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M K Bhadrakumar |

Like a deer caught in the headlight on the median of the highway at night, South Block stands paralyzed as the crisis in the Gulf hurtles down uncontrollably. There is no sign of diplomatic initiative at a critical juncture when the GCC, the anchor sheet of regional politics for the past 36 years, seems to unravel.

In comparison, Chinese diplomacy has shifted gear and is positioning itself to mediate the rift between Qatar and the ‘boycotting states’ (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain.) The Chinese expatriate population in the Gulf is only a tiny fraction of India’s 8 million plus NRI community – in fact, less than 5%. But China has profound economic and security interests in the Gulf and senses the imperative to behave like a stakeholder when regional politics is at an inflection point.

Xinhua reported that Wang offered China’s mediation. It quoted Al Jaber as saying “China is an influential and responsible country” and the UAE appreciates China’s “objective and impartial position” on Gulf affairs.

The foreign ministers of the UAE and Qatar paid working visits to Beijing on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang gave the following account of the meeting between Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his UAE counterpart Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber:

“Foreign Minister Wang Yi raised three points on resolving the Gulf crisis. The first is to support political and diplomatic settlement as a broad direction, and all parties shall follow the basic norms guiding international relations and fulfill their due international obligations. The second is to support an Arab way of resolving the current differences within the framework of the GCC. The principles of mutual respect and non-interference shall be upheld, and non-regional countries shall contribute in a constructive way to realize reconciliation. The third is to support all parties to sit together and have dialogues at an early date. Flexibility is needed. An agreement could be reached first on the goal of opposing all forms of terrorism, after which efforts shall be taken step by step to settle other differences.”

Read more: Terrorism as pretext for intervention in the energy-rich Middle East

Xinhua reported that Wang offered China’s mediation. It quoted Al Jaber as saying “China is an influential and responsible country” and the UAE appreciates China’s “objective and impartial position” on Gulf affairs.

Xinhua reported separately that at the meeting with his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on Thursday, Wang Yi said, “As a sincere friend of Arab countries, China stands ready to play a constructive role in promoting peace talks if necessary.” In turn, Al Thani responded commending China’s objective position on the crisis and saying that “Qatar stands ready to maintain communication and coordination with China, and hopes that China will continue to play a positive role.”

There are 5 ‘takeaways’ from the Chinese diplomatic initiative. One, China has strongly displayed its growing acceptability in the Gulf region to all protagonists alike as a benign external power. Two, China is a ‘status quoist’ power, which is interested in the preservation of the GCC as a vehicle of regional security and stability. Three, China has a differentiated approach as regards Gulf security in comparison with Turkey, Russia or Iran, which may not be contrarian but is nonetheless distinctly independent.

Read more: The Middle-Eastern conflict: Threatening for Pakistan and China’s OBOR

Four, China is perfectly willing to supplement the US efforts to heal the rift in the Gulf and is not seeking to undermine them.

According to a Xinhua report, Xi told Abbas that the UN Security Council Resolution 2334 should be “effectively implemented, and the all the settlement-building activities on the occupied territories of Palestine should be immediately stopped.”

Finally, most important, China projects itself as a stakeholder in the entire Middle East region’s peace and stability. The MFA spokesman Lu Kang made a lengthy statement yesterday on the Middle East crisis, firmly situating the latest Gulf initiative within the ambit of a broad regional policy framework, which in turn rests on the premise that:

  • The situation in the Middle East is now at a crossroad. When the Middle East is unstable, it will be difficult for the world to enjoy peace.
  • The Palestinian issue is at the root of the Middle East issues. Peace and development of the whole region depend on the just and proper settlement of the Palestinian issue.

Lu underscored that at a meeting with the visiting Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas in Beijing last week, President Xi Jinping proposed four points on how to move forward” the settlement of the Palestinian issue “in light of the new circumstances”:

  • A political settlement must be found on the basis of two-state solution;
  • A security outlook that emphasizes common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security must be adhered to;
  • International efforts shall be better coordinated to seek great synergy; and,
  • A holistic approach must be found to promote peace through development.

According to a Xinhua report, Xi told Abbas that the UN Security Council Resolution 2334 should be “effectively implemented, and the all the settlement-building activities on the occupied territories of Palestine should be immediately stopped.”

Read more: Trump and China both taking actions that risk sparking dangerous Middle…

Needless to say, China’s stance, which attributes centrality to the Palestine issue, stands in sharp contrast with the primacy attached by the Modi government to serial hugs with Israel and to the ideological affinity between ‘Hindutva’ and Zionism as the center piece of India’s Middle East policies.

Evidently, China is placing itself on the right side of history even as the curtain is coming down on Western hegemony in the Middle East.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”.

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