Middle East

Paramilitary police officers keep watch as people climb the Great Wall of China in Beijing, China, 1 October 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Wang Gungwu: China, ASEAN and the new Maritime Silk Road

Professor Wang Gungwu was a keynote speaker at the webinar titled “The New Maritime Silk Road: China and ASEAN” organised by the Academy of Professors Malaysia. He reminds us that a sense of region was never a given for Southeast Asia; trade tied different peoples from land and sea together but it was really the former imperial masters and the US who made the region “real”. Western powers have remained interested in Southeast Asia through the years, as they had created the Southeast Asia concept and even ASEAN. On the other hand, China was never very much interested in the seas or countries to its south; this was until it realised during the Cold War that Southeast Asia and ASEAN had agency and could help China balance its needs in the maritime sphere amid the US's persistent dominance. The Belt and Road Initiative reflects China’s worldview and the way it is maintaining its global networks to survive and thrive in a new era. This is an edited transcript of Professor Wang’s speech.
In this photo taken on 6 August 2021, police officers walk beside the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, as it was known before 1945 and now called the Atomic Bomb Dome, as the city marks the 76th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP)

The real reason why Japan is following the US’s lead

Academic Toh Lam Seng traces Japan’s long-held foreign policy stance of “following the US’s lead”. Circumstances of history led to this default pattern, even though Japan did try to break out of this straitjacket. Domestic opposition aside, under the US's watchful eye, Japan has not been able to possess nuclear weaponry or have a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. But with the changing situation of a rising China, might Japan move closer to getting what it has always wanted?
People walk past a Chinese flag near the Forbidden City during National Day holidays in Beijing, China, 5 October 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

China will be the US's most difficult opponent

While there may have been some minor tweaks from the US side to smoothen relations with China, the overall suppression and containment of China remains unchanged from the Trump to Biden eras as fundamental differences exist between the two countries, says Wu Guo.
Afghans walk along fences as they arrive in Pakistan through the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman on 24 August 2021 following Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan. (AFP)

Afghanistan in the calculations of India, Pakistan and China: Is there common ground among rivals and allies?

A triumphant Taliban presents unique and unprecedented challenges for Afghanistan’s neighbours. As the international spotlight continues to shine on the Taliban, it remains difficult to discern between reality and ruse in the Taliban’s rhetoric. The future of Afghanistan appears uncertain, and most countries remain watchful. India has refrained from advancing a clear diplomatic position while China and Pakistan have shown a cautious willingness to engage with the Taliban. While all three countries view Afghanistan with diverging agendas, a stable, inclusive Afghanistan remains in their mutual interest.
A handout picture made available by the Iranian Red Crescent on 19 August 2021, shows a young Afghan refugee at the Iran-Afghanistan border between Afghanistan and the southeastern Iranian Sistan and Baluchestan province, as people fleeing AFghanistan try to enter the Islamic republic following the takeover of their country by the Taliban earlier this week. (Mohammad Javadzadeh/Iranian Red Crescent/AFP)

What China wants to see under a Taliban-led Afghanistan

Chinese academic Fan Hongda says that following the US troop pullout of Afghanistan, the Taliban have much to do to convince the international community that they can lead the country, and that they can rebuild Afghanistan. Will Taliban rule be any different this time round as compared to 20 years ago? How would China react to the new ruling power in Afghanistan?
Taliban fighters sit on a vehicle along the street in Jalalabad province, Afghanistan on 15 August 2021. (AFP)

Inroads for China in a Taliban-led Afghanistan?

With the US in retreat and the Taliban seizing control of Kabul, it looks like Afghanistan and the region will see major security and geopolitical shifts. Where does China stand in all of this and what cautious moves will it make?
People wearing face masks walk past a mural displaying Iran's national flag in Tehran, Iran on 17 June 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Chinese academic: Can China challenge the US’s standing in the Middle East?

Although China has made inroads into the Middle East as a major investor and economic partner, some are suspicious of its intentions in being all things to all countries in this fractious region. Thus, even if there is much hype about its ability to take over the US’s role in the region, China should remember that it still lacks the power and wherewithal to exert a major influence.
A Palestinian girl plays amidst the rubble of buildings destroyed by last month's Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, in Beit Lahia, in the northern part of the Palestinian enclave on 19 June 2021. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

China needs to reset its approach to the Palestinian issue — fast

From its biased stance towards Palestine in the recent Gaza-Israel conflict and the way it has tried to bring in the Xinjiang issue, it is clear that China is getting its approach to Palestine and Israel all wrong, says Fan Hongda. Amid a vastly changed political landscape in the Middle East, China needs to recalibrate its strategy. Otherwise, not only will it have little influence in the Gaza-Israeli conflict, it will end up on the back foot in defending its affairs in Xinjiang.
Iranians drive down a street in the capital Tehran, on 11 April 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

China-Iran deal complements the BRI, but faces Iranian domestic opposition and US sanctions

The recently signed China-Iran Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreement will be a linchpin for China’s BRI in the Middle East, says Yu Hong. In the best-case scenario, it will be a win-win arrangement, providing Iran with the foreign investment it needs and China the oil supply and strategic influence it hopes to get. However, a number of challenges stand in the way including US sanctions and domestic opposition within Iran.