Discourse Power | December 21, 2022
Xi's Saudi trip: Popular, a whole new world, guiding the Arabs, and it's the politics, stupid
Happy Hannukah from Jerusalem,
The current issue of Discourse Power expands on the previous one by including additional analyses of Xi Jinping's trip to Saudi Arabia for the China-Saudi, China-GCC, and China-Arab States summits by eminent Chinese Middle East scholars.
Some brief topical recommendations before we begin:
John Feng (@johnsfeng) of Newsweek spoke with me for his fantastic long read about Xi's visit, which was published today.
- by Manoj Kewalramani (@theChinaDude) provides the Party mouthpiece’s review of Xi's trip and the speeches given at the summits.
Professor Jonathan Fulton (@jonathandfulton), explains why Xi's visit to Riyadh is so much more than the US “mishandling” its relations with Saudi Arabia.
What China can learn from the Iran protests by Middle East studies Professor Fan Hongda (@fan_hongda) of Shanghai International Studies University (SISU).
A must-read translation by Thomas des Garets Geddes (@) of prominent Middle East scholar and PKU Professor Wu Bingbing. Quote:
“What we want to practice is balanced diplomacy in the Middle East. The essence of balanced diplomacy is, firstly, not to choose sides, and secondly, not to make enemies.
“However, in order to foster stronger relations with these countries, we need to encourage 'positive balancing' [积极的平衡]. So what does ‘positive balancing’ actually mean?
“It means that our cooperation with one party will certainly put some pressure on another party, but that it is precisely this pressure that will help boost cooperation between this other party and us. Turning pressure into incentive, that is [the meaning of] positive balancing.”
“Negative balancing, on the other hand, is when we limit our cooperation with one party for fear of affecting another party, which in turn leads to increasingly restricted areas of cooperation.”
“For example, China has signed a 25-year cooperation agreement with Iran, but there has been no similar agreement signed with the Gulf countries. There is therefore a certain amount of pressure on the Gulf countries which [now] have an incentive to further their cooperation with China, such as expanding [bilateral] investments and expanding trade in energy resources.
“Not long ago, Qatar signed a 27-year gas deal with China. Hasn’t this [aforementioned pressure] achieved its effect? Iran is also a country rich in natural gas reserves – even more so than Qatar – but China and Iran haven't reached that level of cooperation with each other yet!
“So, it is a sort of two-way balance. Through this ‘positive balancing’, China can help drive the continuous improvement of its relations with all parties relatively effectively.”
According to Dr. Jacopo Scita (@jacoposcita), however, the scales are turning against Iran.
To our readers in China, I hope you get through this difficult time quickly and that you and your loved ones stay healthy and safe.
Thank you for reading,
“Sino-Arab cooperation in low-carbon science and technology will raise both sides' status and role in global energy and climate governance, as well as strengthen our discourse power and standard-setting power”
Leading Middle East experts Ding Long, Li Weijian, and Li Shaoxian examine the "epoch-making" significance of Xi Jinping's visit through the lenses of development, energy, and security.
Dr. Ding Long (L), is a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute at Shanghai International Studies University (SISU).
Prof. Li Weijian (C) is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies of the state-affiliated Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) and vice president of the Chinese Association of Middle East Studies.
Mr. Li Shaoxian (R) is the director of the China Institute for Arab States at Ningxia University and former vice president of the MSS-linked China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR).
Development: “Sino-Arab strategic cooperation has reached new heights on multiple levels, and China's diplomatic stage in the Arab world is expanding”
“According to Ding Long, the summit resulted in four "firsts":
“It was the first time that the ministerial-level China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF) was held as a summit [of heads of state]. This represents a system upgrade 迭代升级 in our institutionalized cooperation.
“This was also the first time an Arab country held a collective summit with a single [non-Arab] country, demonstrating the importance and sincerity that the Arab states attach to developing relations with China.
“Furthermore, it saw the first-ever organization of three major summits between China and Saudi Arabia, the China-GCC Summit and the China-Arab Summit, which demonstrates that Sino-Arab strategic cooperation has reached new heights on multiple levels, and China's diplomatic stage in the Arab world is expanding 外交舞台越来越宽阔.
“At the same time, this is China's first multilateral diplomatic event outside of its borders since the 20th Party Congress.
“Ding Long says that the summits’ agenda included trade, investment, science and technology, and other important areas of Sino-Arab practical cooperation. Among them, energy has received special attention as the most fundamental and strategic area of Sino-Arab relations. This will allow energy cooperation to remain a cornerstone (压舱石, lit. "ballast stone") of Sino-Arab relations.
“According to Li Weijian, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) addresses the development needs of Arab countries by promoting economic diversification and industrialization. It happens to coincide 不谋而合 with the long-term development strategies of Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia's, Egypt's, and Qatar's respective Vision 2030, as well as the UAE's Future Foresight Strategy for the Next 50 Years.
“According to Li Shaoxian, the summits will comprehensively improve the level of Sino-Arab cooperation, deepen the two sides' political and strategic mutual trust, and accelerate and improve the efficiency of economic cooperation, including the alignment of their long-term cooperation plans. ‘In the future, the BRI will continue to play a significant role in Sino-Arab cooperation.’
“Li Shaoxian has extensive experience traveling in the Arab world. According to him, Arab attitudes toward China have shifted dramatically over the last two to three decades. "China received the most positive responses in a recent public opinion poll [conducted by the state-owned Global Times and a Chinese university] on opinions of major powers in which six Arab nations took part.
“This is due to a number of factors: For starters, the Arab people know far more about China than the Chinese people do about them. Second, China is the world's factory, and almost every Arab household uses Chinese products. This is inextricably linked to China's recent rapid economic development and the global spread of Chinese products."
“According to Li Shaoxian, China has actively promoted the construction of the BRI across the Arab world over the years, and the results of this cooperation are blossoming everywhere. It has benefited the countries in a variety of ways, including infrastructure improvements.
"The rapid development of China over the last two to three decades is extremely appealing to Arab countries. They ponder why most of the Arab world is stagnant while China, which was once at the same starting point as them, has grown into a major power. In recent years, Arab governments have frequently sent civil servants to China to tour and study."
“Ding Long stated that China and the Arab countries have always maintained equal and mutually beneficial relations. Both sides hold similar views and back each other up on major international and regional issues. China continues to invest in Arab countries' infrastructure, constructing bridges and roads and strengthening water conservation facilities on a local level.”
“Unlike some Western countries, China's efforts are all focused on people's livelihoods and welfare, with the goal of contributing to the region's stable development. That is why it enjoys such high levels of popularity in the Arab world."
Energy: “New energy has opened up a whole new world for Sino-Arab energy cooperation”
“According to Li Weijian, China and Arab countries are highly compatible in terms of traditional energy supply and demand, and he believes that cooperation will be strengthened and deepened through the signing of a series of long-term strategic agreements.
“Furthermore, many Arab countries are facing urgent energy and economic transition issues as a result of growing environmental and energy concerns, as well as a global trend of accelerated development of green industries.
“China has a technological advantage in these areas and can provide strong support for Arab countries to gradually optimize their oil-dependent single-product economy and achieve economic diversification through cooperation.
“Ding Long believes that China's Double Carbon targets [reaching peak carbon emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060] bring new opportunities for Sino-Arab energy cooperation.
"Facing the challenges of Double Carbon and global energy transition, both China and the Arab countries are actively developing clean energy - the Arab countries have outstanding new energy endowment 禀赋 [e.g., solar power and less polluting natural gas], while China leads the world in new energy technology and equipment manufacturing. New energy has opened up a whole new world 新天地 for Sino-Arab energy cooperation.”
“Ding Long cited a number of large-scale new energy projects built by China in Arab countries, such as the Kharsaah photovoltaic project in Qatar, which supplies power to World Cup venues and facilities, making green and low-carbon one of the tournament's highlights.
"Arab countries urgently need to develop relevant technologies such as crude oil decarbonization, carbon capture, and carbon storage, which will serve as a blue ocean market for bilateral science and technology cooperation."
“Furthermore, Sino-Arab cooperation in low-carbon science and technology will raise both sides' status and role in global energy and climate governance, as well as strengthen our discourse power 话语权 and standard-setting power 标准制定权.
“Cooperation in the digitalization of the Sino-Arab energy system is thriving, and digital technology enabling Sino-Arab energy cooperation is critical for their energy efficiency targets, emission reduction, and energy systems upgrades.”
Peace Through Development (Security): “In fact, the US hasn't really provided the region any real protection. It has even taken the initiative to escalate conflicts and create security problems, only to exploit the opportunity to station troops and sell weapons”
“Li Weijian explained that in the past, when dealing with the Middle East, Western countries led by the US always put development and security in opposition, arguing that security issues should be addressed first before discussing development.
“In fact, the US hasn't really provided the region any real protection. 实际上, 美国并没有为这个地区提供真正的保护. It has even taken the initiative to escalate conflicts and create security problems, only to exploit the opportunity to station troops and sell weapons, resulting in protracted conflicts.
"China is guiding 引导 Arab countries on how to accelerate development through cooperation. It guides them in peacefully resolving their deep-seated challenges, such as the widening gap between rich and poor and hotspot disputes, uprooting extremism at its source and leaving all of their unrests and hardships behind."
“In this way, China can use the Arab world as a platform to advocate for the Global Security Initiative (GSI) and the Global Development Initiative (GDI), allowing more nations to recognize and endorse China's peace through development concept 理念.
“In the midst of escalating great power rivalry, the Middle East has become the focus of global attention. The Middle East's unrest is rooted in development, which is also its only way out.” (Southern Metropolis Daily)
[Comment: This is your brain on Marxism. Ethno-religious conflicts and wars dating back millennia? Meh. Historic territorial disputes and sectarian politics? That's passée. Entrenched tribalism and extremism? You're grasping at straws. Just patronizingly sprinkle some development all over that thing like fairy dust, and - poof! Kumbaya ensues, as it did for Xinjiang, which “has not seen a terrorist attack in five years”]
“Future China will also be concerned with regional security issues”
Professor Pan Guang, a seasoned political advisor on Middle East affairs and counterterrorism, is "getting tired" of Americans asking him about China's political intentions in the Middle East because it is obvious to him that politics is involved. In fact, Xi's current visit to Saudi Arabia was all about politics.
Pan is the chairman and professor of political science and history at the Shanghai Center for International Studies of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS). He also serves as the Director of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) Studies Center in Shanghai, Dean of the Center of Jewish Studies Shanghai (CJSS), and Vice Chairman of the Chinese Society of Middle East Studies.
“This visit and summits had several highlights:
“First, the Sino-Arab Strategic Partnership was upgraded to the level of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
“Second, it highlighted that 21 Arab countries are now part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and essentially support China's stance on Xinjiang...on this regard, the United Nations Human Rights Council recently launched a vote on China's Xinjiang, and Somalia [a Muslim and African country] was one of the few countries that voted in support of the critics. It is highly likely that the US and Western countries tampered with their decision.
“Third, it emphasized the possibility of formalizing cooperation with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). China could apply to become an observer state at this point. The OIC currently has 57 member states and wields considerable power within the UN Group of 77 (G77) Non-Aligned Movement. And it is interesting to note that Russia and Thailand have already become observers, so it might be advisable for China to apply as well. Deliberations on it, however, had to wait because General Secretary Xi's visit was so brief.
“Fourth, it would seem that the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks between China and the GCC nations made some progress [they’ve been going on and off since 2004]. Although we have always had excellent relations with the GCC, negotiations were put on hold a few years ago as a result of Qatar's "diplomatic fiasco," which caused it to sever its ties with other GCC nations [the Arab Spring didn’t help either]. Of course, things are now back to normal, but since this has also had an impact on the FTA talks between China and the GCC, I'm hoping for good news this time around.
“Fifth, the meeting between General Secretary Xi and Abbas went well, and China has increased its humanitarian aid to Palestine. Actually 其实, over the past few years, the UAE, Morocco, Sudan, and Bahrain have established relations with Israel, and they are not concerned about the marginalization of Palestine.
“There were, however, some challenges at the summit. One, while Syria wanted to participate, Arab countries were divided about it because it was kicked out of the Arab League, and while Syria wants to be reinstated, the US is working hard to hold it down 拖后腿. Additionally, there are internal Arab conflicts, and the future of both the Syrian and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts still hangs in the balance 悬而未决.
“Thirdly, we must be mindful of balancing our relations with Iran and the Arab nations. Indeed, have voiced concern about the Sino-Iranian 25-year strategic cooperation agreement [that was signed in March 2021]. Since neither China nor Iran has fully announced the contents of the agreement, the Arabs and Israelis have come to "make inquiries" 打听 about its details.
“Instead of using force, China should use economic and cultural ‘soft power’ means to penetrate Arab nations”
“The Middle East is divided into four major blocks: Iran, Turkey, Israel, and 22 Arab countries, many of which I have visited. There are two main reasons why the Middle East is so important, in my opinion.
“Nestled at the intersection of Asia, Europe, and Africa, the Middle East is the world's transportation hub, and the nearby Egypt and Turkey have historically been the subject of wars over this role. A second crucial element, namely the energy advantage, has emerged following the discovery of oil and energy.
“What to do with the Turkish Ottoman legacy is referred to by Marx as the "Eastern Question." In fact, the Ottomans passed down almost all of the conflicts in the region, from the Balkans to Turkey, Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, and the region as a whole. It seems that outsiders frequently believe that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still holds strong Ottoman ambitions.
“I've always believed that China and the US can work together in the Middle East on issues like counterterrorism, piracy, and climate change and that the Middle Eastern nations do not want to take a side in the conflict between the major powers.
“Although it cannot yet be said that China is "enjoying the benefits of the latecomer" 后来居上 in the Middle East, its influence in the region is rising and rapidly expanding. There are a number of reasons for this. To start, China pursues a foreign policy of peace, equality, and respect for other nations, whereas the US constantly coerces the other side into acting in a particular way. China has never done this.
“Second, almost all Arab nations have ratified the BRI with China, which is an excellent linkage between us. Thirdly, instead of using force, China should use economic and cultural "soft power" means to penetrate Arab nations. This should draw from the relationship between Chinese Confucian culture and Arab culture, as well as the cultural exchange that took place along the Silk Road from antiquity to the present.
“Although many of America's blunders have given China an edge, frequent claims by international public opinion that China is "taking advantage of the situation" are incorrect.
“It is difficult to say that at present there is a "power vacuum" in the Middle East because America is still there; its military bases have not been evacuated, the Fifth Fleet Command remains in Bahrain, and the US Central Command's operational scope continues to include the Middle East. It is Europe that really wants to return to the Middle East but does not have the power to do so now.”
“Libya now wants us to return and invest, but we lost billions in the country [during the Arab Spring], and this money must be accounted for”
"Although the economic aspect of China's relations with Arab nations currently dominates, cultural exchanges have expanded significantly in recent years.
“Since almost all Arab nations want China to support them, the risk to China is actually not that great when there are internal conflicts or strife within the Arab nations.
“The conflict between Shiites and Sunnis, to put it in the context of the entire Middle East, is the biggest internal issue, but both groups get along well with China. Shiites are predominantly located in Iran, and now that Shiites are in power in Iraq as well, both countries enjoy favorable relations with China. The wars in Syria, Yemen, and Libya are just a few significant conflicts in the Middle East that we have, for the most part, handled fairly.
“In the case of Libya, we did not vote at the UN. In fact, in retrospect, abstention was not always correct, as the West immediately set up a no-fly zone and began bombing as soon as we abstained. So, in order to stop the same error from happening in Libya, Russia and China decided to use their veto power.
“It was more difficult for us to handle the situation before Russia intervened in the Syrian war because Turkish forces and Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) actors were present in Idlib in northern Syria. Once Russia stepped in, we backed it, and the Assad regime survived by the skin of its teeth. It is getting better now that other Arab nations are beginning to acknowledge the Assad government.
“While we continue to have cordial relations with Syria, we oppose the Americans' presence there because they are stealing its oil. At the same time, Turkey continues to hold Idlib in northern Syria, which obviously we don't support.
“For these Middle Eastern conflicts, our consistent stance has been to persuade peace and promote negotiation; for example, this is our position on the two battling camps in Libya. Libya now wants us to return and invest, but we lost billions in the country [during the Arab Spring], and this money must be accounted for.
“The same is true in Yemen. My colleague studied Arabic and spent two years working in Yemen in the 1990s; at the time, his company was building roads and bridges, with Chinese companies building the majority of the local infrastructure. Since then, they were all bombed to oblivion 一塌糊涂.”
“How is it possible to continue to be interested in only economic matters while ignoring local politics? I'm getting tired of these types of questions, to be honest. Of course politics is a factor”
“We follow the UN's general approach to intra-Arab conflicts, which is to persuade peace and promote negotiations….Overall, Arab countries are very enthusiastic about working with China. To put it bluntly, it comes down to one thing: China has money, it has the manpower, and it doesn’t meddle in your internal affairs. Consider the World Cup stadiums in Qatar, which were almost entirely built by Chinese companies.
“Another factor is that Arab countries are unworried about China's influence. Why? Because neither China's Fifth Fleet nor its military forces are stationed in the region. They are well aware that China has no history of colonial aggression, which is particularly reassuring to them.
“The US is still baffled by China's apparent disinterest to get more involved in the region. How is it possible to continue to be interested in only economic matters while ignoring local politics? I'm getting tired 无聊 of these types of questions, to be honest. Of course politics is a factor.
“China‘s ability to maintain good relations with Arab countries is all about politics. But, if you define "politics" in the American sense, China has never been in the business of colonial expansion or overthrowing regimes.
“The first Sino-Arab Summit was, in this way, as political as it gets. I believe the Summit was intended to lay the groundwork for a [political] framework, not just economic engagement.
“One more thing; as I have previously stated when attending meetings in the United States, future China will also be concerned with regional security issues. But I also assured them that, even if China sent a fleet, it wouldn’t be used for stirring trouble everywhere 到处作乱 as they do; rather, we would fight piracy, counter-terrorism, and maintain regional security.
“However, in the eyes of the Americans, it merely indicated that China was moving closer to the Middle East. So, this raises a very peculiar concern, including the Chinese support base established in Djibouti, which the US is especially worried about.
“When I speak with American experts, they only see a military base. I simply laugh and tell them that it doesn't matter what it is called because, after all, it is a base with supplies and military personnel.
“Several foreign experts recently asked me this question, and my response was that the base should be there because China is involved in anti-piracy operations, which are a UN initiative, not a Chinese one.
“Strictly speaking, the three Chinese warships [that comprise China's periodic Task Forces in the region] are carrying out the UN resolution, despite the fact that the supply base in Djibouti is China's. Besides, the United States, France, and even Japan have bases there to combat piracy and maintain security in the Bab-El-Mandeb Strait, so why shouldn't China?”
“Westerners always talk about Universal Values, but these so-called values are simply expressions of Western will. Nonetheless, I believe that Arab countries should be able to identify with the Shared Values of Humanity”
“In addition, they have never paid much attention to the fact that China has troops stationed in the Middle East. They were shocked when I told them about it. Did you know that there are 1,000 Chinese soldiers in southern Lebanon, right between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in Lebanon, as part of a UN peacekeeping force mission in which China is participating?
“The locals, including Hezbollah [a terrorist Iranian proxy that China believes is legitimate despite the fact that it targets civilians as its modus operandi and murdered an Irish UN soldier just as the counter-terrorism expert Pan was giving the interview], are very friendly to China because it sends engineering units to clear mines and medical units to treat the locals.
“In general, China now maintains cordial ties with Iran, Turkey, the Arabs, and Israel—the four major regional powers. And, while there are some conflicts among some of them, none are too serious at the moment.
“China has proposed a statement on the Shared Values of Humanity: peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom [as opposed to the UN Charter's Universal Values, which the Chinese leadership has been working to undermine, all the while taking credit for drafting them]. These values, when combined, form the ideological foundation of [Xi Jinping's] vision of a Community of a Shared Future for Mankind 人类命运共同体.
“Westerners always talk about Universal Values, but these so-called values are simply expressions of Western will. Nonetheless, I believe that Arab countries should be able to identify with the Shared Values of Humanity.
“If we had to compare, projects in the Arab world are relatively safer than those in Pakistan, where the main spoilers are the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and the Pakistani Taliban. They have been responsible for several explosions that have resulted in Chinese casualties.
“Furthermore, unlike in Myanmar, where hydropower plants were built and legal actions were taken by the local population, economic and legal problems are less likely to arise here.
“Because the majority of Arab countries are governed as monarchies, which makes them more subservient 服从, stable, and prosperous, the BRI in Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, is proceeding relatively smoothly.” (Guancha)
Playing in the Background
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day holiday founded by the Jewish Sages during the Second Temple period as days of thanksgiving in commemoration of the Hasmonean victory over the Greeks in the 2nd Century BCE.
It recalls the miracle of the giant golden Menorah (ceremonial candelabrum) remaining lit for eight days thanks to a tiny cruse of oil that was left intact in the desecrated Temple.
Jews celebrate Hanukkah by singing songs of praise to God, eating artery-clogging deep-fried goodies, and lighting candles on window sills in order to publicize the story of the miracle.
Here is Matti Caspi singing Sasha Argov’s When a Light Shines Through Your Window:
Discourse Power is written by Tuvia Gering, a researcher at the 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’s Krauthammer Fellow, specializing in Chinese security and foreign policy, and emergency and disaster management. Any views expressed in this newsletter, as well as any errors, are solely those of the author. Follow Tuvia on Twitter @GeringTuvia
A wonderful collection of thoughtful commentary from interesting angles. Thanks.
This puzzled me, however: “China has proposed a statement on the Shared Values of Humanity: peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom [as opposed to the UN Charter's Universal Values, which the Chinese leadership has been working to undermine, all the while taking credit for drafting them]”.
China's proposed additions to the Charter in no way opposed the 30 existing rights (in which China leads America by 26-2, with 2 draws). They complement them.
The existing rights are essentially Christian, individualistic, and idealistic. China–and 90% of the world–give higher priority to collective, community, social rights.
Put them together and, hey!