Syria – another sign that US needs to recalibrate Middle East policy
As the US backs into Syria and other Mideast crises, China is proactively and strategically engaging in the region. Its actions point out what America has to lose if it continues to hesitate in the Middle East.
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The US already faces a strategic divide with China – and to a lesser extent with Russia – over how to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and oust President Bashar al-Assad from Syria. While Beijing happily takes advantage of the security umbrella of US bases to pursue investment in the region, it has sidled up to the regimes in Syria and Iran politically in a play for influence.Skip to next paragraph
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As the US “pivots” toward Asia, Beijing is accelerating its presence in the Middle East and Central Asia. China enjoys a $23 billion trade surplus with Turkey, but offsets that with an influx of direct investment – and Chinese companies are setting up shop across the country. This week, China is hosting both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
In just seven years, China will import half of Saudi Arabia’s daily crude oil output. Emblematic of its strategic ambitions, China has pledged $12 billion to develop Pakistan’s Gwadar Port – the same vital port facility Moscow coveted when it invaded Afghanistan 34 years ago. From military hardware to nuclear power plants to software production, Beijing is expanding its presence and influence across a region from which the US is rolling back.
Nations and regions are seldom set right by war alone. The successful democratization of fragile states in transition, stability in the global oil supply, and eradication of Islamist extremism require sustained diplomacy. As the US winds down a decade of war-fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than disengage, it needs to accelerate the painstaking work of developing regional trade agreements to offset long-simmering rivalries; promote economic liberalization and infrastructure development; and expand education and trade.
From Libya to Pakistan, the most volatile region in the world is undergoing its most significant transition since the end of the British Empire. It needs the kind of lasting, multi-dimensional engagement that only the US can provide.