Monday, March 13, 2023

China Brokers a Deal in the Middle East

Every time I write a post about China, especially a post suggesting that we do better to dial down the hostility toward China, several intrepid commenters interpolate to the effect that China is unremittingly evil, in the Communist sense of the term, and that it is going to implode, any day now.

One hesitates to mention it, but they have channeled Gordon Chang, a man who has been predicting the imminent demise of the Chinese regime for some two decades now. For the distinct honor of being wrong for more than twenty years, Chang has amassed a group of followers. Somehow or other I imagine that someone who has been wrong for decades should elicit some skepticism, even dismissal.

But, alas, such is not the case.

Anyway, on its way to its inevitable Changian implosion, China just pulled off a major diplomatic coup. It brokered a peace deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This, to the chagrin of America, and especially the Biden administration, that found itself sidelined in a major political event.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized:

Riyadh and Tehran are restoring diplomatic ties after cutting them in 2016. The deal, which was brokered by China, isn’t an alliance. Its near-term practical effect is likely to be limited to the reopening of embassies. But the symbolic import is hard to miss as Democrats in Washington do everything they can to harass and annoy the Saudis.

As for how we managed to remove ourselves from the game, the answer is that we decided to harass the Saudi Crown Prince over the death of Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen. The Biden administration, in its lust for a nuclear deal with Iran, also threatened the Kingdom with a cut off in arms sales:

Mr. Biden came into office promising to isolate the Saudis, especially the young, reformist leader MBS. The U.S. cut off support for the Saudi-backed war against the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. It toyed with ending arms sales to the Kingdom, and it sought to revive the Iranian nuclear deal the Saudis oppose as a threat to their security.

Worried about U.S. support, MBS hedged his security bets. He has courted China and flirted with selling oil in yuan, rather than dollars, and he has sought better relations with Russia. Now the Sunni Arab Kingdom is seeking a detente with its Shiite Persian neighbors. A genuine peace would be good for the region, but Iran’s support for terrorism and Shiite militias in Arab nations suggests its promises are suspect.

One needs to mention that the new treaty is one more step toward dedollarization. That is, the United States dollar’s loss of its status as the world’s reserve currency. We and many others remarked the danger of confiscating dollar denominated assets at the onset of the war in Ukraine. Now, countries in the East, realigning against the West, want to do business in something other than dollars. Surely, selling oil in petroyuan is a step in that direction.

As for the articles on the new treaty between Saudi Arabia and Iran, we turn to Peter Baker, in The New York Times. Apparently, China is not dead yet. It is taking a new leadership role in international diplomacy:

The Americans, who have been the central actors in the Middle East for the past three-quarters of a century, almost always the ones in the room where it happened, now find themselves on the sidelines during a moment of significant change. The Chinese, who for years played only a secondary role in the region, have suddenly transformed themselves into the new power player. And the Israelis, who have been courting the Saudis against their mutual adversaries in Tehran, now wonder where it leaves them.

Given that we have been engaged in an all-out war on China’s reputation-- its face, as it were-- the new deal enhances China’s prestige. It almost makes you forget all about the Uyghurs.

“There is no way around it — this is a big deal,” said Amy Hawthorne, deputy director for research at the Project on Middle East Democracy, a nonprofit group in Washington. “Yes, the United States could not have brokered such a deal right now with Iran specifically, since we have no relations. But in a larger sense, China’s prestigious accomplishment vaults it into a new league diplomatically and outshines anything the U.S. has been able to achieve in the region since Biden came to office.”

Again, the new treaty is a function of the mismanagement of the America-Saudi Arabia relationship-- by the Biden administration. Baker is clear about this point:

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia who had strong ties with President Donald J. Trump and has helped secure $2 billion in financing for the investment firm set up by Jared Kushner, the former president’s son-in-law, has been playing an intricate diplomatic game since Mr. Biden came to office.

Mr. Biden once vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state for orchestrating the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for The Washington Post living in the United States. But he reluctantly agreed to visit the kingdom last year as he was seeking to lower gas prices that had been elevated in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Now the crown prince is turning to the Chinese. “Some folks in the gulf clearly see this as the Chinese century,” said Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The Saudis have expressed interest in joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and a good deal of their oil goes to China.”

I anxiously await the Gordon Chang clones who will tell us that the Chinese banking system is on the verge of collapse and that the CCP is next in line. Did someone say-- banking system???

Of course, it is easier to think that China will implode than to imagine that we might have to compete against China in the next battle of the clash of civilizations. After all, how will China, chockablock with newly minted engineers, ever compete against our armies of diverse social justice warriors?


Anonymous said...

"Somehow or other I imagine that someone who has been wrong for decades should elicit some skepticism, even dismissal."

Hasn't worked withn the climate Nazis...

Lou Stule said...

Your column should rejoice over this outcome because it is Biden in charge and not Trump, who you despise.