19 January 2016
CHINESE PRESIDENT Xi Jingping has effectively acknowledged that increasingly China will be unable to remain aloof to multiple crises in the Middle East by deciding to visit the region – at a time that two of its major powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are at loggerheads. It was only last year that Xi dropped plans to visit the region after a Gulf alliance headed by Saudi Arabia intervened militarily in Yemen. Xi feared at the time that his visit would be seen as taking sides.
Since then, China has signalled its grudging recognition that it no longer can limit relations to economic ties and has no choice but to play a greater role in Middle Eastern affairs. A long-standing supporter of President Bashar Al-Assad, China has recently sought to position itself as a mediator in the brutal Syrian conflict by inviting representatives of the government and the opposition to visit Beijing.
Chinese interest in Syria is fuelled by the rise of Islamic State (IS) that has singled China out as one of its targets, the group’s demonstrated ability to launch attacks across the globe, and the fact that hundreds of Uighurs, a rebellious Turkic Muslim ethnic group in northwest China, have joined the ranks of IS as foreign fighters. IS recently broadcast its first Chinese-language recruitment video. In November, IS executed a Chinese national.
… James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, a syndicated columnist, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title.
RSIS / Online
Last updated on 21/01/2016