Global Competition in West Asia

Global competitions and rivalries are going on in different parts of the world. Although China is new in the game and the US Russia EU and Japan have much more experiences however for the following reasons it seems that China is in a much better position to compete.
20 February 2024
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Nabi Sonboli

Global competitions and rivalries are going on in different parts of the world. Although, China is new in the game and the US, Russia, EU and Japan have much more experiences, however, for the following reasons, it seems that China is in a much better position to compete. West Asia has been the least stable part of the world for a long time. We can say that even the second world war never ended in the region. Current war in Gaza began after the partition of the Palestinian territories in 1948. Since then we have had many wars, conflicts and military Coups, mostly related to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. 

The region is fed-up with wars and interventions, and while regional stability is in everyone’s interests, the conflicts are still going on, with no solution in horizon. China, EU, the US and Japan need a stable region for energy, business, investment, migration, trade, transportation and transition. Japan, mostly because of its dependence on the US in East Asia, follows the US/EU narratives, and has gradually gone out of the game in West Asia. The competition is mostly between China, US, EU and Russia. These four powers are following different approaches in the region. In the following I’ll try to compare them based on 10 criteria:  

  • Democracy promotion:EU/US are interested in democracy promotion that leads to interference in domestic politics of the countries that are highly concerned about their sovereignty. Russia and especially China are not much interested in domestic politics of these countries.  
  • Pragmatism: While China and Russia are following more pragmatic approaches towards the region and try to work with everyone in West Asia, EU and the US are still highly ideological and selective. Their ideological approach is clear from their positions and behaviors regarding Israeli and Palestinian conflict and the war in Gaza these days.
  • Confidence-building: For pragmatic reasons, China and Russia have been much more successful in confidence building with different parties and governments than EU and the US. The US and EU have antagonized Iran and its partners in the region and have lost all their leverages to influence the behavior of these players.
  • Consistency: We see much more consistency in Chinese and Russian foreign policies and behaviors in West Asia than in EU and specially the US. The EU/US one day follow Obama and another Day, Trump. As the US withdrawal from Afghanistan demonstrated, they are not considered reliable partners anymore.
  • Colonialism: From this point of view, Western powers and Russia are included in one category. All suffer from a long history of expansionism and interventions in West Asia. Chinese image in the Islamic context of West Asia suffers from communism but not colonialism and political and military interventions of colonial powers.
  • Inclusivity; China and Russia try to include West Asian countries in the mechanism they have created in recent decades, like Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS. However, at least in the case of Iran, both EU and the US have been exclusive in economic and political terms and they have tried to isolate Iran and some other countries from regional and international mechanisms.
  • Decision Making Biases: Chines and Russians are far less biased towards West Asian Countries and people than Europeans and Americans. The biased discourses and narratives that have been developed by the EU and the US politicians and media for decades, makes cooperation more difficult in practice. Because of these biases they even refrain from listening to “others” and, contrary to their self-perception, they are not open enough to dialogue and cooperation.
  • lobbies: Chinese and somehow Russian approaches towards the Persian Gulf and MENA are far less influenced by lobbies and spoiling activities of third parties than EU and the US political and economic apparatus. JCPOA was the best example of how lobbies and third parties could influence and manipulate foreign relations of EU and the US, even contrary to the national interests of these countries. 
  • Neighborhood Policy: The main priority in Chinese foreign policy has been creation of a peaceful regional and international context to concentrate on economic development, and China’s economic development has contributed a lot to the regional economic development in East Asia. However, EU, US and Russia have not followed strategy of regional stability and development in their neighborhood, while they begarn development process much earlier. The main priority for them have been to sell more weapons and increase their presence in West Asia. That’s why instead of American and European banks, companies and entrepreneurs, we see their navies and solders in the region; and they ask: why democracies and economies do not flourish in this part of the world?
  • Economic Investment: Because of long term conflicts, West Asian economies need huge investments on transportation, connectivity, environmental issues, job creation and so forth. At present, the US and EU economies are not strong enough to invest in West Asia and whenever they want to do so, they have a long list of conditions for economic cooperation and providing financial supports. Because of the economic sanctions, Russian economy is not able to contribute to West Asian economies, too. However, Russia can provide a good market for West Asian products. China is the only country that does not have any of these problems.

All these factors place first china and then Russia in a better position in the West Asia; and based on these factors, it is predictable that the US and EU may face more challenges and failures in future. This is not a good news for the region, because the losers may spoil the situation more to prevent China and Russia from benefiting; Consequently, Global competition, rivalry and intervention may increase in this part of the world which means more instabilities, economic, environmental and social problems for the region.  

Nabi Sonboli, Senior expert in IPIS

 (The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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