China Rocks the Geopolitical Middle East Boat


Richard Moore

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Organization: MiddleEast.Org - MER
From: "MER - Mid-East Realities - MiddleEast.Org" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: China Rocks the Geopolitical Middle East
Date: Wed, 10 Nov 2004 08:38:38 -0500

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China Rocks the Geopolitical Middle East Boat

"The quantum leap of China into the Middle East
and Caspian energy markets has become a
fait accompli, no matter how disturbed its
biggest trade partner, the US, over its
geopolitical ramifications."

<>MIDDLEEAST.ORG - MER - Washington
- 10 November:   As the Americans expend their power, their
money, their blood, and their credibility -- the miserable
siege of Falluja and Iraq but the latest example --  both
Europe and China are on the march.  Europe is more often
discussed, but the Chinese have been taking important steps
into Africa in recent years, and now they are doing so into
the Middle East in a bigger way than ever via Iran.   

The world stage is becoming far more complicated far more
quickly than is generally appreciated.    With an economy
expanding at an amazing 9% yearly, and in fact with
considerable and growing leverage over the Americans
economically and financially that is not usually discussed,
China is positioning itself for the future.

And Iran, seriously now threatened by the U.S.-Israeli
alliance,  is working with China, as well as with Europe, to
outflank the Americans and in the short-term to buy itself
more crucial time to strengthen and to have at least a
credible deterrent.   With the U.S. and Israel determined to
keep all combinations of regional powers from threatening
their imperial dominance in the Middle East, the new
involvements of both China and the Europeans are major
developments sure to greatly affect the years ahead.

ASIA TIMES - 6 November 2004:   TEHRAN - Speaking of business
as unusual. A mere two months ago, the news of a
China-Kazakhstan pipeline agreement, worth US$3.5 billion,
raised some eyebrows in the world press, some hinting that
China's economic foreign policy may be on the verge of a new
leap forward. A clue to the fact that such anticipation may
have totally understated the case was last week's signing of a
mega-gas deal between Beijing and Tehran worth $100 billion.
Billed as the "deal of century" by various commentators, this
agreement is likely to increase by another $50 billion to $100
billion, bringing the total close to $200 billion, when a
similar oil agreement, currently being negotiated, is inked
not too far from now.

The gas deal entails the annual export of some 10 million tons
of Iranian liquefied natural gas (LNG) for a 25-year period,
as well as the participation, by China's state oil company, in
such projects as exploration and drilling, petrochemical and
gas industries, pipelines, services and the like. The export
of LNG requires special cargo ships, however, and Iran is
currently investing several billion dollars adding to its
small LNG-equipped fleet.

Still, per the admission of the head of the Iranian Tanker Co,
Mohammad Souri, Iran needed to purchase another 87 vessels by
2010, in addition to the 10 already purchased, in order to
fulfill the needs of its growing LNG market. Iran has an
estimated 26.6-trillion-cubic-meter gas reservoir, the
second-largest in the world, about half of which is in
offshore zones and the other half onshore.

It is perhaps too early to digest fully the various economic,
political and even geostrategic implications of this stunning
development, widely considered a major blow to the Bush
administration's economic sanctions on Iran and particularly
on Iran's energy sector, notwithstanding the Iran-Libya
Sanctions Act (ILSA) penalizing foreign companies daring to
invest more than $20 million in Iran's oil and gas industry.

While it is unclear what the scope of China's direct
investment in Iran's energy sector will turn out to be, it is
fairly certain that China's participation in the Yad Avaran
field alone will exceed the ILSA's ceiling; this field's oil
reservoir is estimated to be 17 billion barrels and is capable
of producing 300 to 400 barrels per day. And this is besides
the giant South Pars field, which Iran shares with Qatar,
alone possessing close to 8% of the world's gas reserves. To
open a parenthesis here, until now Tehran has been complaining
that Qatar has been outpacing Iran in exploiting its resource
6-1. In fact, Iran's unhappiness over Qatar's unbalanced
access to the South Pars led to a discrete warning by Iran's
deputy oil minister and, soon thereafter, Qatar complied with
Iran's request for a joint "technical committee" that has yet
to yield any result.

For a United States increasingly pointing at China as the next
biggest challenge to its Pax Americana, the Iran-China energy
cooperation cannot but be interpreted as an ominous sign of
emerging new trends in an area considered vital to US national
interests. But, then again, this cuts both ways, that is, the
deal should, logically speaking, stimulate others who may
still consider Iran untrustworthy or too radical to enter into
big projects on a long term basis. Iran's biggest foreign
agreement prior to this gas agreement with China was a
long-term $25 billion gas deal with Turkey, which has
encountered snags, principally over the price, recently,
compared with Iran's various trade agreements with Spain,
Italy and others, typically with a life-span of five to seven

Thus some Iranian officials are hopeful that the China deal
can lead to a fundamental rethinking of the risks of doing
business with Iran on the part of European countries, India,
Japan, and even Russia. Concerning India, which signed a
memorandum of understanding with Iran initially in 1993 for a
2,670-kilometer pipeline, with more than 700km traversing
Pakistani territory, the Iran-China deal will undoubtedly give
a greater push to New Delhi to follow Beijing's lead and thus
make sure that the "peace pipeline" is finally implemented.
The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to Russia, which has as of
late been dragging its feet somewhat on Iran's nuclear
reactor, bandwagoning with the US and Group of Eight (G8)
countries on the thorny issue of Iran's uranium-enrichment
program. The Russians must now factor in the possibility of
being supplanted by China if they lose the confidence of
Tehran and appear willing to trade favors with Washington over
Iran. Russia's Gazprom may now finally set aside its stubborn
resistance to the idea of entering major joint ventures with

Iran appears more and more interested to join the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (SCO) and form a powerful axis with
its twin pillars, China and Russia, as a counterweight to a US
power "unchained". The SCO comprises China, Russia,
Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

China, Russia and Iran share deep misgivings about the
perception of the United States as a "benevolent hegemon" and
tend to see a "rogue superpower" instead. Even short of
joining forces formally, the main outlines of such an axis can
be discerned from their convergence of threat perception due
to, among other things, Russia's disquiet over the
post-September 11, 2001, US incursions in its traditional
Caucasus-Central Asian "turf", and China's continuing unease
over the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan; this is not to mention
China's fixed gaze at a "new Silk Road" allowing it unfettered
access to the Middle East and Eurasia, this as part and parcel
of what is often billed as "the new great game" in Eurasia.
Indeed, what China's recent deals with both Kazakhstan
(pertaining to Caspian energy) and Iran (pertaining to Persian
Gulf resources) signifies is that the pundits had gotten it
wrong until now: the purview of the new great game is not
limited to the Central Asia-Caspian Sea basin, but rather has
a broader, more integrated, purview increasingly enveloping
even the Persian Gulf. Increasingly, the image of the Islamic
Republic of Iran as a sort of frontline state in a post-Cold
War global lineup against US hegemony is becoming prevalent
among Chinese and Russian foreign-policy thinkers.

For the moment, however, the Iran-Russia-China axis is more a
tissue of think-tanks than full-fledged policy, and the mere
trade interdependence of the US and China, as well as Russia's
growing energy ties to the US alone, not to mention its
weariness over any perceived Chinese "overstretch", militate
against a grand alliance pitted against the Western
superpower. In fact, the Cold War-type alliances are highly
unlikely to be replicated in the current milieu of
globalization and complex interdependence; instead, what is
likely to emerge in the future are issue-focused or, for the
lack of a better word, issue-area alliances whereby, to give
an example, the above-said axis may be inspired into existence
along geostrategic considerations somewhat apart from purely
economic considerations.

Hence what the SCO means on the security front and how
significant it will be hinges on a complex, and complicated,
set of factors that may eventually culminate in its expansion,
from the current group of six, as well as greater,
alliance-like, cooperation. It is noteworthy that in Central
Asia-Caucasus, the trend is toward security diversification
and even multipolarism, reflected in the US and Russian bases
not too far from each other. In this multipolar sub-order,
neither the US is capable of exerting hegemony, nor is
Russia's semi-hegemonic sway without competition. In the
Caspian Sea basin, for example, Kazakhstan has opted to take
part in several distinct, and contrasting, security networks,
including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Partnership
for Peace program, the Commonwealth of Independent States'
Collective Security Organization, the SCO, and membership in
OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe).

Kazakhstan is not, however, an exception, but seemingly
indicative of an expanding new rule of the (security and
strategic) game played out throughout Central Asia-Caucasus.
Economically, both Kazakhstan and Russia are members of the
Central Asia Economic Cooperation Organization, and all the
Central Asian states are also members of the Economic
Cooperation Organization (ECO), which was founded by the trio
of Iran, Turkey and Pakistan. Certain economic alliances are,
henceforth, taking shape, alongside the budding security
arrangements, which have their own tempo, rationale and
security potential. Concerning the latter, in 1998, the ECO
embarked on low security cooperation among its members on drug
trafficking and this may soon be expanded to
information-sharing on terrorism. Also, Iran has also entered
into low security agreements with some of its Persian Gulf
neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The SCO initially was established to deal with border disputes
and is now well on its way to focusing on (Islamist)
terrorism, drug trafficking and regional insecurity.
Meanwhile, the US, not to be outdone, has been sowing its own
bilateral military and security arrangements with various
regional countries such as Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan
and Uzbekistan, as well as promoting the Guuam Group, which
includes Azerbaijan and Georgia, formed alongside the BTC
(Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan) pipeline as a counterweight to Russian
influence. Consequently, the overall picture that emerges
before us is, as stated above, a unique multi-trend of
military and security multipolarism defying the logic of Pax
Americana. In this picture, Iran represents one of the poles
of attraction, seeking its own sphere of influence by, for
instance, entering into a military agreement with Turkmenistan
in 1994, and, simultaneously, exploring the larger option of
how to coalesce with other powers in order to offset the
debilitating consequences of (post-September 11) unbounded
Americanization of regional politics.

A glance at Chinese security narratives, and it becomes
patently obvious that Beijing shares Iran's deep worries about
US unipolarism culminating in, as in Afghanistan and Iraq,
unilateral militarism. Various advocates of US preeminence,
such as William Kristol, openly write that the US should "work
for the fall of the Communist Party oligarchy in China".
Unhinged from the containment of Soviet power, the roots of US
unilateralism, and its military manifestation of "preemption",
must be located in the logic of unipolarism, thinly disguised
by the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq; the latter is, in
fact, as aptly put by various critics of US foreign policy,
more like a coalition of the coerced and bribed than anything

But, realistically speaking, what are the prospects for any
regional and or continental realignment leading to the erasure
of US unipolarism, notwithstanding the US military and
economic colossus bent on preventing, on a doctrinal level,
the emergence of any challenger to its global domination now
or in the future? The strategic debates in all three
countries, Russia, China and Iran, feature similar concerns
and question marks. For one thing, all three have to contend
with the difficulty of sorting the disjunctions between the
different sets of national interests, above all economic,
ideological and strategic interests. This aside, a pertinent
question is who will win over Russia, Washington, which
pursues a coupling role with Moscow vis-a-vis Beijing, or
Beijing, trying to wrest away Moscow from Washington? For now,
Russia does not particularly feel compelled to choose between
stark options, yet the situation may be altered in China's
direction in case the present drift of US power incursions are
heightened in the future. The answer to the above question
should be delegated to the future. For now, however, the
quantum leap of China into the Middle East and Caspian energy
markets has become a fait accompli, no matter how disturbed
its biggest trade partner, the US, over its geopolitical

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in 
Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and "Iran's Foreign Policy Since 9/11", 
Brown's Journal of World Affairs, co-authored with former deputy foreign 
minister Abbas Maleki, No 2, 2003. He teaches political science at Tehran 
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Richard Moore (rkm)
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