Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Chinese Grand Strategy: Part I: China and Iran

China's developing relationship with Iran is geared towards creating long-term influence in the region. This relationship is considered by both Beijing and Tehran to be one of their pre-eminent ways of dealing with the US in the next decade. China still has to compete with Russia for a part in Iran's defense market. Beijing's defense industry still lags behind Moscow's, of course and the Iranians rely on the Russians more than they do on the Chinese to fulfill their conventional weapons requirements. One of China's long-term goals is to alter that equation and become at least equal with Moscow. Before the Iranians actually develop nuclear weapons, (still in the future), the Iranians see a robust conventional capability as a way to deter US attacks in the meantime. Both Iran and China know that the US will probably have to undergo a significant strategic rearrangement before it can attack Iran in any significant manner. At any rate, the Iranians will probably see any US strike (no matter how limited or "surgical") as the beginning of a very prolongued war and will act accordingly. In the meantime, Russia and China will be the main providers of enhanced military capabilities to Iran. China will also help out Iran in dealing with international pressure from the US, the EU, the IAEA and the UN Security Council.

China is not necessarily seeking "world domination" at this point. But they are pursuing regional dominance in the Middle East.

China has been very firm in their stance of keeping the Iranian quandary out of the UN Security Council after, earlier this year, Europe united with the US in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to report Iran's nuclear activities to the UN Security Council (UNCS).

Beijing has two main goals in Middle East:

In order to achieve this two objectives China working its way into crucial strategic relationships with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. For the Chinese accomplish their goals both Iranians and Saudis need to see their strategic relations with Beijing as vital (almost necessary) to their respective nation's security and well-being.

China will try to calm the US by outwardly agreeing with the US (and Europe) in taking preliminary measures, i.e. signataries of the IAEA report to the UNSC, but when push comes to shove, i.e. agreeing more stringent sanctions against Tehran, they will probably back down and try to stall the passing of any additional UNCS. Both Tehran and Beijing understand that inciting the US into a more confrontational stance is counterproductive to both their goals. In this respect, the Chinese will become a "soothing" agent in the crisis. They'll be on-board with the US, but they probably won't support UN economic sanctions. China, of course has veto in the UNSC.

China and Iran probably coordinated some of their actions earlier this year prior to Tehran's removal of the IAEA seals at its Natanz uranium enrichment facility as a meeting between Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister with China's Foreing Minister the day before the removal of the seals seems to indicate. Coincidence? Shortly after the removal was revealed, the Chinese Foreign Ministry insisted that the issue had to be decided within IAEA channels.

The Chinese will probably not support UN sanctions against Iran as a way of applying pressure to Iran, but they will push for the issue to be resolved at the lowest level possible, e.g. within the IAEA framework.

No matter what Beijing says to placate any potential crisis (including economic sanctions and US-led military strikes), it is been proven that they will assist nuclear proliferators if it benefits their interests. North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran all have been beneficiaries at one point or another of almost unnoticeable "under-the-table" exports of nuclear technology. The Chinese are not stupid; they are not going to ship a finished product (or missile) to Iran trough the Strait of Hormuz, much less via land. But certain missile technologies can be easily transferred without hardly anybody noticing.

China can be seen as the hub of a nuclear cooperation network between North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran. If you look at each of those countries' nuclear deveploment programs you will see that Chinese designs emerge as a common denominator. In terms of missile development, the Chinese are suspected of providing solid fuel technologies to the Iranians for use in enhanced versions of their Shahab missile.

The Chinese probably helped the Pakistanis in the development of their Babur land-attack cruise missile and it is possible that, given Iran's interest in enhancing its missile force, the Chinese will probably help the Iranians develop an indigenous cruise missile capability.

The Iranians are also interested in developing space satellites, a technology in which the Chinese have experience and can provide launch vehicles and facilities for any Iranian indigenous satellite.

1. Have you read Tony Corn's "WWIV As 4th Generation Warfare"?
All around fascinating, and the section on China (XII) goes along with what you're saying and adds some more insight.

2. One more piece of light reading:

The Gulf states are increasingly tired of America's take it all or leave it approach, as well as fearful of Iranian violence and ambitions. They are going to increasingly seek China's "stabilizing" role in the region. Expect India, South Korea and Japan to also play a greater role. This is where I agree with Barnett short-term (i.e. we have to see if his ideas carry water), we need to discuss long-term cooperation and coordination with the Chinese and others before we make rash and hasty judgements based on actions and policies taken during a previous rule-set era.
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