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Showing posts with label China. Show all posts
Showing posts with label China. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Middle East and North Africa:Another year of Upheaval

RSIS presents the following commentary Middle East and North Africa: Another year of Upheaval by James M. Dorsey. It is also available online at this link. (To print it, click on this link.). Kindly forward any comments or feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentaries, at

No. 011/2013 dated 23 January 2013

Middle East and North Africa:
Another year of Upheaval
 By James M. Dorsey

Political turmoil and violence promise to shape events in the Middle East and North Africa this year. Monarchies are replacing republics in facing the tidal wave of reform demands in the region. Syria continues to be wracked by civil war while post-revolt nations like Egypt struggle to build a more open society.


THE PRE-and post-revolt Arab leaders in the Middle East and North Africa face challenges ranging from political uprisings to violent confrontations, with Gulf monarchies replacing republics facing the brunt of the tidal wave of reform demands that have been sweeping across the region the past two years.

In Jordan opposition groups boycotted parliamentary elections in protest against alleged gerrymandering. The boycott follows weeks of intermittent demonstrations that suggested that King Abdullah’s room to manoeuver is closing. The king enjoys a degree of legitimacy that ousted Arab leaders like Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi could not claim. That legitimacy was called into question with protesters for the first time shouting ‘The people want to topple the regime’ and is likely to be further challenged by the election of a parliament that will look little different from the last one.

International community’s policy dilemmas

Egypt, in the throes of a convoluted post-revolt transition, is bracing itself for renewed street violence when a Cairo court announces its verdict on January 26 in the case against 73 people, including nine mid-level security officials, accused of responsibility for the death a year ago of 74 soccer fans in a politically charged brawl in the Suez Canal city of Port Said. At issue is the difficulty in reforming institutions, in this case the overpowering and deeply resented police and security forces.

Two years into the uprising-turned-civil war in Syria, there seems no end in sight to the brutal conflict that according to United Nations estimates, has already cost the lives of 60,000 people. There seems little doubt that President Bashar al-Assad will not retain the upper hand eventually. But there is little reason to believe that his downfall will mean an end to violent confrontation and the territorial integrity of post-Assad Syria has been thrown into doubt. Fears of what post-Assad Syria will look like are enhanced by the rise of militant Islamist forces in the armed resistance against the Assad regime as well as the rise of Kurdish nationalism and concern that Assad’s Alawite sect may see secession as its survival strategy.

Besides mounting concern about post-Assad Syria, there is a new development in the form of a fatal terrorist attack on a remote gas production facility in the Algerian desert in response to French intervention in neighbouring Mali. A counter-attack by Algerian forces to the take-over of the gas plant left scores of foreign hostages dead. The fact that the rebel advance in north Mali had to be repulsed by French military forces highlight the policy dilemmas confronting the international community posed by the irresistible thrust for greater freedom by ethnic and minority groups across the Sahel region.

Decade of political turmoil and violence

All these bode ill for potential conflict in the oil-rich Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia, where efforts to fend off popular revolts with huge social spending are wearing thin. Gulf monarchies like Jordan (apart from Bahrain’s royal family), still maintain a degree of legitimacy but their ability to leverage is being reduced by their failure to address key popular demands that would allow greater political freedom but dilute their absolute power. The outlook for not just another year but a decade is one of volatility, political turmoil and violence in a region that stretches from the Atlantic coast of Africa to the Gulf.

What all these situations have in common is the fact that suppressed populations and ethnic groups increasingly no longer are willing to simply turn the other cheek. They also raise concerns about regional and international policies that in the case of countries like Algeria, Jordan and the Gulf states are tantamount to an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. Leaders seem to be hoping that mounting unrest and discontent can be contained without the introduction of political change and that they can crack down on violent jihadist groups without addressing the underlying issues that provide them a feeding ground.

The West, China and Russia, still stuck in a mould that favours stability over inevitable albeit messy political change, were caught off guard by the popular revolts that toppled the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen and dragged Syria into civil war. They have yet to apply the lessons from these popular revolts to the rest of North Africa and the Middle East.

Addressing popular grievances

Similarly, the lesson of the defeat of Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda was that it was as much a result of the Arab populations ignoring the group’s call for jihad in favour of people power as the war on terror. Extremist militants in Mali and Algeria, even when they employ the Al Qaeda label, are motivated by local grievances rather than global jihad and capitalise on the failure of governments to address those grievances. Failure to recognise that the solution is addressing popular grievances constitutes as much a threat to long-term stability as allowing those grievances to fester in a key corner of the world. Short-term volatility and instability is inevitable as the regional push for change continues. The international community would be well advised to seriously help post-revolt nations manage transition, steer pre-revolt countries towards managed reform and in the confrontation with jihadists to ensure that military and law enforcement measures are grounded in policies that address underlying grievances.

James M. Dorsey is Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and co director of the Institute for Fan Culture of the University of Wuerzburg in Germany.. He is the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Arabs boycott Adidas as public displeasure shifts from the West to China

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat runs the marathon in an Adidas T-shirt (Source: The Times of Israel - Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

By James M. Dorsey

Arab youth and sports ministers announced this week a boycott of sports apparel manufacturer Adidas because of its sponsorship of last month’s Jerusalem marathon. The boycott comes at a time that Arab public displeasure is expanding from the West to China and Russia because of their support for the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 

The announcement of the boycott by Saudi Prince Nawaf bin Faisal, chairman of the Arab council of youth and sports ministers, contrasted starkly with an analysis presented the same day by a prominent UAE intellectual that if a year ago Arabs were denouncing the United States for its support of Israel and Arab autocrats, today their anger was focused on China.

"All companies that have sponsored the marathon of Jerusalem, including Adidas, will be boycotted," Saudi Prince Nawaf said at the end of meeting of the council in Jeddah.
Adidas, the only non-Israeli sponsor, unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Jerusalem municipality to re-route the marathon to avoid occupied East Jerusalem after three city council members had complained to the German multi-national. That did little however to dissuade Arab ministers.

In fact, going beyond the boycott, Prince Nawaf said the council had also decided to organise a separate marathon next year in Arab cities entitled ‘Jerusalem is Ours’ to coincide with the annual Jerusalem event. "Israel is trying to misguide public opinion into believing that Jerusalem is its capital and that is a violation of all UN resolutions," Prince Nawaf said.

Prince Nawaf’s statement appeared to have an element of the pot talking to the kettle with the marathon’s slogan seemingly matching Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem rather than to Arab countries’ long-standing endorsement of a peace plan that envisages Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine with the east of the city serving as the administrative seat of the Palestinian state.

The council’s decisions reflect as much a deep-seated Arab stake in Jerusalem, Islam’s third most holy city, as it does an effort to by largely troubled regimes to garner public support at a time that a demand for far-reaching change is sweeping the Middle East and Africa for the past 16 months. The wave has already toppled the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen and has pushed Syrian President Bashar al Assad to the brink.

Speaking at a symposium organized by the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute (MEI), Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent US-educated UAE University political scientist, cautioned that despite continued public Arab condemnation of US and Western support for Israel and contradictory policies towards the protest wave sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, China was for the first time seeing its flags burnt at demonstrations and calls for boycotts of Chinese goods echoing on social media.

At the root of public anger with China, a country that for years was respected for its support of the Palestinians and other liberation movements, is its dithering in Libya during last year’s NATO-backed rebellion that toppled Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi, and even more so China’s refusal to back away from Mr. Assad, whose year-long bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters and rebels has already cost an estimated 9,000 lives.

Speaking at the same symposium Peking University Arabist Wu Bingbing identified the wave of protests in the Middle East and North Africa as a threat to Chinese interests alongside what he charged was a US concerted effort to secure its hegemony in the region. Mr. Bingbing avoided mentioning the crackdown in Syria but described Chinese-Russian cooperation, an apparent reference to the two countries’ vetoing of anti-Syrian resolutions in the United Nations Security Council, as strategic.

China has insisted its veto did not amount to supporting Mr. Assad and was intended to prevent the situation in Syria from worsening. While insisting that the battle in Syria was a domestic affair, China has since said it backs Arab League efforts to find a political solution despite military support for the anti-Assad rebels by key Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two of the People’s Republic’s key energy suppliers.

Mr. Abdulla suggested that at this point the growing anti-Chinese sentiment was unlikely to damage China’s economic interests despite Arab leaders publicly criticizing China as well as Russia for their vetoes of anti-Syrian resolutions in the United Nations Security Council. While that appears largely to be the case for the Gulf’s autocratic oil producers, China’s most important counterparts in the Middle East, that may not be the same for those nations such as oil producing Libya that have toppled their autocrats.

Saudi King Abdullah in widely reported blunt remarks in early February directed at China and Russia without mentioning them by name described their UN vetoes as “absolutely regrettable.” The king went on to say that “no matter how powerful, countries cannot rule the whole world. The world is ruled by brains by justice, by morals and by fairness.” An Arab League representative confronted senior Russian officials days later in in even blunter, undiplomatic terms during a heated debate behind-closed-doors.

China last year supported a Security Council resolution that imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions on the regime of Mr. Qaddafi, and endorsed referral of the regime’s crackdown to the International Criminal Court in The Hague but abstained from voting on a resolution that authorized international military intervention in Libya on humanitarian grounds.

At the same time, China attempted to straddle the fence by cultivating relations with both Mr. Qaddafi’s embattled regime and the rebels. That even-handed approach however didn’t prevent the rebels from threatening a commercial boycott, particularly after they found documents purporting to show that Chinese defence companies had discussed the supply of arms with Qaddafi operatives. 

A Chinese Ministry of Commerce delegation visiting Libya in February failed to secure agreement on recovering at least some of the losses that China, Libya’s biggest foreign contractor, suffered with the evacuation last year of 35,000 Chinese workers who were servicing $18.8 billion worth of contracts.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Which way will China jump on Syria?

Eleanor Hall reported this story on Monday, February 13, 2012 12:38:00
ELEANOR HALL: As Syrian forces continue their bombardment of the city of Homs Arab countries are now calling for UN peacekeepers to be sent into the country.

At today's meeting of the Arab League, senior delegates said they'll now put the option to the United Nations.

Significantly, they've also called for negotiations and co-ordination with Russia and China to avoid any future opposition from the veto-wielding powers.

James Dorsey is a senior fellow at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and has been following the Syrian situation closely.

He says there has been disquiet within China since last week's veto and that the Chinese government may not necessarily exercise its veto this time around.

James Dorsey spoke to me earlier from Singapore.

JAMES DORSEY: China in many ways has a very different stake in all of this than Russia does. While Russia has interests that are direct in terms of Syria and its relationship with Syria and the position Syria gives it within the Middle East for China it really is a question of its overall foreign policy and that has been a policy that has been challenged ever since the Arab revolt started more than a year ago.

ELEANOR HALL: Well, the Arab League is now talking about a joint peacekeeping mission with the UN in Syria. What is the likelihood that China will also veto this?

JAMES DORSEY: I don't think that anybody knows how China will vote on this. It is going to be very tough for China to vote against such a UN peacekeeping force. On top of that in the recent days there has already been a degree of change or at least an indication of change in Chinese foreign policy in terms of the fact that the Chinese have soft contact with Syrian opposition forces, very much along the lines of what they did in Libya last year when they tried to maintain a balance by having a good relationship both with the government of Moamar Gaddafi as well as with the opposition.

ELEANOR HALL: So do you think that the Chinese government may be seeing that it miscalculated its vote on Syria?

JAMES DORSEY: I think that the Chinese are increasingly realising that they have a policy dilemma. They are becoming a global power. They have global interests in terms of their economy as well in terms of their security and that means that they no longer can simply stay aside and aloof from conflicts in countries that are crucial to them.

In Libya they ran the risk of being excluded with regard to oil contracts. As the revolt spreads, that is going to become increasingly difficult.

ELEANOR HALL: Yes, given the situation in Libya, are you surprised that the Chinese used their UN veto on Syria given that with post-Gaddafi Libya they'd merely abstain from supporting the UN no-fly zone and there was an economic backlash there?

JAMES DORSEY: Well, I was surprised on the one hand in the Arab world, it has put it at odds basically with the Arab League but it has also thrown a moral question on China in terms of its allowing this sort of slaughter to take place.

ELEANOR HALL: Is China's foreign policy here though really at odds with its economic interest. I mean the Arab League may be backing this Syrian resolution but many of the oil supplying countries are hardly paragons of democracy themselves. They'd applaud China's argument that the UN shouldn't meddle in the internal affairs of other countries, wouldn't they?

JAMES DORSEY: Well, it does put them at odds, certainly the Gulf countries and they are obviously not proponents of democracy but none the less, the gulf countries are crucial to China's energy supply and therefore China by opposing the Arab League is opposing some of its most important suppliers.

ELEANOR HALL: So why do you think the Chinese Communist Party made this decision, not just to abstain but to veto? I mean is it simply backing its ally, Russia?

JAMES DORSEY: I think it has less to do with Russia and more to do with1) the way they view the experience of the resolutions that was interpreted by Western forces as a licence to overthrow. The Chinese, much like the Russians, maybe even more so, are really concerned about the fallout of the Arab revolts and what that could mean for China domestically.

And that is where the clash is, that fear of similar things happening in China or in parts of China and on the other hand their global interests as a global power where they have a global responsibility and as a global economic power where they are dependent on ensuring the supply of raw materials, of resources. That contradiction is not coming much more to the fore.

ELEANOR HALL: How extensive are China's direct interests in Syria? As extensive as Libya?

JAMES DORSEY: They are less extensive. For one, China had 35,000 workers in Libya which it had to evacuate very much at the beginning of the conflict in Libya. It does have some investment in the Syrian oil sector. The problem with Syria is that Syria, unlike the other revolts, could very well affect the region.

So the stakes are much higher. I don't think that the regime of Bashar al-Assad will last. I also think that the revolts that we've been seeing over the last year in the Arab world will leave no Arab country untouched, so in that sense the Chinese are getting on the wrong side of history.

ELEANOR HALL: And what is China risking with the contradictions in its policy?

JAMES DORSEY: I think the risk, one is very, very tangible and that is as the Libyan attitude immediately after the success of the revolt was that they were, when they were looking at contracts, they were looking in the first place at those that had helped them and the Chinese had not helped them.

They have $18 billion in contracts. They were the largest contractor in Gaddafi's Libya and those contracts are still in limbo. They haven't been able to secure those. There was a Chinese delegation in Libya last week so there is an immediate economic and tangible impact.

And the second impact is a moral impact and a projection of their image. China is a rising super power. As such, it takes on responsibilities that it may not have had before it was becoming so economically and politically and diplomatically strong and those responsibilities are things it has to live up and it hasn't done it so by opposing a resolution that Bashar al-Assad clearly has interpreted as a licence to try and suppress the revolt against him no matter how many lives that costs.

ELEANOR HALL: Dr Dorsey, thanks very much for joining us.

JAMES DORSEY: It was my pleasure.

ELEANOR HALL: James Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. You can listen to a longer version of that interview where Dr Dorsey speculates on whether the tumult in the Middle East will force China to completely shift its foreign policy.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

China Needs to Change Mideast Foreign Policy: JMD on Bloomberg

Great Wall of China

Illustration by Jordan Awan
China’s decision to veto a condemnation of Syria’s regime at the United Nations Security Council is just the latest signal that illustrates the need for a fundamental change in Chinese foreign policy.
The question is no longer whether officials in Beijing will abandon the principle of non-interference in other countries’ affairs to protect their expanding interests around the globe. The question is when.
China joined Russia in vetoing last weekend’s resolution partly for fear that backing the UN’s rebuke of a government’s brutal suppression of its people may come back to haunt China itself, given its treatment of Tibetans and of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang autonomous region.
Yet China’s economic growth and associated need to secure resources increasingly have been at odds with this long-standing policy of being aloof. That’s especially true in the resource- rich region that stretches from the Atlantic coast of Africa to Central Asia and the subcontinent, much of which is now in revolt.
Over the past year, a series of incidents in the region have tested China’s non-interference policy, but without serious damage to the country’s image. With China’s veto of the UN resolution on Syria, Chinese determination to cling to a principle rooted in 19th-century diplomacy seems set to backfire.

Painted Into Corner

Rather than portray China as a global power that seeks good relations with all and -- unlike the U.S. -- doesn’t meddle in other countries’ affairs, last weekend’s veto of a relatively toothless condemnation of the regime in Damascus has painted China into a corner. The nation now appears to support an international pariah that brutally suppresses its people, a stance that risks roiling ties with some of China’s most important energy suppliers in the Arab League, which sponsored the defeated UN resolution.
In Libya, China initially avoided its policy dilemma. There, the Chinese abstained from voting on a UN resolution that effectively authorized international military intervention in Libya on humanitarian grounds. Chinese diplomats then went a step further. They supported a Security Council resolution that imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions on the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, and endorsed referral of the regime’s crackdown to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
China cultivated relations with both Qaddafi’s embattled regime and the Benghazi-based rebels. Yet that evenhanded approach didn’t prevent the rebels from threatening a commercial boycott, particularly after they found documents purporting to show that Chinese defense companies had discussed the supply of arms with Qaddafi operatives. A Chinese Ministry of Commerce delegation visited Libya this week in a bid to recover at least some of the losses that China, Libya’s biggest foreign contractor, suffered with the evacuation last year of 35,000 workers who were servicing $18.8 billion worth of contracts.
The Arab revolt is certain to force not only a revision of China’s policy of non-interference but also of the employment practices of Chinese companies. With new and long-standing governments in the region desperate to reduce unemployment -- a key driver of the revolts -- authorities in Libya and elsewhere are likely to demand that Chinese construction companies employ local, rather than imported, labor.

Social Media Criticism

Moreover, Chinese authorities have twice in recent days come under criticism in the country’s social media for the government’s inability to protect workers abroad after 29 Chinese nationals were kidnapped by rebels in Sudan’s volatile South Kordofan province, and an additional 25 were abducted by restive Bedouin tribesmen in Egypt’s Sinai Desert. The critics charged that as a superpower, China needed to project its economic, as well as its military, muscle to stand up for those who put their lives at risk for the national good -- much like the U.S. sent Navy Seals to rescue two hostages in Somalia.
Censors were quick to remove the critical messages from social media because they touched a raw nerve. A policy of winning friends economically rather than make enemies by flexing military muscle is increasingly inconsistent with China’s dislike of appearing weak and vulnerable. National pride was at stake. The dilemma sparked public debate, with official media saying China needs time to build the necessary military capability to intervene when its nationals are in jeopardy, while others argue that China’s inaction may encourage further attacks.
The need for a revised approach to the Middle East and North Africa, as well as countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, will become increasingly clear as China boosts its investment in Central and South Asian nations before the scheduled 2014 withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, where China has secured oil and copper rights.
Reports that China is considering establishing military bases in Pakistan’s insurgency-plagued northwestern tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan, and a naval base in the Balochistan port city of Gwadar, could create further pressure for change. China holds the Pakistan-based East Turkestan Islamic Movement responsible for attacks last year in Xinjiang’s city of Kashgar. Defeating the movement is key to Chinese plans to keep regional trade and energy flowing, and the bases in Pakistan may tempt China to take on a role as local policeman.
If it takes an event to drive a change of China’s foreign policy, Yemen may prove to be the spark. With $355 billion worth of trade with Europe and a quarter of China’s exports traveling through Bab el Mandeb -- the strait that separates Yemen from Somalia and Djibouti -- China cannot afford a collapse of law and order in Yemen. The crisis-ridden country is countering multiple threats, including an al-Qaeda insurgency after mass protests and intercommunal fighting that forced the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and paved the way for elections later this month.

Policy Breached Before

China has breached its non-interference policy to respond to these pressures in the recent past. Its deployment of naval vessels off the coast of Somalia to counter piracy, for example, constituted the first Chinese venture of its kind.
But China’s status as an emerging economic superpower demands that it become a more muscular global actor to pursue its interests. Ultimately that will mean taking positions on domestic disputes and conflicts around the world that have a bearing on China’s global national-security interests, the very opposite of the stance it adopted on Syria. Similarly, China will need to maintain military bases in key regions that serve to secure Chinese demand for natural resources, and to satisfy domestic calls to ensure the safety of its nationals abroad.
In short, China will have to use virtually the same tools employed by the U.S., shouldering the risks of a foreign policy that is interest-driven and therefore, at times, contradictory.
(James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.)
Read more opinion online from Bloomberg View.