May 6, 2013 | National Post
China’s Ruthless Foreign Policy is Changing the World in Dangerous Ways
Are we witnessing the end of the “American age”? It depends whom you ask. But one thing is certain: Thanks to the near-bankruptcy of the American welfare state, Washington is losing both the means and desire to project power across the world. Inevitably, nations with deeper pockets — China, most notably — will fill the void.
This process already is underway in many parts of the world. That includes large swathes of Central Asia, where Beijing’s billions are beginning to revolutionize regional infrastructure and alliances — in dazzling but potentially dangerous ways.
Analyzing Beijing’s foreign policy is a relatively simple exercise. That’s because, unlike the United States and other Western nations, China doesn’t even pretend to operate on any other principle except naked self-interest.
On one hand, China has courted Israel as a partner in developing Mediterranean gas fields — but it also has been happy to do business with Israel’s arch-enemy, Iran, and has sold weapons that ended up in Hezbollah’s arsenal. In South Asia, meanwhile, China has cynically helped Pakistan check India’s regional role, even as China’s state-controlled press has warned Pakistan that Beijing may “intervene militarily” in South Asia if Pakistani-origin jihadis continue to infiltrate Muslim areas of Western China.
In the east, China’s policy has been to claim every square inch of the South China Sea, and intimidate every smaller country that dares to oppose its claims. China also props up North Korea, the most totalitarian nation on earth, for no other reason than that China’s leaders dislike the prospect of a U.S.-allied unified Korean peninsula on their doorstep. China has sunk military and commercial roots into countries as far-flung as Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives. Even when Sudan’s government was butchering its own people in Darfur, Chinese energy companies were happy to do business in Khartoum.
China’s foreign policy ambitions are growing in unexpected directions. As John Hopkins University scholar Christina Lin argues: “Paradoxically, while the U.S. is pivoting eastward to contain China in the Asia Pacific, the resurgent Middle Kingdom is pivoting westward on its new Silk Road across the Greater Middle East.”
Unlike the United States and its NATO allies, China never had any desire to see its soldiers patrolling the streets of Kabul and Kandahar, or to sacrifice lives and money in furtherance of “nation-building.” As with Chinese operations in Africa, Beijing’s initiatives in Central Asia and the Middle East are ruthless cost-benefit enterprises aimed at extracting Afghan mineral riches, and otherwise enhancing China’s national interests.
Those interests, Lin, notes, include (1) securing safe and secure oil and gas routes, such that China can ensure its energy needs are met even in the event that its coastal supply routes are blockaded or otherwise disrupted; (2) creating a bulwark against the infiltration of Islamist terrorists into China’s Muslim regions from Pakistan and neighboring Muslim countries; and (3) stabilizing and integrating the Xianjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which occupies a sixth of China and is regularly beset by Islamist agitation.
At the centre of China’s plan for Central Asia and the Middle East is a pipeline, road, rail and power network that could eventually extend from the Pearl River Delta, west through China into Central Asia, and eventually all the way to the Mediterranean. This scheme would greatly benefit landlocked nations such as Afghanistan, but it would also be a bonanza to Iran, which likely would end up being a full partner in any such megaproject. (Lin, for instance, has sketched out a scenario in which an Iranian railway line into the western Afghan city of Heart would be integrated with a Chinese network that extends south from Xianjiang into the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.)
Of course, this is a region that could desperately use more economic development. But the prospect of such development being done under joint Iranian stewardship is a disturbing one — not least because it would completely undercut any effect that Western sanctions would have on Iran’s nuclear program.
Most Americans (and Canadians) have supported the idea of leaving Afghanistan “to the Afghans.” But we’re not really doing that at all. In the new Great Game, as in all realpolitik arenas, no vacuum lasts for long. And soon, we likely will be dealing with a deep-pocketed China that seeks to turn the entire region into a logistical and energy-supply back-office for its coastal economic powerhouse. In the process — almost as an afterthought — it will be helping to prop up one of the most malign regimes on the face of the planet, Iran, just as it has done with Sudan and North Korea.
That is just the way China does business. In the long run, it is this amoral approach to global affairs — not the apocalyptic utopianism of militant Islam, which already show signs of extinguishing itself — that will be the greatest threat to the Western democratic ideal.