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China guiding the world; the Middle East is riding a wave of reconciliation but US power reserves are massive; Jews licking honey and making money
Discourse Power | September 7, 2023
Greetings from Faerûn,
Two recommendations to get us started:
For the first episode of the Atlantic Council’s China-MENA Podcast's second season, The Atlantic's Beijing-based correspondent Michael Schuman and I spoke with Professor and host Jonathan Fulton about China's new global initiatives and what they mean for the MENA and the world at large. Watch it here or listen on your favorite streamer, and don’t forget to subscribe, share, and leave a rating (and do the same for Discourse Power while you’re at it).
Ahmed Aboudouh, Professor Dawn Murphy, Dr. Chuchu Zhang, and Ben Bland discuss why MENA countries support China's version of multilateralism.
I’d like to dedicate this issue to the memory of my senior colleague, Ambassador Oded Eran, who passed away last night. May his memory be a blessing תנצב”ה.
Thank you for reading,
“It possesses the moral power to speak directly to the hearts of the people and serves as an extremely important ideological weapon and spiritual banner for realizing China's historic expansion of its international discourse power. In doing so, it encourages the broadest possible level of unity among the global populace”
Xi Jinping’s vision of a Community with a Shared Destiny for Mankind, explains diplomat Wang Wenqi, “possesses the moral power to speak directly to the hearts of the people and serves as an extremely important ideological weapon and spiritual banner for realizing China's historic expansion of its international discourse power.”
For a refresher on the important term A Community with a Shared Destiny for Mankind 人类命运共同体, click through China Media Project’s handy dictionary.
Wang is currently a distinguished research fellow at the Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy Research Center 习近平外交思想研究中心. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs established the center in 2020 under the auspices of its think tank, the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS).
Full translation of Wang's piece, published online on July 26, 2023, by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). It is titled “A Community with a Shared Destiny for Mankind and the Development of China's International Discourse Power”:
“The report of the 20th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress points out that it is necessary to strengthen the capacity building of China's international communication, and comprehensively enhance its effectiveness. The goal it set to achieve is international discourse power 话语权 that is commensurate with China's comprehensive national strength and international status.
“General Secretary Xi Jinping has always placed a high value on China's international discourse power capacity building in the new era, emphasizing that ‘the fight for international discourse power is a major issue that we must properly resolve.’
“We can see from this that developing China's international discourse power is both a necessary and an urgent task. It is a critical systematic undertaking and a long-term project with implications for China's national ‘soft power’ and the shaping of its national image, as well as the external public opinion environment required for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
“The most crucial factor influencing the capacity building of international discourse power is the formulation of a set of theories that are both ambitious in design 宏大格局 and visionary in strategy 战略远见; they should be distinguished by philosophical deliberation 哲学思考 and founded on cultural heritage 文化积淀; they must have a clear and comprehensive logical framework, as well as a simple and vivid theoretical character that is oriented toward praxis 实践 [praxis in the Marxist sense is defined as “the fusion of theory and practice aimed at furthering a social revolution.”]
“They are both endowed with Chinese characteristics and are easily received by people from all over the world, serving as an ideological and theoretical guide for the future as well as a reference for the times. This is critical to our ability to persuade 说服, influence 影响, and guide 引导 people in a profound and lasting way in the international arena.
“In this regard, General Secretary Xi Jinping's important core concept of promoting the creation of a Community with a Shared Destiny for Mankind, as well as the theoretical system built around it, have historically played an important role.
“Since its inception [in 2013], the CPC has placed a premium on unity 联合 and has proven adept at uniting all forces that can be united 团结一切可团结的力量.
“The concept of a Community with a Shared Destiny for Mankind is based on the ideological essence of Marxism; it is rooted in the fertile soil of China's excellent traditional culture and inherits and propagates New China's diplomatic traditions and philosophies; it takes the moral high ground of human development and progress, shedding light on the interdependence of all countries around the world, and the objective law that human destinies are inextricably linked; it is a reflection of humanity's shared values 共同价值 [as opposed to “universal values”] and a means for us to find a common denominator in the making of a better world.
“With its ambitious design and succinct message, this important concept answers the question of the times [as posed by Xi Jinping], "Where is humanity going?"
“It possesses the moral power to speak directly to the hearts of the people and serves as an extremely important ideological weapon and spiritual banner for realizing China's historic expansion of its international discourse power. In doing so, it encourages the broadest possible level of unity among the global populace.
“The concept of building a Community with a Shared Destiny for Mankind is based on the overarching goal of creating a world of lasting peace, universal security, common prosperity, openness and tolerance, and a world that is clean and beautiful.
“This concept reflects the Communist Party of China's (CPC) ability, courage, and commitment to transcend conventional theories of international relations and creatively construct a new theoretical system for the entire world.
“It embodies the historical initiative to lead in practice, guide the times, and usher in the future through theoretical innovation and ideological creativity, in order to fully realize China's right to international discourse power. It has thus provided strong theoretical support as well as a practical path that ensures that peace-loving people all over the world who want to develop together will seize the initiative of historical development.
“Ever since the New Era began, China has been getting closer to the center of the world stage and attracting greater interest. The concept of building a Community with a Shared Destiny for Mankind not only has distinctive Chinese characteristics, but it also embodies the common values of humanity.
“It emphasizes that we're all in the same boat 同舟共济 and must work together to achieve global prosperity and development. Moreover, it is a reflection of China's open-mindedness in integrating its own development with the common development of the rest of the world.
“In the ten years since the concept was proposed, particularly since the outbreak of COVID-19, people from all over the world have come to appreciate the true essence of this Thought/ideology 思想, and have felt the majestic force 磅礴力量 of this message.
“General Secretary Xi Jinping has clearly stipulated that we should hoist the banner of a Community with a Shared Destiny for Mankind, rely on the vivid practice of China's development, and build on more than 5,000 years of Chinese civilization to comprehensively expound China's outlooks 观 on development, civilization, security, human rights, ecology, the international order, and global governance.
“By adhering to these principles, we will be able to develop means of expression and a narrative system that integrates China with the rest of the world while remaining true to both our nation and the times 兼具民族性和时代性的.
“It will help us shape and spread China's image as a responsible major power committed to peaceful development, common development, international justice, and contributing to humanity. It can further help shape and disseminate the image of China as a socialist major power that is more open to the outside world, approachable 亲和力, full of hope and vitality.” (CSSN)
“The US remains unquestionably the major power with the most influence and discourse power in the Middle East and will remain so for the foreseeable future”
Observing his colleagues' excitement following the Chinese-brokered détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March [see following entries], Professor Liu Zhongmin advises them to hold their horses. "The US continues to wield the most powerful and diverse force and means to influence the Middle East, both in terms of hard and soft power," he writes.
Prof. Liu is with the Middle East Studies Institute (MESI) at the Shanghai International Studies University (SISU).
Excerpts from Liu’s article, first published in his column for The Paper 澎湃 on August 29, 2023:
“In general, following a power decline, the world's leading power can still maintain its influence for a long time due to the reserves 存量 and inertia 惯性 of its power and authority.
“In terms of the status and influence of extraterritorial major powers in the Middle East, the US remains unquestionably the major power with the most influence and discourse power in the Middle East and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
“The following factors should be considered when looking at and understanding the US position and influence in the Middle East:
“To begin, America's strategic withdrawal from the Middle East is the result of subjective strategic choice rather than a lack of power, a strategic decision made by the Obama administration.
“In essence, it came against the background of America trying to extricate itself from the quagmire of the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and serves its national interests. As a matter of fact, the US has been trying to maintain its influence in the Middle East through political, economic, military, and cultural means in order to avoid becoming embroiled in another Middle Eastern war.
“The real issue, however, is the ineffectiveness and lack of coherence of its policies. That is to say, the problems and dilemmas confronting US policy in the Middle East are not the result of the strategic withdrawal per se; rather, they have risen due to specific Middle East policies during its strategic withdrawal, and, specifically, the lack of a systematic and coherent [strategy].
“According to one scholar, the US's decline in Middle Eastern influence is ‘not primarily due to the contraction of its own absolute hard power. Instead, it is the result of a lack of consistent policy direction and credible political commitment.’
“When compared to its previous bossing around 颐指气使 of allies and ruthless attacks on regional rivals to the extent of promoting regime changes, the US has adopted a more restrained and prudent approach to influencing Middle Eastern affairs in terms of its will, means, and methods.
“Washington’s status and influence in the Middle East appear to be fading, but this is largely due to the subjective choice of the United States and does not necessarily imply that the US influence in the Middle East is wavering and unsustainable. There is no doubt that US policy in the Middle East is still based on a solid foundation 有其不容挑战的底线.
“To some extent, the recent easing and reconciliation in the Middle East have gone against Washington’s will in some parts of the region. However, the improving situation does not contradict the US's strategic withdrawal. It can even serve its strategic needs and interests.
“Second, the US retains the greatest ability to influence and even dominate Middle Eastern affairs. As such, it has the most diverse set of tools for influencing the Middle East among the world's major powers. On the political and diplomatic fronts, the US alliance system remains an important tool for exerting influence over regional affairs.
“Despite many disagreements between the US and Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and other allies, the US is still able to control the relationship due to the unique advantages it possesses in the military and security domains. On major regional issues such as the Palestinian question and the Iranian nuclear issue, it still wields influence that other major powers do not.
“In the military and security domains, the US’ system of military bases and military presence in the Middle East, its robust and advanced military arms sales capability, its ubiquitous intelligence network, and especially the security guarantees provided to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab allies, as well as Israel, remain its most powerful hard power in influencing the Middle East. It similarly retains a strong influence in economic aid, civil exchanges, culture, and education in the economic, social, and cultural fields.
“Finally, America's negative and destructive abuse of power in the Middle East may continue to have a significant impact on regional affairs. Along with the US's strategic withdrawal, its willingness to provide public goods and play a constructive role in the region has dwindled as well.
“And yet, for the sake of its own interests, the US can still claim the high ground and dominate local Middle Eastern affairs by employing negative and destructive forces, particularly advanced military, economic, financial, scientific, and technological forces.
“For instance, despite its best efforts, the US periodically engages in military intervention in the Middle East through missile strikes and drone attacks. In recent years, it has conducted limited military strikes in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
“Another example is that, in order to maintain control over its allies, the US frequently resorts to halting or reducing aid and arms sales, as well as technological blockade and other means of subduing allies.
“They go so far as to limit allies' ties with Russia and China. Such pressure is currently being applied to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, and other US allies. Furthermore, deterrence through force and economic and financial sanctions are the usual means by which the US threatens regional rivals such as Iran.
“To summarize, the US' strategic withdrawal from the Middle East resulted in a decline in its influence in the region. This is an objective fact, which is compounded by the profound contradictions in its strategic withdrawal at the regional and global levels, as well as the ineffectiveness of the policies that have accompanied the withdrawal. All of this has resulted in a significant decline in America's hegemonic standing in the Middle East.
“At the same time, we must recognize that the US strategic withdrawal from the Middle East, as well as the restraint and prudence of its Middle East policy, are the result of subjective choices that, to some extent, have exacerbated the decline of the US hegemonic position in the region.
“Nonetheless, the US essentially continues to wield the most powerful and diverse force and means to influence the Middle East, both in terms of hard and soft power.” (The Paper)
“What it really means is that they fear that the US security dominance over the Gulf region is gone for good”
Professor Wang Jin, deputy director of Northwestern University's Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES), explains why the US is "targeting Iran in 'unprecedented' ways" and resorting to “psychological warfare.”
Excerpts from Wang’s interview with Kankan News, published August 5, 2023:
“Wang Jin, a Middle East expert, pointed out that hyping up the maritime security situation in the Persian Gulf and portraying Iran as the most dangerous threat in the region is a common US ruse.
“They intend to instill fear in Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), making it easier for the US to intervene in Middle Eastern affairs. In this manner, the US can emphasize its security responsibilities in the Middle East region, as well as its moral obligation to protect its interests.
"Iran doesn’t have the will to seize and harass commercial ships passing through the Persian Gulf, but it has the capability to do so," Wang Jin observed
“According to AP and AFP, the US Navy claimed on July 6 that Iran had seized a merchant ship in international waters in the Persian Gulf that day. The US Navy also claimed the day before that it had stopped Iranian forces from seizing two oil tankers off the coast of Oman. On the same day, Iran had justified its action, saying that its forces had attempted to intercept an oil tanker after it'd collided with an Iranian vessel the day before.
“According to Wang Jin, Iran's relevant maritime military or law enforcement actions have not fundamentally undermined or threatened normal navigation in the relevant sea areas [according to US Navy, since 2021, Iran has harassed, attacked or seized nearly 20 internationally flagged merchant vessels].
“Nonetheless, the US attempts to capitalize on the opportunity to build a case against it. This is exactly what the Iranian military has said, accusing the US of using reports about alleged ‘Iranian hijacking’ as a form of ‘psychological warfare’ to incite public support for "adventurist" behavior.
“In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran shook hands under Chinese mediation, propelling the Middle East's reconciliation into the fast lane...Wang Jin noted that the current international and regional situation has undergone significant changes in this regard.
“The US has been working diligently to instigate a "psychological crisis" in the Gulf Arab countries by hyping up a narrative that paints Iran as a threat. ‘What it really means is that they fear that the US security dominance over the Gulf region is gone for good.’” (Kankan News)
“This could be the most significant historical shift in the Middle East since the formation of nation-states in the 20th century"
Professors affiliated with China’s spy agency Niu Xinchun and Li Shaoxian argue that since Beijing brokered a détente between Iran and Saudi, the region is "riding a wave of reconciliation."
Professor Niu is the Director of the MSS-affiliated China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) Middle East Institute. Prof Li is a former CICIR vice president who is now the director of Ningxia University's Chinese-Arab Research Institute.
Excerpts from their article, published on July 31, 2023, in the journal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs think-tank, the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS):
“The resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudis and Iranians represents a new spirit of mutual respect and equality in international politics, which has been characterized by the law of the jungle and Western ideology.
“The Middle East policies of the UK, France, the Soviet Union, and the US have all followed a similar up-and-down trajectory. Foreign intervention can be considered one of the major causes of the Middle East tragedy.
“The wave of reconciliation shows that consultation based on equality is becoming the fundamental rule of interaction among Middle Eastern countries. The mediation of China in the resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudis and Iranians is an important step toward realizing the new normal 新规则.
“To be sure, resuming diplomatic relations between Saudis and Iranians will not solve all pre-existing bilateral challenges. Economic reforms in the Arab world won't be simple, and the wave of Middle East peace could still backslide.
“However, the US's strategic withdrawal from the region, the Arab world's emphasis on economic growth, and the Middle Eastern people's increasing sense of independence are all signs that the region is undergoing a deeper, more profound change.
“This could be the most significant historical shift in the Middle East since the formation of nation-states in the early twentieth century. The new changes in the Middle East will provide more opportunities for China's relations with Middle Eastern countries to develop, as well as a larger space for China's diplomacy in the region.” (CIIS)
From the Archives
“To truly understand the Jewish people, education characterized by cultural heritage must be prioritized”
Dr. Zhu Zhaoyi, founding director of the Israel Center at the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) in Beijing, is tired of his countrymen blindly idolizing Jews, both feeding and perpetuating antisemitic conspiracies.
Full translation of his article for the China Philanthropist magazine 中国慈善家, published online on May 29, 2020, and titled: “True Jewish education does not entail licking honey from the Bible or reading more than any other nation. These are nothing more than "white lies":
“The most obscene misinterpretation 最庸俗的误读 of Jewish education is when it is equated with utilitarian goals like making money.
“In China, many people seek and learn the Jewish way to success. The craze began in 2010 with the release of the Chinese edition of Start-up Nation [2009, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer] and has remained popular ever since.
“In contrast to Western societies, which generally have complex attitudes and mixed opinions about Jews, the mainstream media in China is filled with excessive praise and adulation of the Jews. Many perceptions of Jews are either overly simplistic or arbitrarily attribute the traits of other nationalities or ethnic groups to Jews. If it's racist to malign an ethnic group, isn't it also racist to sing praises of it without knowing what it is?
“The assertions that the Rothschilds once controlled Western finance, that the US Federal Reserve is controlled by Jews, and that Jews own more than 30% of the wealth in America come from a 1907 pamphlet, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, compiled by Czarist Russia's secret police. The Protocols were created with the intention of repressing Jews in Czarist Russia. Nobody could have predicted that they would provide Hitler with the ammunition he needed to massacre the Jews 30 years later.
“I've been going to Israel for research since 2006, and I can still hardly call myself a Jewish studies scholar at this stage. Whenever I see a paragraph in an article that lists Jewish celebrities or percentages of Jewish wealth, I immediately stop reading because such statistics are malicious and have brought Jews more harm than good.
“No one, however, can deny the Jewish people's greatness. No other people in the world have ever accomplished the great feat of restoring a nation after a thousand years of exile and reviving a language a thousand years after it had been extinct; the Jews have done it the hard way. On these two counts alone, the Jewish people's creation of modern Israel qualifies them as a great and successful nation.
“Success at the national level 国家层面 is the success of a nation 民族, and a nation's 民族 success is made possible by education, the essence of which is the passing down of national customs and culture to future generations. To truly understand the Jewish people, education based on cultural heritage must be prioritized.” (China Philanthropist)
Playing in the Background
Discourse Power is written by Tuvia Gering, a researcher at the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation Israel-China Policy Center at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub, and a Tikvah Fund’s Krauthammer Fellow. Any views expressed in this newsletter, as well as any errors, are solely those of the author. Follow Tuvia on Twitter @GeringTuvia