After its diplomats abstained in opposition to last week's UN Security Council resolution on Libya response, China state media and bloggers take up debate over Western policy.
A U.S. F-16 pilot returns from mission over Libya (dvidshub)
BEIJING - If one was to believe China's official press and its television and radio outlets, the war in Libya stems only from base economic interests or cold geo-strategic calculations. China Daily has illustrated this point of view by saying that "just as Iraq was attacked because of its oil, Libya is also being attacked for its oil."
For the ultra nationalistic Global Times, the situation is even more serious: "The air attacks are an announcement that the West wants to dominate the world,", because it apparently "still believes down to its very bones that it is the leader of the world." As for the People's Daily, it concludes simply that "the Western political and military intervention in the Middle East is mainly about oil."
Among the Western allies, France is a preferred target. The People's Daily writes that the active role played by President Nicolas Sarkozy on this issue is an indication that, as current president of the G20, he is desperate to show his ability to lead collective actions. The newspaper also hints that the French President could have used the air strikes in Libya to help his party in last weekend's local elections across France.
Unsurprisingly, the official Chinese media do not mention Beijing's inconsistency on the matter, notably its choice to abstain rather than veto the UN resolution. Since China has repeatedly opposed any military intervention based on humanitarian grounds in the past, this may signal a new approach. Where China was concerned, respect for the principle of non-interference and national sovereignty had always carried the day. Some see the subtle shift as a sign of China's new role in world affairs: the country now has no choice but to adopt a more flexible stance and pay more attention to the opinion of Arab or African countries (which supported the creation of a no-fly zone).
The result is a huge gap between, on one hand, an abstention equaling a go-ahead, and on the other hand, a media campaign whose virulence is rooted in the Chinese authorities' extreme mistrust of the spread of "Western" human rights values.
The Global Times has thus denounced the Chinese websites that dared to invoke "the senseless argument that human rights are more important than sovereignty." The most famous Chinese blogger, Han Han, has indeed written that "the refusal to intervene should not stand when dealing with dictators." Sina's micro blogging site has also hosted a number of critical messages, such as that of a user - and forwarded by the writer Zhang Yihe - who notices the fact that "countries that oppose the use of force outside their borders are the same as those most likely to rely on it inside their own borders."
Read the original article in French
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.
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.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.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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