Thursday, December 15, 2005
Dragon and Eagle in the Sands of Arabia ...
China and India are both rising powers, that is very true--and their progress has surged forward by leaps and bounds. It is also very true that the United States does not have the power to unilaterally set the agenda in the Middle East, to assume that it is "the only game in town" and that the rising clout of India and China gives Middle Eastern states other options--notably Iran.
But some of the points made in the talks that help us to avoid mindless panic--and thanks also to our managing editor Tom Rickers for his compliation here:
1) Despite their desire to play a greater role on the global stage, for both China and India their single most important bilateral relationship remains with the United States. Neither side is willing to sacrifice its relationship with the United States for any other country, including Iran.
2) Both China and India are trying to compartmentalize their relationship with Iran--to separate the energy relationship from other areas (in other words, to try and hedge--good economic ties with Iran but not to give the Iranians the ability to leverage those ties for other things, such as protecting their nuclear program).
3) The United States is not the sole actor in the Middle East, and China and India do have increasing influence, but for the long-term future, it is the United States which is the guarantor of the security of the Persian Gulf and, more broadly, of the world's shipping and communications lanes.
And China has a catch-22. It depends on the U.S. Navy to secure the sea-lanes that are absolutely vital to transport its energy needs from the Middle East and Africa back to the mainland. China's dependence on the United States for this is irksome; yet, for China to develop the blue-navy capability it would need to patrol the sea-lanes it would not only take a massive investment in resources, but also would scare China's neighbors whose relatively benign response to China is predicated on China's "peaceful rise", not its militarization to project power on a global scale.
But an interesting discussion, and very important since in Washington we tend to ignore China and India as possible players in the Middle East, in our efforts to relegate them to "South Asia" and "East Asia" geographic boxes.
Trying to contain China with no real investment of resources is the strategy most likely to backfire.