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The tantalizing fact is that the Saudis invited China to come in despite its strong ties with Iran. Obviously, the Saudis differentiate the Chinese already as a factor of stability in the region.|
Conceivably, China could even play a role in a future scenario in the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. At any rate, throughout his stay in Saudi Arabia, Wen harped on the imperative of regional stability. This must come as music to Saudi ears.
Interestingly, in a commentary on Sunday devoted to Wen's tour of the Persian Gulf, the government-owned China Daily said:
Unlike Western countries, which tend to impose their own values and political systems on others, China interacts with the Arab world on the principle of equality, equity, mutual respect and mutual benefit ... The US, more often than not, tilts toward Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians, infuriating many in the Arab world. In contrast, China has always supported the rightful demands of the Palestinians.
China's stance has been increasingly welcomed in the Arab world and many Arab states have chosen to "Look East" for cooperation and support to deal with regional and world issues ... With the region undergoing profound changes since the Arab Spring began more than a year ago, regional stability will figure high in Wen's talks.
A 'green' future
Indeed, Wen told King Abdullah that China respects Saudi Arabia's political system, development mode and its culture and traditions. In response, King Abdullah proposed the setting up of a high-level committee to supervise cooperation between the two countries in the political, economic, cultural and security fields. King Abdullah said meaningfully, "It is the objective of Saudi Arabia's foreign policy to maintain regional peace and stability."
The king added: "Saudi Arabia and China enjoy a high level of mutual trust and share similar views on many issues. The Saudi side wishes to step up consultation and coordination with China."
In sum, Wen's tour underscores that China considers itself a "stakeholder" in the Persian Gulf. What cannot escape attention is also that China is coming to terms with the ascendancy of political Islam in the Middle East. A commentary in the People's Daily last week concluded:
It [the Arab Spring] has changed the main color of the Arab political situation and formed a splendid "green" scene which worries or even scares the West. In fact, that is not a "backward" [retrogressive development] in the Arab's modernization and secularization course, but a retraction from the long-term excessive secularization and secularization of the regimes overthrown or a return to the traditional culture. It is also the common aspiration of the people ... Of course, the world should have a wider and more comprehensive mind to give best wishes to these countries. After all, it is the Arab people's own choice.
The inclusion of Qatar in Wen's tour itinerary brings out an intriguing salient that reveals the subtleties in the Chinese thinking. Admittedly, Qatar is China's biggest source of LNG. But Qatar played a big role in the regime change in Libya and is allegedly bent on overthrowing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
China opposes the Western intervention in Libya and Syria. Yet, despite the Russia-China coordination in the United Nations Security Council over Libya and Syria, Beijing is hoping for an expansion of the energy partnership with Qatar.
This stands in sharp contrast with Russia's ties with Qatar, which are in tatters today - ever since the Russian ambassador was manhandled a few weeks ago at Doha airport by the local security in what appeared to be a deliberate act of provocation or slight to Moscow. In sum, China is hedging. It hopes to be on the "right side of history" in the Persian Gulf.
Qatar would feel pleased by a People's Daily commentary on Saturday, which gently mocked the recent visit of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov to the Syrian port of Tartus.
The commentary debunked the prevailing impression regarding Russian support to Syria and insisted that, on the contrary, Russia acts in any given situation not out of friendly sentiments to another country but solely to protect its own strategic interests; and, its current "diplomatic posturing" over Syria essentially aims at "warning various political forces not to harm Russia's interests".
The commentary went on to visualize that the Admiral Kuznetsov might have gained practical experience when in future Russia might need to evacuate its nationals in Syria and "protect its assets". In sum, the commentary (which appeared on the eve of Wen's tour) seemed to imply that any Russian-Chinese coordination over Syria is a limited one and both countries are independently pursuing their own interests.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
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