Christina Lin

Peace talks not a western monopoly: China now an invested shareholder

The West has no monopoly on negotiations and regional leadership: China is now an invested shareholder

With ISIS rapidly expanding in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya, advancing towards Jordan and making inroads in Gaza, EU and France are suddenly pushing for an imposed “peace” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

This week EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called for resumption of peace talks, while France’s chief diplomat Laurent Fabius announced Paris would push for a UN resolution setting an 18-month time frame for successful negotiations—the failure of which would result in France unilaterally recognizing a Palestinian state.

However, when the Mideast region is engulfed in war, genocide, and anti-human abominations with radical and apocalyptic Islam on the march, is this really the right time to restart “peace” talks?

In the Book of Ecclesiastes it is said there is a season for everything, including a time of war, and a time of peace (Eccl. 3:8).

Perhaps, now is a time for war, and peace talks can resume when the Mideast regains relative stability.

Unfortunately, the west appears to have little understanding for the concept of stability and frozen conflicts that plague the Middle East. However, a new kid on the block gets it—China.

In many ways, China may be a more constructive broker for Mideast peace than the west.

China’s historical appreciation of terrorism and border security

Firstly, throughout its history, the Middle Kingdom has understood the need for buffer zones and border security. The ultimate security fence is the Great Wall of China that was built to defend against invasion by northern nomads and inner Asian barbarians. Construction began as early as the Warring States Period (476 BC – 221 BC) and continued to extend in subsequent Chinese dynasties including the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Chinese consciousness regarding the importance of defensive security fences and walls is also reflected in their strategic concepts, such as naming China’s underground nuclear missile tunnels the “underground Great Wall” and cyber defense as “online Great Wall.” As such, China may better appreciate Israel’s needs for a border security fence and strategic buffer zone to defend against Hamas, ISIS, other terrorists’ attacks, and have insights on how to assist in drawing realistic borders towards a sustainable two state solution.

Indeed Israeli defense planners likely had this in mind when in November 2013, retired General Uzi Dayan and former Israeli UN ambassador Dore Gold visited Beijing to explain the need for defensible borders in the West Bank to Chinese military brass, and presented their case on a nuclear Iran, Syria, and the Palestinians, with materials translated into Chinese.

Secondly, similar to Israel, China is also facing radicalization of its neighboring Muslim states and domestic Muslim population. With radical Islam spilling across Chinese border from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and linkage with international jihadi groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Beijing is facing increasing terrorist attacks in its restive Muslim province of Xinjiang and fear of homegrown radicalization of its population.

While US and EU may have Muslim citizens, they lack the scale of China’s more than 20 million domestic Sunni Muslims or contiguous borders with Islamic states at risk of increasing extremism.

Thirdly, unlike France and other European countries, China wants both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to negotiate a peace agreement rather than to internationalize the issue at the UN due to potential blowback on Xinjiang.

According to former US National Defense University fellow Martin Wayne, he argued in his book China’s War on Terrorism (2008) that Beijing does not want to “internationalize” Xinjiang’s problems for fear that it may become a Kosovo where international forces intervene to assert human rights norms. Indeed in 2009 when Turkey’s Erdogan tried to internationalize Beijing’s crackdown in Xinjiang by referring it to the UN, China blocked it.

Finally, Islamists deem Chinese and Israeli land as occupied Muslim territories. Martin Wayne disclosed that in the 1980s when US was arming the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviets, in one meeting in Peshawar, Pakistan, an American diplomat met with military coordinators of the seven main Afghan resistance parties.

According to a CIA counter-terror official, “the drapes were opened to reveal a wall-to-wall map. All of Afghanistan and bits of Iran and Pakistan were on the map; all three countries were labeled appropriately. Across the top of the map ran a swath of what was then Soviet Central Asia and China’s Xinjiang Province. Neither was labeled that way, however. Instead, the area was boldly labeled “TEMPORARILY OCCUPIED MUSLIM TERRITORY.”

In addition to sharing threats of terrorism with the region, China also has shared interests in maintaining regional stability and security.

China a growing investor in mideast economy

While US no longer needs energy from the Middle East, China is increasing its energy demand and also rapidly pouring investments into the region as well as negotiating free trade agreements (FTAs) with the GCC and Israel.

Last year, for the first time, Israel’s imports from China exceeded that of the US. Statistics released this week by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics showed that Israel imported $8.1 billion in goods and services from China in 2014, compared to $7.4 billion in from the US during the year.

Moreover, Israel is a key node in China’s Silk Road Economic Belt and an alternative trade route to the Suez Canal via the Med-Red rail. Not only is China investing in infrastructure projects such as seaports and railways, it is also investing in Israeli technologies.

Thus China has direct economic stakes in maintaining stability in Israel and Palestinian territories. Beijing is also well placed to help develop the Palestinian economy, unmatched in its ability to inject immense sums of aid and investment into unstable regions such as Africa and elsewhere, with Chinese companies less risk averse than western counterparts in conflict zones.

Perhaps, the time has come for US and EU to move over, and make room for the new shareholder in the Mideast peace process. And once ISIS and radical Islam are in retreat,  that would be the right time for the great powers to resume the peace talks.

About the Author
Dr. Christina Lin is a US-based foreign policy analyst specializing in China-Mediterranean relations. She has extensive US government experience working on national security issues and was a CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) research consultant for Jane's Information Group.
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