By Mohammad Mazhari

American professor believes China seeking to ramp up influence in West Asia

January 26, 2022 - 15:46

TEHRAN - An American professor believes that China is seeking to ramp up its influence in West Asia though he says Washington does not intend to leave the region.

“The U.S. is not withdrawing from the Middle East (West Asia), but over time I would expect China’s influence to increase in the region,” Robert C. Smith, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University, tells the Tehran Times.

Pointing to Persian Gulf Arab states’ ties with China, Professor Smith notes that these countries and China “have their own autonomous interests that at some points or on some issues will result in divergences and convergences.”  

Over the past two decades, China has become actively involved in the economic and security affairs of the six-member states of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

“The Biden administration should have moved earlier to restore the original agreement.”China has been simultaneously pursuing an ambitious foreign policy towards GCC and Iran. It has got closer to these countries in areas of economy and security. However, Beijing has refused to be drawn into regional rivalries or debates over strategic issues in West Asia. 

The Persian Gulf Arab states, for their part, regard Beijing as key to their economic future, even as they continue to rely on the United States and other Western powers on matters related to security and defense.

Here is the text of the interview:

Q: The 25-year Iran-China partnership agreement went into effect while Iran’s foreign minister visited China on January 13-14. What are the subliminal messages of such a visit when the Vienna talks are still underway?

A: I think of the Iran-China partnership agreement -not so subliminal- means that China is likely to provide aid to Iran in case the Western powers seek to intensify the sanctions in case the talks on the nuclear agreement fail.

Q: What are the main impacts of the 25-year partnership on Iran's economy? Can China fill the gap left by Western companies in Iran?

A: While the agreement cannot fill the gap, its assistance should meliorate to some extent the effect of the U.S. sanctions.

Q:  Do you confirm that Biden was slow to start talks to revive the nuclear deal, something that possibly pushed Iran into the arms of China?

A: The Biden administration should have moved earlier to restore the original agreement, but I doubt it is fair to conclude the U.S. pushed Iran into the arms of China. Both Iran and China have autonomous interests and policies that commend them to cooperation.

Q:  How can China strike a right balance between its ties with Iran and the Persian Gulf Arab states? Given alleged collaboration between China and Saudi Arabia to develop ballistic missiles, do you think China is going to expand its military influence and fill the power vacuum in West Asia?

A: It is likely to be difficult in some cases, but again the (Persian) Gulf states and China have their own autonomous interests that at some points or on some issues will result in divergences and convergences. The U.S. is not withdrawing from the Middle East (West Asia), but over time I would expect China’s influence to increase in the region.
 


 

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