Will the Middle East bring luck to China?

CIt was in the Middle East that George H. Bush laid the foundations of his “new world order” in 1991, aimed at ensuring American hegemony over the ruins of the Soviet Union. The campaign for the liberation of Kuwait by a coalition led by the United States was then accompanied by an Arab-Israeli “peace process”, always under the aegis of Washington.

This great imperial work wavered, twelve years later, with the disaster of the invasion of Iraq by George W. Bush, who thus contributed to destroying what his father had patiently established. Presidents Obama, Trump and Biden, in the name of their desire to put an end to the “endless wars” in the Middle East, reacted by disengaging the United States from this region hitherto considered strategic and by abandoning any hint of mediation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Vladimir Putin engulfed himself in the space thus left gaping, developing from Syria the instruments of its offensive strategy in Europe. But the Kremlin, despite its military involvement alongside the Assad regime, has proven unable to promote a political settlement of the Syrian crisis.

A source of power

The Middle East, fundamentally perceived as a crisis zone, from which Western democracies wish above all to protect themselves, nevertheless remains a formidable source of power. Bush senior had demonstrated this, without, obviously, convincing a majority of his compatriots, who had not renewed him for a second term, preferring in 1992 the very inconstant Bill Clinton.

Read the editorial: Israel-Palestine: international impotence

The bet of the new world order, still valid today, is that access to the status of global power requires a capacity for initiative in the Middle East, not only economic and military, but also diplomatic. In any case, this is the lesson that the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has obviously learned by sponsoring the normalization between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The success of such mediation is indeed essential if China’s major investments in the Middle East over the past decade are to translate into global political influence.

Where the United States and Russia seemed constrained by their militarist priorities, at the expense of a possible “peace process” (between Israelis and Palestinians for Washington, in Syria for Moscow), Beijing seemed to have limited its Middle Eastern ambitions to the sole economic domain. Having become the world’s largest oil importer in 2015, with since then at least 40% of its supplies coming from the Middle East, China was careful to diversify its suppliers, as well as its economic cooperation, even if Saudi Arabia and Iran were clearly at the top of such cooperation. Xi Jinping has long considered that the tensions between his two main partners in the Middle East could be contained.

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