China Infiltrates the Middle East | China Uncensored

China is buying influence in the Middle East And persecuting Muslims at home How long can they keep it up? This is China Uncensored I’m Chris Chappell The Middle East The place everyone wants to be Despite, you know, history Now there’s a new player operating in the Middle East—China The Chinese Comunist Party sees the Middle East as a strategic place to challenge Western democracies But the Party might be biting off more than it can chew I sat down with Nasser Weddady, an expert on Middle East relations, to find out more Thanks for joining me again Oh, thanks for having me So you know, the West has had such a fun time in the Middle East Is China joining the party? I think that’s the understatement of the last two centuries right there, Chris Yeah And I think that the Chinese government is trying to get a foothold in the Middle East, but it’s almost too cute because- Cute? Yes Because their thinking is that they can Their way in is to keep a good relationship with the rulers who none of them mostly is democratically elected and their representative city of their people is highly questionable And with total disregard to public opinion And they think that they can, I mean that’s what we’re seeing unfold, they’re signing trade deals with countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt now they’re trying to get a foothold in Iraq Places they don’t always get along with each other Yeah Places that are not the most stable in the world and definitely not the most democratic And their thinking is that we can sign deals without having to get involved in any of the confrontations And unfortunately the confrontations in the Middle East have a habit of being armed, not a peaceful confrontations And in theories, it sounds to me like a nice sort of textbook and classroom strategy, but that’s exactly what every world power started with thinking that we’re going to do thing here and thing there without getting too sucked up in the Middle East Starting with United States, arguably first involvement in the Middle East notable one was during the Suez crisis where President Eisenhower was like, “No, America is not going to caution whatever you Britain, French are cooking up.” And sort of invading the Suez Canal And then only two years later the U.S had its own small mini invasion to Lebanon in 1958 that no one remembers And that was basically I’ll fast forward all the way, you see that like sort of the Middle East has a habit of sucking people in So is it like a rite of passage for a rising world power to get involved in some Middle Eastern quagmire? I mean again the Middle East has things that the rest of the world wants and needs There’s oil, obviously an energy which is capital for the Chinese and the Chinese economy But also there’s the geo strategic location, which is whoever kind of dominates in the Middle East, gets with the package access to things like the Suez Canal, which is a vital artery of world commerce, like sending, doing trade with Europe Around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa is not a practical proposition What will take you through three months to get to China via shipping lane can get to China via the Swiss canal in three weeks So it’s a strategic position And not to mention that the Middle East is increasingly becoming a market of its own with huge purchase power, particularly in the Gulf region So the Middle East is not just It is a lot of headaches, but also there are some benefits So the Chinese, they talk themselves into whatever exercises strategy they have But sooner or later, if you buy parts of the Middle East, you’re going to own it So you think the Chinese Communist Party sees control of the Middle East as a stepping stone in its rise to power and challenging the United States as a world superpower? Yes, but the variation here is that the Chinese Communist Party seems to be talking itself into the rather interesting idea of that we can own the energy of the Middle East or be the major stakeholders,

but let the others, meaning the United States, Europeans, the Russians deal with the mess and that’s one of the gamble they seem to be making I would say it’s a little bit, it’s too cute How is it working out for them now or? I think that for the time being it’s kind of working for them because they are securing increasing shares of oil from Saudi Arabia, from the UAE, major producers They have also been securing natural gas deals with Qatar and obviously their more traditional clients and ally, which is Iran, which is under huge like sort of a big American sanctions, an embargo and that embargo complicated life for the Chinese because they depend heavily on oil and they need that stream of oil to keep coming, to keep flooring And again, this is one of the aspects of the Middle East You cannot It’s a rather wishful thinking that you can have secure stakes and be a player without owning some of the problems, inherent problems of the region And the Chinese find themselves stuck in that situation because the confrontation with Iran is not only a U.S. problem, it’s also the Europeans Even though that the Europeans seem at times to be far less aggressive about it But they fundamentally agree on the same principle, which is Iran should not be allowed to be in nuclear power And until sort of that conflict is resolved, the Chinese will have to secure sources of energy beyond Iran Why are relationships with China desirable for Middle Eastern countries? Oh, I think that’s the biggest sales point that Chinese have Which is you get deals with us that involved no accountability whatsoever, you’re not going to have human rights groups breathing down your neck and you’re certainly not going to be hearing any complaints about your internal politics from us meaning Beijing And we don’t care really what you do with your political opposition or how you treat your population or your public, we couldn’t care less What you get with us is great money, great deals with no accountability And you know what? Sometimes we might even throw our veto power and the security council for you Which they did several times in Syria for example Even though Syria right now is a big pile of ashes There’s not money to be made as it is, but there could be and China has been shot by the Syrian regime and even the Russians trying to talk them into taking on some of the reconstruction work that needs to be done there Well, so what happens when the Chinese Communist Party persecutes Muslims inside China, like they’d been accused of ethnic cleansing of the mostly Muslim uighur ethnic minority How do these Middle Eastern countries respond to that? Now that is probably one of the biggest glaring hypocrisies of today’s world Because on the one hand you have Muslim majority countries governments who time after time either choose to abstain or not vote at all or shoot down any international resolutions that are targeting China Further mistreatment of the Uighurs and the Muslim minority in what they call Xinjiang is Turkistan And the public opinion Initially public opinions across the Muslim world weren’t quite aware of the scale of what’s going on, but now awareness to starting to pick up about this And outrage is building up, anger is building up and- In the public? In the public, in public opinion Sooner or later it’s going to become a problem for Muslim majority governments Muslim majority country governments because the stuff is indefensible and it’s quite glaring As a matter of fact, there are two cases that come to mind about sort of the conundrum that comes from this The first one is Pakistan Pakistan is obviously is second, I believe the second most populous Muslim nation on earth And Pakistan has been a strategic ally of China’s for the past 40, some 50 years

Because they see China as a balancing power in their ever lasting confrontation with India And China has been investing billions in Pakistan, providing weaponry And so the relationship between Pakistan and China is very deep And recently there was a resolution in the UN over the weaker persecution Pakistan voted against it And this is particularly sort of baffling to the rest of us in the Muslim world because in Pakistan people went out in the streets protesting the famous or infamous Danish cartoons and Mohammed cartoons Mum on the Uighurs not much Why is there the silence? I think that it’s a combination of the Chinese obviously have made it known that they expect our allies with friends not to get involved in the story, but I think also internally in Pakistan, the Pakistan government would rather not just become a public opinion issue Because currently Pakistan is cash strapped, they have massive economic problems and they’re constantly like months away from defaulting on their foreign loans So they need mass cash injections And I think that the Chinese made it clear that and the Pakistan’s government itself internalized the fact of life that if they talk about this issue that there will harm their relationships with China, which is right now their only source of cash And sort of this is schizophrenic and the hypocrisy is just sickening Because Pakistan, I mean Pakistan was founded originally Who is the idea behind Pakistan? This is going to be the country that provides a home for Muslims away from persecution or so it was built initially That’s the [inaudible] debtor of Pakistan So is it possible that these relationships with China could potentially become a destabilizing factor in all of these countries if the public opinion starts to sway against China and then their governments are sort of caught in the middle? I think that, that is the likelihood of that is only increasing with time as there’s more is known about what is going on in China and the way the Muslims are being persecuted, the more that’s going to become a factor And that’s the second case that I was going to point out too, which is Turkey Turkey historically has a relationship, and again, let’s remember like what is Xinjiang original name It’s East Turkestan East Turkestan Turk And Turkey, historically even before the Urdu were on government, before the Islamists take over of Turkey, even under nationalist secular Turkish governments, there was always this ideology that looked to all of these Turkic speaking peoples that stretch all the way to China as some sort of brothers or cousins And there’s a cultural influence and there’s a sense of a common belonging and that is one of the reasons that pushed the Turkish government at one point to be vocal about what is going on and what has been done to the Uighurs in China And they took a lot of refugees and they keep on settling refugees But at some point, even Turkey had to watch To watch how it’s talking about the issue publicly because China expressed sort of displeasure with it and so that Erdogan had to do a u-turn and sort of tone down his language And again, what is at stake is billions and billions of dollars in trade and commerce with China And that’s what is terrifying about this issue This is where the Uyghurs issue in Turkey became very sensitive because it’s not only one of religion, there [inaudible] were Muslims and Muslims but also there’s an ethnic dimension because there are Turkic So it became a public opinion issue in Turkey and it’s a soft point, a weakness point for Erdogan, if he doesn’t look tough enough on China, which he had to back down from And that is likely to happen in most Muslim countries as Uighur advocacy steps up and it is stepping up There was a famous incident of a German of Turkish descent of football soccer player Mr. Mesut Ozil tweeting about the crisis

Like sort of the mistreatment and the persecution of Uyghurs That generated a massive backlash against China and the Chinese government actually responded to Ozil’s tweet, which by the way it was inconvenient both for the Turkish government and for many Muslim majority governments It was really embarrassing for them because it’s shown a light on the topic that they didn’t want to talk about And they wanted to skirt So what is the public opinion of these Chinese relationships outside of even the uighurs? I think that the public opinion and the Muslim majority countries in the past, I would say starting sometime in the last decade, used to view China as this far away kind of friend who didn’t meddle, sort of didn’t in meddle in an internal affairs of countries and people were interested in China Yeah Rather superficial things, things some people might call soft power, like Chinese culture wanting to challenge say Beijing And I remember a time where actually the Chinese government itself was pushing an angle showing that China had Muslims and that was a sort of rapprochement point, a meeting point It was a sales point to public opinions around the Muslim world Of course that changed because those Chinese Muslims that were shown were actually the uighurs that changed Yeah And the second thing is that historically China was part of the non-aligned block, which was sort of a block of 50-some countries That was founded in the 60s and the idea was like these are third world countries that are arising and that didn’t want to be caught up in the cold war confrontation between the Western Bloc and the Soviet Bloc And that’s how the Chinese influence started seeping in Muslim majority countries, in the Middle East, in North Africa, even in West Africa And that was punctuated with, like aids that came generally in the form of construction, lack of infrastructure, ports, stadiums, roads and occasionally offering scholarships to people to go to study in China But all of this was pretty mild and torn down And there were some occasions also that evolved arm sales, like fighter jets to Egypt, Algeria missile systems But that started happening only in the 80s And then the big change is China itself changed, became this like American totalized imperialist power The Chinese started aggressively push again for a foothold for markets, for market shares, for sales And that happened in North Africa Algeria comes to mind particularly started happening in places looking for natural resources like Mauritania with the fisheries deal that we spoke about in the podcast And obviously in places like Pakistan, which are neighboring, really within reach of China’s and the other relationships is very deep It’s state to state, military to military, and it’s one of strategic Alliance Are there military investments going on? I know you mentioned some issues in Pakistan I mean there’s obviously the military base that the Chinese leased in Djibouti, Islam majority country Strategic location on Indian Ocean and the Red Sea And obviously they’re stepping up military to military cooperation beyond Pakistan in places like Egypt where they’re selling them fighter jets, missile systems, Mauritanians so They sold that also military equipment They’ve had deals like that also in West Africa And so the Chinese are like sort of, they’re trying to widen the menu of things, of goodies you can get by becoming friends with the Chinese government So how does the West view this? I think that the Western world is of two minds about all of this Because the Western world as we’re going through this new era of division, of lack of clarity, of purpose when it comes to Chinese influencer, there doesn’t seem to be a unified front in the Western world meaning the United States and its Western European allies And each one it’s basically, each one on to their own Like in places in the Middle East and in Africa,

there isn’t a joint strategy between let’s say the majors, traditional stakeholders, United States, France, Britain They’re not necessarily coordinating efforts let’s say in places like Africa or the Middle East to roll back Chinese influence Because the Chinese have been very smart in approaching these relationships and exploiting the weaknesses of the Western world and using them And one of the major weaknesses, this might be shocking to some viewers As much as I have We could record an entire episode with me criticizing the Western world for its uneven and the times immoral behavior when it’s dealing with these countries That criticism stands However, the difference between China and the Western world is that in the Western world, these are democracies that have representatives, parliaments and have a free press You don’t like the policy of the United States Let’s say vis-à-vis Iraq, or vis-à-vis Iran, the American press is flooding literally with OPEDs and interviews and opinions from the people who are feeling the brunt of U.S. Policies You’re not going to get that with the Chinese There are parliaments, there are norms, you can sue dictators, you can go after them and there are legions and legions of cases where this happened With the Chinese, you’re not going to get that So ultimately to summarize here is just that the major weakness the Western world has, which ironically also what is the greatness of the Western world, is that there is a measure of accountability that you can push through Western institutions against dictatorships and rulers, whereas the Chinese are immune from that because the Chinese become friends with those strong men, rulers and dictators and they’re not going to hold them accountable for anything And this is a question that I get asked time and again, it’s like, “America as an imperialist, Britain as an imperialist power, so what changed when another imperialist power comes on along the play?” I was like, “Be careful for what you wish for There are major differences here that are worthy of noting.” Well, so what would you say to people in these Muslim countries who do make that argument that what is the difference between the United States and China? I will simply point out two things like the Magnitsky Act, landmark led-American legislation that allows people to be sanctioned for human rights abuses There’s no such thing with the Chinese And I want to say to people is that in America you have friends and allies and civil society, in the press and even amongst elected officials, there is no such thing with China and, and that is also holds true of the Western democracies in Europe My warning is this, if you think that China is going to be your friend and then just finally is going to liberate you from Western imperialism, you are wrong China is actually a lot worse than the Western countries ever could be And the difference is a fundamental one, is that China is not trying to export freedom and democracy China is trying to export its own authoritarian model and you, the people, we, the people who live under dictatorships are going to be the biggest losers from that Wow Well, thank you for joining me That was very interesting Thank you for having me