And yet, while China continues to make efforts to improve its global status, here at home, all we seem to care about are partisan political issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, how half of disability recipients are supposedly ripping off the government, and whether possible presidential contender Mike Huckabee thinks that gay marriages make Jesus cry.
The internal political squabbling in American politics has given the Chinese the greatest opportunity since WWII to redefine the modern geo-political map. Traditionally “anti-communist” and “pro-western” nations are establishing greater military and economic ties to China, often at the expense of prior treaties and trade agreements.
The People’s Daily News now predicts that China will take a greater role in Middle East security and the fight against extreme Islamist terrorism.
One of the benefits of state-run propaganda is that when it makes the party’s news, you can usually expect at least some reality behind it.
In 2014, China surpassed the United States as the world’s largest importer of oil — with almost 60 percent of Middle Eastern oil being purchased by China.
With such a lion’s share of the oil, China sees itself as the legitimate stakeholder in Middle East stability. With continued increases in its blue-water naval capabilities, the country sees itself “well positioned to assume a greater role in the region.”
China is not just protecting its oil interests, but trying to stabilize its own borders against the threat of an Islamic State.
Almost two percent of China’s total population is Islamic, an amount greater than the total population of Syria. Radical Islam is spreading, with Reuters reporting in December that at least 300 Chinese Islamic fighters were fighting with the Islamic State group.
While this is currently a small number, by stabilizing the Middle East and stopping the spread of extremism, China seeks to avoid the spread of the Islamic State into China.
China has a long history of unilateral foreign policy action. Unilateral action by the Chinese in the Middle East will probably not be in the best interest of American foreign policy.
Too often, agreements and treaties by the Chinese are lopsided, but “sweetened” with China’s almost unlimited ability to provide cash for economic development and joint ventures.
China has nurtured an unbroken chain of economic development from Pakistan to Iraq, and like all governments that trade abroad, eventually it always has to back up its investments with at least the threat of military force.
American lawmakers and voters should not completely ignore mainstream political issues. However, we cannot ignore what is going on in the world around us. China’s growing influence in regions where the U.S. has invested interests means our influence in these regions is diminishing.
We should not let seemingly insignificant issues cause us to lose sight of our interests abroad (which includes more than the Middle East) or prevent us from protecting trade agreement and partnerships. It’s time we set our priorities straight.