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Emerging Alignments and A Mutual Enemy

Monday, January 4, 2010

"The new world order means that Jews and Christians control Muslims and if they can, they will after that dominate Confucianism and other religions in Indian, China, and Japan... What the Christians and Jews are now saying: We were determined to crush Communism, and the West must now crush Islam and Confucianism.

Now we hope to see a confrontation between China that heads the Confucianist camp and America that heads the Christian crusader camp. We have no justifications but to be biased against the crusaders. We are standing with Confucianism, and by allying ourselves with it and fighting alongside it in one international front, we will eliminate our mutual opponent.

So, we as Muslims, will support China in its struggle against our mutual enemy. We wish China victory."
-Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi, Libyan Leader (March, 1994)

A new decade has dawned. The past decade, though devastating to the economies of the nations of the G8, has also been one marked by an unprecedented expansion of wealth in other regions of the world. This new global order will presumably be led by the nation with the most astounding growth. The People's Republic of China is well-placed to be the world's next superpower. China's booming population and burgeoning middle class has forced the nation to take part in a geopolitical conquest, aggressively competing with the rest of the world for precious resources and minerals. China is dependent on Middle Eastern oil and holds a relative indifference to domestic politics with its trading partners. Not surprisingly, China's increasing presence in the region has greatly clashed with the interests of the Western nations.

While China has become deeply politically and economically invested in the Muslim world, the United States and her Western allies remain bogged down by economic crises and international conflicts against religious extremism. Chinese alliances and economic partnerships throughout the Muslim world have often undermined Western ambitions and have prompted Western fears of a new Sino-Islamic alliance counter to Western interests. The strategic priority of the new century should be to reconcile distinct interests between the West and China and stand united against mutual threats.

The Islamic Republic of Iran
U.S. President Barack Obama, the European nations, NATO, and the United Nations seem to be in agreement: Iran can not attain nuclear weapons. Admittedly, no organization has any definitive evidence that Iran intends to pursue enrichment of its supply of uranium oxide beyond the sufficient level required for energy use. Notwithstanding, Western attempts at imposing sanctions against the republic and demanding transparency have been repeatedly thwarted by a prominent member of the United Nations' Security Council: China. China holds a veto power on the council and has opposed sanctions against the Iranian regime. China's reasoning to oppose action against the regime is chiefly economic. China's energy needs are surging upwards as its population continues to soar. Throughout the aughts, China began to look beyond its borders for willing foreign suppliers of oil. Iran, seeking even greater economic and political influence in the region, was more than eager to cooperate with China. After several introductory deals throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Iran now stands as China's second-largest exporter of oil. Additionally, China's relationship with Iran allows for an even greater consumer market for its cheap manufactured goods. Recurrent reports of petrol importation deals and Chinese investments in Iranian energy projects further illustrate the close economic ties between the two powers. Thus arises a Chinese-Western predicament. The international community intends to hold Iran culpable for any pursuit of nuclear arms as China remains dependent on Iran for its energy resources. Western sanctions would be moot if China continues to pursue a strong economic alliance with Iran and offers the nation secondary markets.

The most intriguing development coming to light is that China's stake in Iran is more than economic. China sees a security interest in strong relations with Iran. Primarily, Iran - a Shi'ia state - is a de facto counter-force to radical Sunni Muslims. China faces domestic unrest among its 20 million Muslims. A nearby and strong Iran could pose a regional challenge to the rebellion's momentum.

American foreign policy-makers must question whether the perceived attempts at containing Chinese and Iranian influence in the Asian continent is taking precedent among both powers. More importantly, between Iran and China there are no trade standards demanding human rights and democracy. Economic and political cooperation between these diverse and similarly-focused nations may be the regional strength they have both sought.

Chinese self-serving commercial activities in Afghanistan have confounded and frustrated many American foreign policy-makers and military personnel. A December, 2009 article in the New York Times described the details of an arrangement made recently between a Chinese mining company and the Afghan government. The China Metallurgical Group Corporation won a bid made almost two years ago to extract more than 11-million tons of copper from the village Aynak over the next 25 years. Copper - a metal used to manufacture all telecommunications and electronic products - is important to China's industrial sector. China's bid amounted to $3.4 billion as well as hundreds of millions of promised infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, the victorious Chinese corporation M.C.C. offered:

"A 400-megawatt generating plant to power both the copper mine and blackout-prone Kabul. M.C.C. will dig a new coal mine to feed the plant’s generators. It will build a smelter to refine copper ore, and a railroad to carry coal to the power plant and copper back to China. If the terms of its contract are to be believed, M.C.C. will also build schools, roads, even mosques for the Afghans."

Most upsetting for the Western powers are China's significant economic gains amidst a Western escalation of its military efforts in Afghanistan. It is evident that the non-combatant China is reaping the benefits of heightened security by Western powers. This particular circumstance portrays the clash of Chinese-Western priorities. China's foreign policy is focused on economic penetration and the expansion of its markets. Additionally, China intends to foster beneficial and working relationships throughout the Middle East. A working alliance between the Muslim world and China will give China a sustainable provider of the resources it needs to fuel its economic expansion. Meanwhile, the West, struggling to undermine a wide influence of radical Islamism, remains disappointed that China does not aid the military efforts.

The Western nations are not the only powers preoccupied with the scourge of Islamic extremism. In October of 2009, Al Qaida, in solidarity with the Muslim Uighurs of the Xinjiang province, recently declared a jihad, or "struggle", against China for its oppression of the ethnic group. China and the United States hold similar interests in securing resource supply lines and maintaining regional stability. Nevertheless, China has been charged with being less than a full partner on security issues in the region. Consequently, both powers have restrained from cooperation and have acted as unilateral competitors. Jon B. Alterman is the director and senior fellow of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Alterman, co-author of "The Vital Triangle: China, The United States, and The Middle East", delineates the diplomatic options and potential consequences for both powers:

The bottom line is this: The United States and China share a wide range of interests in the Middle East, and efforts by either the United States, China or Middle Eastern countries to freeze out any of the others will surely lead to all parties emerging as losers. Small steps toward burden-sharing—cooperation on naval measures in the Gulf, such as ship identification protocols and disaster response coordination—can help steer China’s deepening interest in the Middle East in a positive direction.

China and the United States must refrain from viewing each other as adversaries in this crucial region. Rather, these two powerful nations should strive to offer substantive solutions to the pressing issues facing the Muslim world: destitution, climate change and drought, kleptocratic and corrupt governments, nuclear proliferation, and rogue extremists.

Photo: Chinese President Hu Jintao shakes hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan August 15, 2007