The Jerusalem Post published an in-depth piece this week analyzing the changing oil geopolitics of the Middle East. Political Editor Ilan Evyatar takes a look at the implications of demand for Middle East oil shifting dramatically over the next few decades from the West to the East. I argue that the US should remain engaged in the region based on a broader economic and strategic relationship in order to counter-balance rising Chinese influence, given Beijing’s track record in the rest of Africa. This entire dynamic is going to be extremely important to medium-term regional politics and there is not nearly enough discussion about this reality here in Washington. The article is excerpted below and I encourage you to read the full piece.
WHILE THERE appears to be a consensus that China’s rapidly growing energy needs mean it will need to nurture a stable environment and adopt a more proactive foreign policy in the region, not everyone shares Biran’s far reaching vision of a Pax Sinica.
“Surging Chinese demand for energy resources over the next several decades will make their more prominent role in the Middle East inevitable. China is now second only to the United States in consumption and importation of oil, a trend that will only continue as the Chinese continue to urbanize their population and bring millions more cars on line. No country can afford to remain uninterested in a region that it will be so dependent upon,” says Bradley Bosserman, a foreign policy analyst and director of the Middle East program at the NDN New Policy Institute, a center-left Washington think tank.
Bosserman, however, cautions that there has been consistent divergence between the US and China on regional issues, from Iran to Syria and elsewhere. “While a peaceful and agreed-upon settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would contribute to regional stability, China has never shown much interest in investing diplomatic energy… in other parts of the world where it had economic interests.”
He points to the potential lessons to be learned from China’s engagement in Africa, and warns that while the optimists may believe that China’s growing energy interdependence with the Middle East will lead to Beijing becoming more interested in productive diplomatic engagement, its record in Africa gives “little indication that it will pursue that path.”
“For the past half-century,” says Bosserman, “China’s policy of non-interference has provided capital and investment to corrupt governments who have been more than happy to avoid the complicated work of economic and political reform that is often demanded by the United States and Europe. Throughout Africa, China has consistently valued preferential trading terms, lopsided leasing deals, and short-term profits over the kinds of lasting investments in good governance, political reconciliation, and poverty alleviation that lay the groundwork for real stability. It seems more likely that it is that model that they will try to export to the Middle East rather than some other idealized version.”