In recent years, the Middle East has started playing an increasingly important role in Beijing’s foreign policy. For China this region is not just a new market to conquer, it’s a pivotal barrier that can prevent all sorts of terrorists and separatists from infiltrating the territory of the People’s Republic of China, that has already witnessed foreign-sponsored separatism in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
However, in its quest for the regional stability of the MENA, China is likely to be opposed by both the United States and Saudi Arabia. However, should be pursuing regional political stability at the expense of political change it may as well be accused of violating the principle of non-interference that it has been trying to rely on while approaching other states.
It’s already been stated that China’s abandonment of non-interference is manifested by its efforts to mediate conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan as well as between Israel and Palestine and even between Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, time and time again Beijing fails to fulfill the hopes of those seeking its assistance in settling regional disputes, which puts it at risk of tying itself up in political knots in countries such as Pakistan, which is home to the crown jewel of its Belt and Road Initiative (OBOR) — the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
It’s seems that Beijing is fully aware of the fact that it’s a risky business of getting itself involved in regional affairs, as the Middle East witnessed quite a number of violent political transitions over the last decade, largely due to an extensive amount of foreign interference. It’s safe to say that as of now the whole MENA region is still at the beginning of a transition process that could take up to a quarter of a century to resolve.
For centuries the Middle East has been caught in the center of political games between major powers that would more often than not result in various clashes, leading to poverty and bloodshed. For intance, Washington has long been convinced that the MENA is falls into the sphere of interests, which means that Western think tanks would most certainly find the transformation of China into the principle Middle East player unacceptable, especially against the backdrop of different approaches those states apply, as you can typically find Chinese goods in those places where Washington would most certainly resort to armed violence.
By carefully following the steps taken by the leading outside players in the Middle East, which are the United States and Russia, China was quick to realize that it would need a strong ally within the region in order to advance its policies in the region. It is pretty evident to pretty much anyone that Israel and Saudi Arabia are playing on Washington’s side, while Russia is supporting both Syria and Iran. As for Beijing, it decided to put its support behind Pakistan and Syria.
China is ready to manipulate Pakistan to advance its agenda, forcing it to take steps against Beijing’s political rivals. For instance, continues to defend Masood Azhar, who is susspected of enjoying close ties with Pakistani special services and armed forces, to prevent Washington from recognizing him as an international terrorist. The use of militants by Pakistan in its territorial dispute with India in the province of Kashmir also serves Chinese interests perfectly. In addition, China’s rapidly developing relations with Islamabad ensures that the former would be able to use the deepwater port Gwadar as a military facility.
China’s position on the Syrian crisis result in Beijing blocking a total of six resolutions of the UN Security Council against Damascus. Mind you, that China has exercised its right to veto UN Security Council resolutions 11 times and more than a half of those vetoes were used in defense of Syria, which clearly demonstrates the role that Syria plays in Beijing’s designs.
China’s special envoy for Syria, Xie Xiaoyan would repeatedly stress the willingness of his government to participate in the reconstruction of the destroyed Syrian economy when the war ends. The prolonged destruction and plundering of Syria by foreign proxy forces transforms contracts for its restoration into a valuable asset, which are being eyed by all sorts of players. Additionally, Syria’s geographic position transforms it into an invaluable asset for the implementation of the OBOR project launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.
In December 2017, a number of Middle Eastern TV stations and news outlets would report the arrival of the Chinese special forces unit ‘Night Tigers’ to the Syrian port of Tartus to assit government troops in securing control over the territories still occupied by terrorists. Although at the official level Beijing has been denying the arrival of its special forces to Syria, China acknowleged the presence of Chinese military advisers as early as in 2015 that were deployed to train Syrian armed forces, thus facilitating te addoptation of Chinese weapons. At the same time, even though officially Chinese regular units are not operating in Syria, it does not prevent Beijing from using, in accordance with the example set by the United States, Russia and a number of other states, Chinese PMCs in Syria. One of these PMCs – Shandong Huawei Security Group – has been recruiting former military, special forces and policemen officers from across China to be send abroad ever since 2010 and has already officially deployed its forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition, it should not be forgotten that China’s growing interest in participating in military events in Syria can be linked to Beijing’s recent armed forces modernization program, so one can understand Beijing’s desire to roll out its latest designs to test them in the field. Just like Russia, China is reluctant to rely on military exercises, so it needs a conflict when latest military know-hows can be tested, inclduing bomb disposal and combat robots, drones and communications equipment and much more.
Therefore, China’s growing presence in the Arab region is inevitable in the forseaable future, especially when Chinese political elites have finally realized that its political, military and strategic distancing from the Arab world threatens its vital interests.