The South China Morning Post reports that China is starting to get more assertive in the Middle East:
China plans to protect its growing interests in the troubled Middle East by deepening its military engagement in the region and may break its non-alignment policy in the future, analysts said.
The nation was willing to push military relations with Saudi Arabia to a new level, Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan said Wednesday.
It is another step in Beijing’s engagement in the Middle East after China reached a deal with Damascus to provide aid and training to the Syrian government on August 14.
Meanwhile, The Financial Times explains that these moves in the Middle East represent a big shift in Chinese foreign policy:
“Since Xi Jinping became president, they no longer talk about keeping a low profile,” says Paul Haenle, head of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center in Beijing. “If you discuss it with the Chinese they will say they haven’t abandoned that concept, but the truth in my view is that they have.”
As for the principle of non-interference abroad, he says, “they insist they abide by it, but if you sat down for a few minutes you could think of 15 examples where they’re not doing that any more.”
This year, China has opened its first foreign military base in Djibouti and sent a senior military advisor to Syria. Both the FT and SCMP report that some prominent Chinese academics and officials are rethinking the wisdom of non-alignment. Meanwhile, a 2015 law gave the PLA the ability to intervene in other countries to prevent terrorism even without a UN mandate.
Nowhere is China’s expanding hard power more visible than in the Middle East, and it’s hard not to see that at least partially as a consequence of U.S. withdrawal. The United States is still a big player in the region. But as Ambassador Dennis Ross and others have observed, these days Arab leaders are turning to Putin, not Obama, for assistance. Now China is also looking to fill the vacuum.
Obama Administration officials past and present keep saying they’re playing a “long game.” That’s hard to dispute directly, of course, because we have no vision of how things will look in the long run. But we can see the short term pretty well, and increasingly the outlines of the medium term are coming into view. As far as stability and prosperity go, the foreseeable future doesn’t look promising.
Much of the fear about growing chaos has focused on Russia, but Russia is fundamentally a fairly weak power; the country that could dramatically alter the security picture around the world is China. President Obama may be right that Russia’s messing around in Syria (and the South China Sea) is noise, not signal. But if China starts pushing on the weak spots of world order, that’s a development that will be much harder to dismiss.