle East was on tenterhooks, China sent a spe­cial en­voy to theMid­dle East to me­di­ate among re­gional play­ers. In 2011, China for the first time sup­ported theUN’s eco­nomic sanc­tions on a mem­ber state (Libya) and ad­vo­cated di­a­logue be­tween the Libyan govern­ment and op­po­si­tion par­ties to re­solve the political cri­sis in the coun­try.

China’s ef­forts to help theMid­dle East coun­tries main­tain peace and sta­bil­ity in the re­gion are in line with its com­pre­hen­sive diplo­matic strat­egy as a ris­ing ma­jor power. The fact that China main­tains friendly re­la­tions with most of the re­gional pow­ers, whose economies in­ci­den­tally are com­ple­men­tary to the Chi­nese econ­omy, gives it a unique edge in bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ships.

Be­sides, China has never in­ter­fered in other coun­tries’ do­mes­tic affairs. In­stead, thanks to its ro­bust growth in re­cent years, it has con­sumed a con­sid­er­able amount of pe­tro­leum prod­ucts fromMid­dle East coun­tries and, in re­turn, of­fered them in­vest­ments and in­fra­struc­ture projects with­out any political con­di­tions at­tached.

Since the US now re­frains from get­ting in­volved in­Mid­dle East affairs for cer­tain strate­gic rea­sons, many re­gional lead­ers, such as Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, have wel­comed China to play a more con­struc­tive role in the re­gion. For that, of course, China has to en­hance its na­tional strength, learn more about how to deal with po­ten­tial con­flicts be­tween dif­fer­ent cul­tures and eth­nic­i­ties, and fur­ther bol­ster bi­lat­eral eco­nomic links.

The au­thor is pres­i­dent of and a pro­fes­sor at Bei­jing For­eign Stud­iesUniver­sity.

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