The reason for this is clear: China’s dependence on Middle East energy imports means that it is almost certain to seek to fill any regional security vacuum. Indeed, China appears to have long anticipated the coming changes in the region’s security structure and already seems prepared to take advantage of them if permitted to do so. Its “string of pearls” across the Indian Ocean — a series of potential naval stations connecting China to the Middle East and Africa — would support a Chinese blue-water navy able to patrol the sea-lanes of the Persian Gulf.
However, in trying to strike new bargains with Middle East oil producers, China has already been compromised by its strong backing of Iran, which is locked in a power struggle with the region’s leading Sunni states, particularly Saudi Arabia. Without a complete shift in China’s relations with Iran, a strategic partnership with the monarchies of the Persian Gulf may prove impossible to achieve. Even then, China’s domestic repression of Xinjiang’s Muslims, which provoked a fierce dispute with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a few years ago, may preclude the necessary trust from ever taking root.
Still, China’s inevitable bid for greater influence in the Middle East means that countries like India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and others will also need to become proactive in creating a regional security structure that protects their national interests. They will need to be clear with themselves about whether they have the means to achieve their national security ends. For example, could they provide some of the security that the US has long provided to the region’s Arab states?
Such a projection of Asian power — and of Asia’s power struggles — into the Middle East may seem a distant prospect today. Ten years ago, so did the possibility of a US disengagement from the region.
Yuriko Koike, a former Japanese defense minister and national security adviser, was chairwoman of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party and is a member of the National Diet.
Copyright: Project Syndicate