eyes on the U.S.

China Reacts To Obama's Victory, Preps For Own Power Handoff

XINHUA, GLOBAL TIMES, PEOPLE'S DAILY (China) BBC (UK) LA STAMPA (Italy)

Worldcrunch

BEIJING - Barack Obama's hard-fought reelection coincides with the once-in-a-decade handover of power in China, as the Communist Party Congress opens this week in the capital.

But all this superpower politics has produced comparably little mainstream Chinese coverage -- either of Tuesday's noisy conclusion of the U.S. campaign or the much quieter opening of the political watershed event.

The Xinhua news agency did offer the insidery basics of Obama's road to a second term: a road-tested and star studded campaign crew, including the energetic support of former commander-in-chief Bill Clinton; a bump in support for his skillful handling of Hurricane Sandy; and a strategy of focusing on early voting that they dubbed the "Michelle Plan."

But meanwhile, the People's Daily, the organ of the Communist Party, did take a nice swipe at the States on Wednesday, predicting failure of Obama's vows to usher in new policies: "America's Problem: Money Politics Seldom Supports Reforms"

A law professor and Chinese blogger Li Kaisheng noted the Chinese public's general support for Obama was based on the fact that Mitt Romney was seen as posing a much tougher posture towards China and characterized Beijing as a "currency manipulator." Nevertheless, Li believes Obama is increasingly focused on challenging China's influence in Asia.

BBC's Chinese-language website reported that Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the "Global Times" (a populist Beijing daily) expressed his "blessing" for the President's next term. "I hope that Obama has the vision and ingenuity on the issue of China. It should encourage the peaceful rise of China so that we can get rid of the tragedy of Great Power Politics and the world will be peaceful forever."

La Stampa noted that the U.S. vote was the top subject on Sina Weibo, the top Chinese version of twitter, with some 25-million microblog postings.

But to the authorities in Beijing, the far touchier topic is the 18th Communist Party Congress. And the coinciding of the U.S. elections is a reminder that China's own leaders are not elected by the people. All that counts is who is more pro-China.

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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