China's New Diplomatic Moves in the Middle East

www.ciis.org.cn | 作者: Yao Kuangyi | 时间: 2015-02-15 | 责编: 李敏捷
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Yao  Kuangyi[1]

 

 

      At present, hotspot issues in the Middle East are rising and     falling and entangled with each other while national, religi-ous and sectional conflicts are continuously intensifying, posing a grave threat to peace in the region and the world at large. As a rising major developing country, China has been taking a proactive stand to promote reconciliation and negotiation, playing an increasingly important and constructive role in the Middle East. A new form of diplomacy on hotspot issues with Chinese characteristics is in shaping.

 

New Diplomatic Moves

 

      China has in recent years taken an active part in making mediation on the Middle East hotspot issues, playing an increasingly important and constructive role. The examples are:

On the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, China has exhorted all opportunities to actively promote reconciliation and negotiation.

China firmly supports the Palestinian people in their just struggle for restoring their legitimate rights while at the same time maintains that people of various countries in the Middle East including Israel enjoy equal rights of subsistence and development and that settling disputes by political means is a strategic choice in keeping with the fundamental interests of all parties.

In May 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward the “four-point proposition” in his meeting with the visiting Palestinian President Abbas, which includes: support should be given to the establishment of the independent Palestinian State enjoying full sovereignty and with the 1967 boundary as the basis and East Jerusalem as the capital; the current pressing task is to take practical measures on such matters as suspending the building of settlements, lifting the blockade on the Gaza Strip and properly resolving the issue of jailed Palestinians so as to create necessary conditions for reopening the peace talks; the principle of “land for peace” must be unswervingly adhered to; and the international community must provide guarantee for pushing forward the peace process.

Almost at the same time, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited to visit China. The Chinese side emphasized that Israel must release goodwill on suspending the construction of settlements and improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza. That the leaders of Palestine and Israel were invited to visit China almost at the same time was a purposeful arrangement made by the Chinese side, the aim of which was to send out a clear signal that the new Chinese government pays high attention to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute and hopes to promote the peaceful settlement of the dispute by strengthening communication between the two sides.

Soon afterwards, the Chinese Special Envoy on the Middle East Issue visited the region once again. In July 2013, the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Talks that have been suspended for three years were resumed under the promotion of the international community including China. China lost no time in expressing its welcome to it and encouraged the two sides to make efforts to overcome the obstacles, move in the same direction and keep on talking to achieve substantial progress at an early date.

In July 2014, Israel, using the killing of three Jewish youths as pretext, launched large-scale military actions named “Operation Protective Edge” in the Gaza region, which attracted enormous attention of the international community. Since the beginning of the current round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict, China has been mediating for peace and promoting negotiations between the two sides through various channels and by various means. The Chinese Special Envoy on the Middle East Issue has made several trips to the region to make mediation. Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid visits to Egypt and the headquarters of the Arab League during which he put forward a five-point proposal covering immediate overall ceasefire, seeking for plan to realize common security, resuming peace talks at an early date, letting the UN Security Council to play its due role and improving the humanitarian situation in Palestine in general and in Gaza in particular. He also stressed that China is a resolute supporter and sincere mediator for peace between Palestine and Israel and will join hands with the international community to make its due contribution to the termination of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. China’s active medi-ation, which shows the responsibility a major country takes, has been highly acclaimed by the international society.

With regard to the Syrian problem, China stands for political solution as the guiding principle and opposes military intervention or “regime change”.

Since the outset of the Syrian crisis, China has always been against executing military intervention or exercising arbitral “regime change” in Syria and has twice vetoed in the UN Security Council and at the General Assembly session the resolutions tabled by Western countries attempting to force for change of the current government.

In order to render support to the mediation efforts of the UN Special Envoy on Syria to enable the issue to come back under the UN framework, China put forward a six-point proposal that includes immediate and unconditional cessation of all violent actions by various parties concerned, immediate launch of inclusive political dialogue without any pre-conditions and pre-set results, support for the United Nations to play the leading role, and coordinating efforts for humanitarian assistance with the aim of stabilizing the Syrian situation as soon as possible and freeing the Syrian people from war turmoil or even the threat of civil war.

Under the concerted efforts of the international community including China, the International Conference on Syria was convened in Geneva in June 2012. For the conference to achieve results in proper settlement of the Syrian problem, the then foreign minister Yang Jiechi set forth a “four-point proposition” at the conference. The parties attending the conference reached agreement on the establishment of a “transitional management institution” in Syria and the leading role of the Syrian people during the political transition. The successful convening of the Geneva conference signifies that political settlement of the Syrian issue has become the consensus of the international community.

The Syrian “chemical weapons incident” broke out in August 2013. Making a fuss about the issue, the United States threatened to launch military attacks on Syria. For a while, the sky of the Middle East was overcast with the dark clouds of war. China and Russia expressed their firm opposition to military actions. President Xi Jinping stressed when meeting with US president Obama during the G-20 Summit that political settlement was the only correct road and military actions could not solve the problem in a fundamental way. He also hoped the United States would think twice before taking any action. Foreign Minister Wang Yi also had meetings and telephone conversations with foreign ministers of countries concerned, urging for political settlement of the crisis.

Afterwards, the United States shelved the plan of military strikes in response to the initiative made by Russia to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, which facilitated the adoption of the UNSC resolution 2118. China dispatched naval vessel Yancheng to escort the shipping of the Syrian chemical weapons in close coordination with Russia, Norway and Denmark. It is the first time for China to dispatch a frigate to perform such a duty, and it is an important move taken by China for the purpose of smoothly destroying Syria’s chemical weapons in response to calls of the United Nations and the chemical weapons prohibition organization as well as pushing for the political solution of the Syrian problem.

Since the beginning of 2014, the Syrian government army gained some advantage in the battlefield and the Syrian problem showed the sign of easing off, which offered opportunities for the parties concerned to make up their differences.

Against this backdrop, the Geneva II Conference on Syria was convened in Montreux, Switzerland on January 22, 2014. To ensure the conference would bear fruit, Foreign Minister Wang Yi put forward prior to the meeting the Chinese initiative of solving the Syrian problem through political means and implementing the principle of adhering to settling the issue through political means, letting the Syrian people themselves to decide for the future of their country, promoting the process of inclusive political transition, realizing nationwide reconciliation and unity, and carrying out humanitarian relief work and made contacts and communication with the Syrian government and representatives of the opposition during the meeting.

Though the meeting failed to produce any result due to enormous differences between the two sides on Bashar’s quitting or staying, China’s positive and sincere attitude as well as unselfish stand won acknowledgment and appreciation from the international community. Attaching high importance to the humanitarian crisis resulting from the Syrian crisis, China has provided through multilateral or bilateral channels humanitarian assistance on quite a number of occasions to Syria’s neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and took an active part in the activities of the International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria and the Senior Humanitarian Panel.

In February 2014, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2139 aimed at substantially improving the humanitarian situation in Syria under the joint efforts of China and other members of the Council. In addition to that, China took the initiative to invite opposition groups outside of Syria such as the “National Dialogue Union” to visit China, demonstrating that China had been doing work on various parties concerned in a positive and balanced way and making unremitting efforts for the political solution of the Syrian issue without shielding or opposing any party.

Concerning the Iraqi problem, China firmly supports Iraq’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and opposes terrorism of all forms.

In view of the situation of incessant conflicts among various parties and the danger of disintegration of Iraq, China has firmly supported Iraq’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and advocated for resolving the differences between various parties through the political process and by the peaceful and democratic means so as to achieve security and stability in Iraq.

A thousand and one things wait to be done following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. To help Iraq cure the wounds of war at an early date, Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid a visit to Iraq in February 2014, the first of such visit made by a Chinese foreign minister after 23 years. During this so-called “support and cooperation trip”, Wang Yi expressed that China firm supports Iraq in its efforts to defend national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, speed up the process of political reconstruction and national reconciliation and fight all forms of terrorism. In addition, he indicated that China would provide more assistance to Iraq in energy, infrastructure and people’s livelihood.

In June 2014, the extremist force of “Islamic State of Iraq and al Shams” (ISIS) rose at a fast speed, posing serious threat to regional security. In August, the United States began to launch air strikes on the organization. On September 10, Obama announced a four-point strategy for attacking ISIS, thus unfolding a new wave of anti-terror war in the Middle East. China expressed on various occasions its firm stand on opposing all forms of terrorism and proposed that to fight terrorism, it was necessary to address both the root cause and symptoms, take various measures and make close coordination, bring the role of the United Nations and its Security Council into full play, respect the sovereign independence and territorial integrity of the country concerned and act according to international law when taking actions.

In view of new tendencies and changes of terrorism, China proposed to enhance the collection and sharing of information, intensify cyber anti-terror efforts, cut the money flow and financing channels of terrorist organizations, and push forward measures to eliminate extremism. China also enhanced cooperation with parties concerned on anti-terror capability building, information exchange and personnel training, and offered emergency humanitarian assistance worth RMB60 million to Iraq, including the Kurdish region. Besides, China facilitated together with other members of Security Council the adoption of Security Council resolutions 2170 and 2178 for delivering severe strikes on ISIS. The Chinese side calls on the international community to earnestly implement the above-said resolutions.

Regarding the Iran Nuclear Issue, China persists on safe-guarding the international nuclear non-proliferation system and opposes Iran to possess nuclear weapons while acknowledging its right to peaceful use of nuclear energy.

China stands for political solution of the conflict and opposes the unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran. China has also maintained the normal development of its relations with Iran. Since President Hassan Rouhani assumed office, political solution of the Iran nuclear issue has gained momentum. On October 15, 2013, Iran and the P5+1 group launched talks for a comprehensive agreement. China has been playing an active role since the beginning of the talks. It put forward at the outset a five-point proposal for the comprehensive solution of the Iran nuclear problem which includes: adhering to the path of dialogue between the six countries and Iran; seeking a comprehensive, fair, reasonable and long-term solution to the issue; upholding the incremental and reciprocal principle; creating favorable atmosphere for the talks; and looking for means to achieving comprehensive treatment of both the root cause and the symptoms. This was the first time that China put forward its comprehensive proposition on the Iran nuclear issue.

In addition, the Chinese leaders made mediation personally. On the eve of the third round of Geneva Talks on the Iran nuclear issue, President Xi Jinping had a telephone conversation with Iranian president Rouhani expressing hope that Iran would seize the opportunity to keep the momentum of dialogue and seek common grounds as far as possible with the various other parties so as to strive for the best results.

During the talks, Foreign Minister Wang Yi made extensive contact with his American, Russian and Iranian counterparts, trying hard to reduce differences and enable the talks to make substantial progress. Through arduous talks, the meeting finally reached a first-step agreement on a joint plan of action, indicating an important first step has been made in solving the Iran nuclear issue through diplomatic means. In line with the joint plan of action, talks between Iran and the six countries for the comprehensive settlement of the Iran nuclear issue were conducted in Vienna in June 2014.

Due to huge differences, the parties concerned finally agreed to postpone the talks until November. To postpone the talks so that the parties concerned would have more time to make further consultations is conducive to keeping to the general orientation of solving the Iran nuclear issue through political means and reaching a comprehensive agreement on the Iran nuclear issue as early as possible. Besides, China waged necessary struggle against the United States as the latter’s sanctions on Iran impaired China’s interests, forcing the United States to twice extend its waive on China’s oil trade.

On the issue of North and South Sudan, China upholds the fair, balanced and pragmatic stand and has made active mediation for resolving pending problems between the two countries.

Since South Sudan separated from Sudan and announced its independence on July 9, 2011, the two sides have been logged in disputes over border delineation and oil resource distribution. From the very beginning, China has taken active diplomatic actions out of maintaining its own interests and regional security because China has significant oil interests in both countries. In August that year, the then foreign minister Yang Jiechi visited both North and South Sudan, stressing that as neighbors, the two countries shared the same destiny and their peace and development were closely connected. He also expressed that China would make active mediation on various bilateral and multilateral occasions to contribute its own part to the resolution of the pending problems between the two countries. In April 1012, large-scale armed conflicts broke out between North and South Sudan for seizing the Heglig Oilfield.

Taking advantage of maintaining good relations with both countries, China launched a new round of diplomatic mediation by sending its Special Envoy on African Affairs to make shuttling visits between the two countries for the sake of promoting peace and negotiation between the two sides. China also extended full support to the “road map” for settling the conflicts put forward by the African Union and coordinated with the United States in the matter. Under the active mediation, the two sides finally reached the agreement of reconciliation in September of the year, thus dissolving the dark clouds of war for the time being. Undoubtedly, China played a key role in this round of mediation.

 

Reasons for Policy Adjustment

 

In recent years, along with the constant rise of China’s comprehen-sive national strength and international influence as well as the substantial extension and expansion of its overseas interests, China is gradually changing its passive and responsive diplomacy on the Middle East hotspot issues toward the direction of taking a more proactive approach, enhancing planning, involving in addressing the issues and expanding its influence in the region. China makes this change out of the following considerations:

First, the scientific understanding of the current domestic and international situations as well as the correct positioning of China’s own role. The 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party set forth the two Centenary Goals while President Xi Jinping put forward the task of achieving the Chinese Dream of great renewal of the Chinese nation. A peaceful international environment is the pre-requisite for the realization of the above-said goals. Xi Jinping pointed out that we must have a world perspective, making greater efforts to combine China’s domestic development with its opening to the outside world, link China’s development with that of the whole world, and integrate the interests of the Chinese people with the common interests of the people of the whole world. He added that we should constantly expand our mutually beneficial cooperation with various countries, take a more active part in international affairs and make joint efforts with other countries in addressing global challenges so as to make our due contribution to global development. These judgments, which revealed the current relationship between China and the world, pointed out the orientation for China to engage in and address the hotspot issues. As a rising developing major country, China is constantly aware of its international obligations and responsibilities and is willing to provide, within its capacity, more public goods for addressing various issues and challenges in the world and play its unique role.

Second, the great change in the Middle East situation and the popular request of the Middle East countries. The Middle East is a key region in the change of the current international situation, and the political, economic and social upheaval caused by the tremendous change in the Middle East is still going on. The complex national and religious conflicts plus the hegemonic actions and power politics carried out by the major countries give rise to the situation that hotspot issues in the region run wild with fresh hotspots crop up before the old ones ease off.

The entangled traditional and non-traditional security problems not only result in the long-term unrest in the region but also gravely affect global peace, stability and development. After suffering from three years’ turbulence, most countries and people in the Middle East long than anytime ever for an early end of the unrest so that they could live a peaceful life. It is the popular and strong demand of the countries in the region as well as its international obligation that China, one of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and a country maintaining good relations with all countries in the region, should play a greater constructive and balancing role in promoting the resolution of hotspots.

Third, the need to safeguard China’s own rising interests in the Middle East. China has significant political, economic and security interests in the Middle East. An important component of China’s “greater periphery”, the Middle East is a major strategic prop for China. The Islamic world is an important but unique plate in the international political pattern, and China needs the support and coordination of these countries in international affairs. The Middle East is China’s largest overseas energy supplier, important commodity and labor export destination and project contracting market. The region is also the frontier for China to crack down the terrorist, separatist and extremist forces to maintain the stability of its west. The concept of the “New Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” put forward by President Xi Jinping is a major strategic move taken by China to carry out comprehensive and in-depth reform and expand its opening to the west of China under the new situation; and the Middle East sits rightly on the juncture of the Belt and Road.

The proposal of President Xi made in his address at the opening ceremony of the 6th Ministerial Meeting of the China-Arab Cooperation Forum that the two sides jointly build the Belt and the Road to construct the China-Arab community of shared interests and destiny once more revealed the close relationship of sharing weal and woe and caring for and helping each other in times of crisis between China and countries in the Arab world. Therefore, taking an active part in the settlement of the Middle East hotspots and promoting durable peace and stability in the Middle East shall be an important way to promote the sustainable development of relations as well as win-win cooperation between China and countries in the region.

 

Goal, Strategy and Mechanisms

 

Judging from the diplomatic practices of China on the Middle East hotspot issues in recent years, it can be said that China has initially shaped its own unique diplomatic policy on the Middle East hotspot issues.

The goal of this policy is to realize peace and stability in the Middle East by means of political solution of the disputes through dialogue. To achieve this goal, China has set down the following basic principles:

First, promoting reconciliation and negotiation. This is the focal idea of China in addressing the Middle East hotspot issues. China stands for adhering to dialogue and negotiation and peaceful solution of the disputes and realizing the peaceful settlement of the disputes by reducing the differences among various parties and finding the maximum common ground on their respective concerns through patient negotiations. It may take more time but will reduce the cost and after-effects to the minimum. It is the best way to achieving a fundamental solution to the problem and hence can best serve the long-term interests of the broad masses of people on the disputing sides.

Second, adhering to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. For more than half a century, China has stuck to this principle in addressing the Middle East hotspots and developing relations with countries in the Middle East, thus winning respect and acclaim from the countries and people in the region. At a time when the situation in the region is currently undergoing great change and readjustment, it is all the more necessary for China to stick to this principle to unequivocally oppose outside intervention, respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of various countries and respect the choice made by the people of the countries on their own. Only in this way will China be able to keep the initiative in its hand and create and expand the space of doing a better job on the various forces and further develop result-oriented cooperation with various countries.

Third, opposing in a clear-cut way neo-interventionism practiced by the West under the name of humanitarian intervention. This is an important wave-break preventing the worsening and spill-over of the regional hotspots. While showing due respect to the aspiration for change of the regional peoples and demand for defending their interests, China is opposed to actions of exerting threat with force and even bringing in outside military forces to arbitrarily change a government.

Fourth, taking a more balanced approach to upholding moral principles and pursuing interests. This is the unique moral force and soft power of China in addressing the Middle East hotspot issues. A country should not take interests as interests but moral principles as interests. Absorbing the essence from the traditional Chinese culture, China advocates taking a more balanced approach to upholding moral principles and pursuing interests in international relations, valuing interests but even more moral principles in international cooperation. Only when you take both moral principles and interests into consideration will you gain both; only when moral principles and interests are balanced will you win both. In his recent visit to the State of Mongolia in August 2014, President Xi Jinping further elaborated the balanced approach to upholding principles and pursuing interests.

In view of the unique conditions in Asia, he advocated the Asian approach of mutual respect, consensus through negotiation and comfort for all sides, the Asian awareness of getting strong through joint efforts and caring for and helping each other in times of crisis, and the way of resolving problems, diffusing contradictions and promoting harmony with the Oriental wisdom of treasuring peace and being kind to others. China is not only trying hard to practice this balanced approach in the Middle East to develop friendly cooperative relations with various countries but also advocates that the countries concerned in the Middle East can likewise use the Oriental wisdom of treasuring peace to diffuse differences between each other and build peace and stability in the region.

In practical work, China has achieved the transition from taking a generally detached stand and trying to make some accomplishments to taking a more proactive approach, enhancing planning, involving in addressing the issues and expanding its influence in the region. In taking a more proactive approach, it is still necessary for China to pursue the principle of being active but sure, neither belittling itself nor behaving haughtily. On the one hand China should take an active part in addressing the Middle East hotspot issues to expand and enhance its international influence and improve its international image, but at the same time it must be aware that the Middle East hotspot issues are extremely complicated and many of the problems are quite sensitive, and hence must try its best not to become the focus of contradictions between various parties and avoid being driven into the swirl of conflicts and confrontation.

By enhancing planning, it means meticulous attention must be paid to top-level design and overall planning. On top-level design, China actively advocates the idea of comprehensive management and treatment. In view of the increased connection of the Middle East hotspots, China maintains that attention must be paid to the new hotspot issues in Iraq and Syria without neglecting the old ones such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. At present, special attention must be paid to the connection effect of the Iraqi problem and the Syrian crisis and comprehensive treatment must be carried out. It is necessary, on the basis of adhering to peaceful solution of disputes through dialogue and differentiating between right and wrong of the matter, to seek maximum common ground for the fair and reasonable settlement of the disputes by respecting historical facts while giving account to practical reasonable concerns of the other side.

In advocating multilateralism, it is necessary to stress the role of the UN Security Council in maintaining world peace while respecting the opinions of the re-gional organizations such as the Arab League and the African Union so as to bring their respective roles into fullest play.

When handling relations with the United States and other Western countries, it is necessary to firmly oppose hegemonism and power politics while paying attention to communicating and coordinating with them to cultivate common understanding and create a favorable external environment for the peaceful settlement of the disputes.

When providing economic assistance, it is necessary to meet the present need and increase humanitarian aid to alleviate the difficulties of the local people in their livelihood while maintaining a long-term perspective to unfold economic cooperation, improve the people’s livelihood, enhance people’s confidence in peaceful negotiation, and in the meantime to support the countries in the region to achieve orderly transition and probe for development paths that suit their own conditions so as to create conditions for the realization of durable peace and order in the region.

By participating in governance, it means to provide more public goods for the solution of hotspot issues. China is no longer confined to making general remarks in principle but is endeavoring to propose its own plans of solution as an important means to actively participate in the settlement of the Middle East hotspot issues and is paying more attention to seize the opportune time to raise its voice and expand its influence. China has, through its state president and foreign minister, set forth its own plans on the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, the Iran nuclear issue, the Iraqi problem and the Syrian issue, which reflected China’s new thinking on solving the Middle East hotspot issues against current complex and changing regional and international background. These plans, which are applicable, have a clear aim and are operational, are welcomed by the international community.

China has set up a series of necessary working mechanisms for taking an active part in the settlement of the Middle East hotspot issues. They include the work of Special Envoy on the Middle East Issue, bilateral consultations with various Middle East countries, the Senior Officials Meeting under the framework of China-Arab Cooperation Forum, consultations at irregular intervals with the United States and other major countries, etc., among which the Special Envoy diplomacy has become an indispensable part of China’s diplomacy on hotspot issues. The work of China’s Special Envoy on the Middle East issue is no longer confined to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute but has extended to the Syrian, Iraqi and Iran nuclear issues. With quick response, frequent visits, extensive contact and notable results, the work of China’s Special Envoy on the Middle East issue has become a special envoy working mechanism with its own characteristics.

Besides, China takes an active part in the UN peace-keeping missions, regarding dispatching peace-keeping personnel as an important means for alleviating tensions in the hotspot areas. China is now the largest sender of peace-keeping personnel among the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and bears 3% of the total peace-keeping expenses of the UN. At present, China has 335 army engineers and 435 transport and medical personnel working diligently in Lebanon and Sudan. In September 2014, China sent 700 combatants to South Sudan in one installment to join the UN peace-keeping forces there.

 

Conclusion

 

To play the role of a major country on the Middle East hotspot issues by China is a gradual process and enhancing its ability in participating in the Middle East affairs is a long-term task. To expand its right of speech on the Middle East hotspot issues, China must strengthen the building of its own hard and soft powers.

    With regard to hard power, China must take tangible measures to enhance practical cooperation with various countries in the Middle East. After three years of turbulence and unrest, the Middle East countries long for stability, development and change, and the trend of “looking toward the East” is quickly getting momentum. Availing itself of this favorable opportunity, China must earnestly implement President Xi Jinping’s recent proposals of building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Maritime Silk Road jointly by China and the Arab countries so as to push the relations between China and the Middle East countries to a higher level and strengthen China’s influence in the Middle East.

      As to soft power, China must reinforce its public diplomacy capability, enhance its ability of diplomatic mediation and expand the role of think-tanks and second-track diplomacy in settling the hotspots. Efforts should be made to further improve the working mechanism of Special Envoy on the Middle East issue, intensify the Special Envoy’s contact with the leaders of various countries concerned and enhance his relations with the United States and other Western countries as well as the Russian Middle East Special Envoy.

 

 (Source:China International Studies, November/December, 2014(6) )



[1] Yao Kuangyi is former Chinese ambassador to Turkey and an expert on the Middle East studies.

 

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