Diplomacy in the Middle East
After several days of negotiations in Beijing, a joint statement was released by the People’s Republic of China, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Islamic Republic of Iran pledging to reopen embassies and resume diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran within two months.
Commenting on the agreement in an article entitled How China Became a Peacemaker in the Middle East (foreignaffairs.com, 15 March 2023), Trita Parsi and co-author Khalid Aljabri write:
China [has] delivered the most significant regional development since the Abraham Accords: a deal to end seven years of Saudi-Iranian estrangement….
By mediating de-escalation between two archenemies and major regional oil producers, it has both helped secure the energy supply it needs and burnished its credentials as a trusted broker in a region burdened by conflicts, something Washington could not do.
In their view, the agreement is noteworthy on two main grounds:
because of its potential positive repercussions in the region—from Lebanon and Syria to Iraq and Yemen—but also because of China’s leading role, and the United States’ absence, in the diplomacy that led to it.
The authors argue that an American foreign policy “that led with the military and made diplomacy all too often an afterthought” had created a “diplomatic void” that China has “now begun to fill.”
They summarize China’s approach to the region:
Beijing has worked to strengthen its relations with all regional powers without taking sides or getting entangled in their conflicts. It has managed to maintain good relations with Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia while remaining fully neutral on the squabbles among them.
China has no defense pacts with any Middle Eastern power and does not maintain military bases in the region, relying on economic rather than military influence.
This approach has enabled it to emerge as a player that can resolve disputes.
While noting, as the US has, that a de-escalation of tensions in the region benefits America too, Parsi and Aljabri make a further point that instead of “ceding the role of peacemaker to China,”
U.S. interests would be better served if Washington stopped taking sides in regional disputes, got back on talking terms with all key regional players, and helped develop a new security architecture in which a reduced American military presence encouraged Middle East powers to share the responsibility of their own security.
For a more detailed look at the normalization agreement and its implications, see the Crisis Group commentary entitled How Beijing Helped Riyadh and Tehran Reach an Entente (Dina Esfandiary & Anna Jacobs, 17 March 2023).
In particular, it includes a discussion of the challenges inherent in China’s new role:
if the Iranian-Saudi deal proves a success and increases Chinese leverage in the Middle East, it will also hand it more responsibilities.
As the deal’s guarantor, Beijing will be held responsible for making it stick. It remains to be seen how it will encourage the parties to follow through with the deal, and whether it has the necessary motivation and capability.
More on the perils of America’s China containment strategy
Jessica Chen Weiss is a political scientist and China scholar at Cornell. From August 2021 to last July, she was a senior adviser in the Biden State Department.
According to New York Times columnist and political analyst Ezra Klein, who interviewed Weiss in a recent podcast available HERE,
She emerged from that [State Department] experience as one of the most outspoken critics of Washington’s more hawkish turn regarding China….
She worries that Beijing and Washington are misreading each other’s ambitions, resulting in a “downward spiral” of mutual aggression that will leave both sides — and the world more broadly — less prosperous and secure.
US export controls go far beyond certain key technologies
In the podcast, Weiss addresses the overly broad scope, in her view, of US export controls on China:
And even though you might say that there are, of course, some technologies that should not be sold or transferred to China, when you start talking about green technology and biotech, we then have to wonder, OK, if you’re going to slow China down, how much are you also slowing ourselves down?
And how much are you then making it harder for the world to solve the kinds of pressing challenges — climate change, cancer — that might be discovered in China? If they were discovered in China or made affordable in China, wouldn’t that be a good thing for the world?
In her view, the American efforts to “disentangle and erect barriers between ourselves” risks
really negative repercussions for our ability to decarbonize, to solve many common challenges in health and other areas.
Impact of US export controls on American businesses
Noting the unilateral and extraterritorial nature of American export controls (even as the US tries to bring other countries on board), Weiss warns:
one of the unfortunate consequences of unilateral export controls of this nature is that they give firms around the world a huge incentive to de-Americanize their technologies so that they can continue to sell to Chinese firms.
Nature of “threat” China poses and what China actually wants
One of the most interesting parts of the podcast is the discussion of what role China actually wants in the world.
Weiss points out:
And in fact, many in the U.S. intelligence community don’t conclude that China is bent on global domination.
So if you look at the 2022 threat assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, it talks about China’s desire to become the preeminent regional power and a major global power. That’s “a,” not “the,” major global power.
In Weiss’s view, there are “unresolved debates in China over what China wants”:
They’re not sure, exactly, what kind of international order they want. They’re not sure what costs they’re willing to pay in order to be a leader.
In her view, the security threat that the Chinese Communist Party perceives from “the universalisation of liberal values” motivates them
to want to privilege the state over the political rights of individuals.
But that’s different from saying they need to or want to upend the international order, necessarily, replace the United States as the sole global superpower.
Impact of US sanctions on US innovation and international investment
The last part of the podcast conversation focuses on American policies aimed at “protecting and innovating here at home,” which in Weiss’s view
are actually smothering innovation and discouraging international investment and talent from coming and remaining here in the United States.
Weiss cites a recent survey by the Asian American Scholar Forum which found that
60 percent of Chinese-born scientists who are working in the United States, including naturalized citizens and permanent residents, are considering leaving the United States to work elsewhere, in maybe Europe or Canada, because of this combination of xenophobia, anti-Asian attacks, but also policy efforts to protect research security.
And the concerns extend to international scientists generally, with a recent American Physical Society survey finding that
40 percent felt that the United States was no longer a welcoming environment for science and innovation.
Unfortunately, any American scientist who investigates Canada as an alternative will soon find out that we are moving in exactly the same misguided direction in our China policy, as we discuss further below.
For those with access to the New York Times, the full transcript of the podcast can be read HERE.
Canada and China: Special Rapporteur named
Since our discussion in last week’s blog post of alleged Chinese interference in Canadian elections, former Governor General David Johnston has been named Independent Special Rapporteur to help protect the integrity of Canada’s democracy.
The Prime Minister stated in part:
In this new role, Mr. Johnston will have a wide mandate to look into foreign interference in the last two federal general elections and make expert recommendations on how to further protect our democracy and uphold Canadians’ confidence in it.
Despite an explicit commitment to “implement” recommendations that could include “a formal inquiry, a judicial review, or another independent review process,” opposition parties are still demanding a public inquiry now.
Consultations on Foreign Influence Registry to begin
In the meantime, the Liberal government is beginning consultations on setting up a Foreign Influence Transparency Registry as part of its response to allegations of foreign interference in recent Canadian elections.
The news release announcing the consultations reads in part:
All Canadians are encouraged to share their views through the consultation web page, where they can learn more about this important issue and submit their input … until May 9, 2023. The input received through this consultation will help develop new measures to bolster Canada’s national security.
Comments in last week’s blog post from both Professor Wesley Wark and Senator Yuen Pau Woo raised the danger of an overly broad registry, risking the unfair targeting of members of the Chinese-Canadian community and other minority groups.
Now debates over similar legislation being considered by the European Union raise even more far-reaching concerns. Writing in Politico, Nicholas Vinocur explains:
The European Union is working on a law that would force nongovernmental groups, consultancies and academic institutions to disclose any non-EU funding as part of a crackdown on foreign influence in the bloc, three sources confirmed to POLITICO.
A similar bill, in [European] Georgia, widely perceived as an attempt to tighten government control along Russian lines, was withdrawn after massive protests last week.
Nick Aiossa, head of policy and advocacy at the widely respected Transparency International, was blunt in his concern:
The [EU] guiding questions suggested they were evaluating whether Transparency International was a threat to democracy.
Other NGOs warned that such legislation could be
weaponized by strongmen like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to clamp down on pro-democracy forces in their country.
Canada, China and CSIS leaks
Much of the information on alleged Chinese interference in Canadian elections comes from CSIS leaks to the Globe and Mail; that is, from unnamed intelligence officers in documents only select reporters can see.
Hill Times columnist Bhagwant Sandhu was one of the few to focus on the fact of the leaking, rather than their alleged contents.
In an article entitled Have CSIS leaders lost control of the spy agency? (2 March 2023), the sub-head reads:
Given the number of leaks, the onus is on CSIS senior management to comfort us that they have things under control at the spy agency and that it’s not being run by rogue elements.
Sandhu distinguishes between “good” and “bad” leaks:
A good leak can shine the light on fraud, the misappropriation of public monies, or the risks to public health and safety.
Bad leaks try to steer government policy in a direction the leakers prefer.
Another far more searing critique of the leaks and the journalists who rely on them can be found in an article by Andrew Mitrovica, an Al Jazeera columnist based in Toronto, entitled Canada’s spies and the hypocrites who adore them (13 March 2023). Its sub-head reads:
Did China interfere in Canada’s elections? We don’t know. But journalists must not rely on friendly leaks for the truth.
A recent blog post by Andrew Kirsch, a ten-year (former) veteran of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, poses the question:
Why are we seeing so many leaks of CSIS reporting?
After examining some of the possible reasons for the leaks – including foreign interference by a country interested in Canada maintaining a hawkish policy toward China — and some of the dangers this practice entails, Kirsch concludes:
There is a mature way to have this conversation, to engage and inform the public on the very real threats we are facing. This is not it. The leakers may think they are acting in the public interest but ultimately they undermine the organization’s credibility, cause real harm to our relationship with our allies and the public which runs the risk of making us all less safe.
Lessons from Iraq 20 years on
On the 20th anniversary of America’s illegal invasion of Iraq, it is appropriate here to consider two of its overarching lessons — the danger of government, media and public reliance on confidential sources with hidden agendas and on potentially faulty intelligence from two of our closest allies, the US and the UK.
But the media-hyped hysteria over the “China threat”, combined with ultra-partisan Conservative politicking and NDP poll-driven acquiescence, means that, to date, there is a woeful lack of critical commentary on the increasingly frequent CSIS leak-led short-circuiting of democratic discourse in Canada over China.
We call again upon the Government of Canada to stop being cowed by an unholy alliance of CSIS leaks and media hysteria over China and to pursue, instead, a mature and measured approach to addressing foreign election and other interference in Canada.
Two especially noteworthy events this week are the issuance by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the removal by Turkey of its objections to Finland joining NATO.
ICC warrant for President Putin
A statement by the ICC on 17 March 2023 indicates that warrants have been issued for two individuals in the context of the situation in Ukraine: President Vladimir Putin and Ms Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation.
The statement further reads that both individuals are allegedly responsible for
the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
Russia, like the United States, is not a party to the Rome Statute and has categorically affirmed that it will not cooperate in any way with the ICC. Nonetheless, the issuance of the warrant against President Putin carries tremendous symbolic significance. Click here for a catalogue of international reactions beginning with those from Russia.
What about a charge of aggression?
For those wondering why the arrest warrant does not include the charge of aggression, see our blog post of 5 March 2022, where we discuss the severe limitations to the Court’s jurisdiction in this crucial area.
RI President Peggy Mason comments:
These disgraceful limitations on one of the core crimes in international law are in large measure due to behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Canada, the UK and others, at the time of the crime’s activation, to shield the United States from potential charges.
Turkey removes objections to Finland joining NATO
In past blog posts, we have discussed Turkish conditions — including the extradition of Swedish nationals viewed by Turkey as terrorists — for ending its opposition to the accession by Sweden and Finland to NATO.
On 17 March 2023 NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated:
I welcome today’s decision by Türkiye to move ahead with the ratification of Finland’s membership in NATO…. I hope that the Turkish Grand National Assembly will vote to ratify as soon as possible.
Turkey isn’t set to also approve Sweden’s NATO entry. If Finland enters alone, that could slow momentum for Sweden’s bid and complicate the alliance’s planning further down the road.
More cracks in US–Ukraine unity
A recent article in Politico entitled The U.S.-Ukraine war unity is slowly cracking apart (Jonathan Lemire & Alexander Ward, 12 March 2023) begins:
A tough week for U.S.-Ukraine news reveals an imperfect harmony.
But more than a year into the war, there are growing differences behind the scenes between Washington and Kyiv on war aims, and potential flashpoints loom on how, and when, the conflict will end.
New points of tension between Washington and Kyiv include questions about:
- who was behind the sabotage of Nord Stream;
- the brutal, draining defence of the strategically unimportant city of Bakhmut; and
- the Ukrainian leadership’s plan to fight for Crimea, where Russian forces have been entrenched for nearly a decade.
The article concludes:
For now, Biden continue[s] to stick to his refrain that the United States will leave all decisions about war and peace to Zelensky. But whispers have begun across Washington as to how tenable that will be as the war grinds on — and another presidential election looms.
The recent Russia–US altercation in the skies over the Black Sea should be a further reminder that yet more drift in American thinking about how to end the war is increasingly foolhardy.
Photo credit: Chinese Foreign Ministry (China brokered Iran–Saudi Arabia deal)
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