While the West and Russia were sorting out their relations (and Russia was also saving Kazakhstan from the invasion of terrorists), China organized "open days" for guests from the Middle East. During the past week, the foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Turkey, Iran, as well as the Secretary General of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Persian Gulf (GCC) visited China. At the same time, the Chinese signed agreements with Syria and Morocco on the implementation of the "One Belt, One Road" initiative, and with Iraq – a contract for the construction of the largest oil refinery in the region.
The Arabs of the Gulf were the first to be accepted in the Middle Kingdom. They spent five days here – from Monday to Friday. Which in itself is unusual: as a rule, foreign ministers do not leave their capitals for a long time, a day and a half is enough for them to negotiate. And here – almost a whole week away! Apparently, there were a lot of topics for very serious discussions… And who knows who they managed to see in the Chinese hinterland (they were received not in Beijing, but in the town of Wuxi – there are not even a million inhabitants in it – in Jiangsu province)…
In the reports (rather stingy on details) about the negotiations, special emphasis was placed on the collective nature of the visit of the four Arab ministers and the Secretary General of the GCC, which was supposed to demonstrate the unity of this organization. This plan partially succeeded: a joint communique was adopted, which discussed the "need to establish strategic partnership relations" between the Gulf Council and the PRC, as well as the "early start of negotiations" on the creation of a free trade zone.
However, this document was the result of bilateral negotiations between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and GCC Secretary General Naif al-Najraf. Meetings with each of the four Arab ministers were held in the same separate mode. No joint meetings were reported, group photos were not published.
There is reason to believe that this circumstance – as well as the absence of representatives of Qatar and the UAE in the Arab delegation – indicates the problems that persist in the ranks of the Gulf Council, despite the efforts that were made on the eve and during the recent 42nd summit of the organization (which we have already written about earlier). So, it seems that disagreements with Qatar have not been eliminated, and Doha is not ready to act on the same front with its brothers and neighbors in such a serious and responsible matter as establishing a strategic partnership with a new global power – the PRC.
As for the Emirates, the situation is somewhat different here. Abu Dhabi prefers to pursue an increasingly independent policy without regard for its neighbors and especially for the traditional regional leader - Saudi Arabia. So with Beijing, the UAE has developed its own system of relations, perhaps the most advanced among the Arab states of the Gulf. But it was here that a very serious failure occurred.
The fact is that the Chinese comrades received permission from the Emirati authorities to build a huge commercial port and immediately set to work. However, recently, American intelligence suddenly discovered that this port could well be used as a military base. Washington demanded to stop the construction, which the Emirates immediately complied with. The Chinese did not make a fuss (yet). But all the same, after such an embarrassment, it was inconvenient to go to visit them: I would have to hide my eyes, throw up my hands, sigh and mutter, they say, "we'll figure something out."
Note along the way that the Americans have recently discovered that China seems to be helping Saudi Arabia to establish the production of ballistic missiles. What this story may lead to is not yet clear…
Whatever it was, but the multi-day visit of the Arab ministerial delegation to the Celestial Empire demonstrated to the whole world that Beijing intends to take full advantage of the situation generated by the inability of the United States to maintain its hegemony in the Gulf and in the Middle East as a whole. At the same time, he can be sure that the Arabian monarchies need him much more than he needs them. For the main thing that he offers them is not only and not so much investment, technology or a free trade zone. And not even weapons or security guarantees.
The main thing is the opportunity to integrate into a global strategy that could provide a new generation of sheikhs with a sense of existence, a conscious connection with the future. Half a century ago, America gave the founding fathers of the oil principalities a place and a role in its global strategy, the expiration date of which, apparently, is expiring. Today, Beijing is claiming Washington's place, having managed to formulate its own alternative truly global and truly strategic vision of the world and its development prospects. And in this he is ahead of the Anglo-Saxons, whose concept of the future is just beginning to take more or less clear outlines: the "green agenda", opposition to China (AUCUS) and Russia, the fight against the threat of new epidemics, minority rights…
The Chinese proposal looks more practical and pragmatic, less politicized. But the Anglo–Saxon one comes from traditional patrons - patrons whose methods and interests are already familiar, understandable, familiar. As a result, the Arabs face a difficult choice.
But the Chinese will not let them think for a long time. Firstly, on January 13, a memorandum on Syria's accession to the "One Belt, One Road" initiative was signed in Damascus. And a week before that, the same document was signed with Morocco. This clearly indicates the firmness and inevitability of China's intentions.
And secondly, Beijing has clearly shown that in addition to the Arabs in the Middle East, there is someone to deal with: during the five days that the Arabian ministers visited China, their colleagues from Turkey and Iran visited the Celestial Empire.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu arrived in Usi on Wednesday, January 12. The main results of his talks with Wang Yi were the confirmation that Ankara does not intend to participate in the drawing of the "Uighur card" in Western relations with China. At the same time, the Chinese side expressed hope that Turkey will make efforts to ensure that other Islamic countries take a similar position on the Uighur issue. For its part, China promised to increase the volume of imports of Turkish goods (which is very important, given the problems that the Turkish economy is experiencing now).
And on Friday (the last day of the Arabs' stay), Hossein Amir Abdollahian, the Iranian Foreign Minister, arrived for talks with Wang Yi.
His visit was provided with special information support: his article was published in the Chinese press, where the relations of the PRC and Iran were considered as the relations of two of the world's oldest civilizations. At the same time, emphasis was placed on the prospects for the implementation of the Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement (Comprehensive Cooperation Plan) concluded by the two countries, designed for 25 years.
This agreement was signed last year, but it was put into effect following the negotiations between Wang Yi and Hossein Abdollahian. Little is known about its content, except that it covers the areas of economic, trade, investment cooperation, as well as the areas of security, military and political interaction. In any case, it is clear that Iran is opening China a wide access to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea region, which the countries of the Arab Gulf coast will have to reckon with.
Other international players who have their stakes in the region will have to reckon with this, including the United States, Britain and Russia, which has made a lot of efforts to regain its position in the Middle East. In political and military terms, this has largely succeeded. The same cannot be said about the economy.
It seems that China is going to get the main economic benefits from the change in the situation in the region, creating a solid foundation for its long-term presence here. Of course, Russian companies are also getting new opportunities, rediscovering the markets of Syria, Iraq, Egypt, expanding cooperation with Iran and exploring new horizons in the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar. But this is truly a drop in the ocean compared to what China is trying to achieve, which has not fired a single shot and has not sent a single soldier to the land of the Middle East.
It seems that the time is coming to work on combining Chinese and Russian strategies in this region. Beijing should understand that the advantages of its position depend to a very large extent on the military-political role of Russia. Moscow has an equally developed and effective network of influence, and without taking into account its interests, it will be problematic to maintain stability and security here at the level necessary to build a bright future according to Chinese projects.
But the first step is for Russia. It needs to clearly define and formulate its interests – in this case, primarily economic – in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.