China launched a new round of a geopolitical game of poker with the United States. The Celestial Empire bets on the Islamic world. The goal is to expand its resource base to compete with the U.S. and Europe against the backdrop of a new scientific and technological revolution as well as the world’s large-scale political, economic, and financial reformatting. A hint at Beijing’s Islamic maneuver came with a recent tour of China President Xi Jinping to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran, with the conclusion of the bulk package of agreements with each of the mentioned actors. This tactical move came as part of the Silk Road Economic Belt and Marine Silk Road of XXI Century strategic initiatives.
In fact, China is the only rival of the West in general and of the United States in the narrower sense.
A bet on the Islamic civilization, of both Sunnis and Shias, is being made amid significant geopolitical successes of the U.S. gained over the past few years. Despite the Obama’s image of a "soft president," Washington rolls into 2016 with Russia being worn out and soon to be ready to accept any conditions in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and the opening of access to western financing. The only question is how to bring Russia to the "needed condition" maintaining the state of “controlled chaos,” without the country’s abrupt collapse.
Europe is also difficult to perceive as a rival of the United States for global influence, as many of the EU member states still fail to reach a joint position even on the issue of protection of European values. Besides, without protection from NATO, where I believe, the U.S. plays the main role, Europe may become an easy prey for the new-age barbarians from ISIL, or for Putin's Russia.
That is, China remains, in fact, the only rival for the West in general and for the United States in the narrower sense. India can also join the global competition – not today, but in the long term, if it’s able to deal with a wide range of internal problems.
Against this background, Washington is pursuing its policy of creeping neutralization of Putin's Russia while, at the same time, the EU is weakening dramatically struck by the acute migration, financial, and economic crises. By the way, the European security sector has deteriorated sharply, as well. The latest events in Paris and Cologne are just a couple of vivid illustrations.
And what does China do in these conditions? It turns to its potential allies who harbor certain skepticism toward the United States - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran.
China has signed 17 new agreements with Iran, putting the ultimate goal of increasing mutual trade turnover from the current $60 bln to the potential $600 bln annually. At the same time, Tehran has gotten rid of a problem, what to do with the extracted oil and gas – Beijing will take it all. Well, it may leave a bit to Europe, if Brussels doesn’t miss its chance.
In its traditional manner, China seeks to take advantage of the internal conflicts of the Muslim world and get additional benefit from it.
Beijing has offered Saudi Arabia 14 agreements, including large-scale projects for oil refining, fuel and energy, telecom, and industry. For example, state-owned Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and China's Sinopec have signed a cooperation agreement worth $1 bln.
China offered Egypt nearly two dozen agreements in the fields of industry, aviation, and construction. China also pledged to invest about $15 billion in the country's economy in the near future.
Most interestingly, China’s potential allies are now in the active phase of the internal confrontation on religious grounds. It’s the Saudi-led Sunni world against the Shiite world led by Iran. In its traditional manner, China seeks to take advantage of the internal conflicts of the Muslim world and get additional benefit from it.
How can the intensification of China’s foreign policy moves toward the Islamic world affect Ukraine? Most likely, Beijing will come up with new initiatives on cooperation with the Ukrainian side. So, Kyiv joining the framework of cargo transportation by rail on the route of the Silk Road, bypassing Russia – via Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan – is just the beginning of the process. The reason is the issue of a new deck of cards for a long geopolitical game of poker with the United States. At stake is dividing Russia’s resources as well as the struggle for influence in Europe. In this game, Ukraine serves either as a potential transit territory, or a significant fragment of a new buffer zone between the EU and China. Therefore, it is not surprising that the export of agricultural products to China is increasing. China is now in the top five of destinations for the Ukrainian exports (6.6% of total exports in 2015).
Soon, Beijing will pay closer attention to the products of Ukraine’s military-industrial complex and those of its high-tech sector, in which Ukraine can compete on a global level. Before the annexation of Crimea, China planned to use this part of the Ukrainian territory for the construction of a major logistics base. The first phase was supposed to be a construction of a sea port grain terminal – the project that was halted only because of the illegal annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula by Russia. China saw the project as a sort of a trade gateway to Europe. Now, instead of Crimea, Odesa region has come to a spotlight. Now, the southern region could earn significant bonuses from cooperation with China.
What we see is that the Chinese dragon has ceased contemplating global developments and showed willingness to compete with the West for the allies and resources in North Africa and the Middle East (at the moment, China already receives from this region about 50% of oil it consumes).
Beijing’s previous "geopolitical flirting" with several African countries resulted in the "Arab Spring."
What will be the U.S. response this time?