China seeks global domination.
The vehicle to achieve it is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a collection of infrastructure projects and a network of commercial agreements designed to link the entire world directly to the Chinese economy through inter-connected land-based and maritime routes. The guarantor of that soft power approach is the hard power of military expansion.
Beijing’s ambitions cannot be realized, starting with supremacy in South Asia, if its largest single BRI investment, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), fails.
There are certain preconditions for the success of CPEC: (1) the removal of U.S. and NATO military forces from Afghanistan; (2) a reduction of American and Indian influence in South Asia; (3) the curtailment of Islamic extremism and ethnic separatism; and (4) a decrease in regional tensions due to national rivalries; all to be obtained under the stewardship of China, a “Pax Sinica.”
Critical among China’s efforts is the successful wooing of Iran and its proper placement within the framework of CPEC. Given the inherent competition and sometimes enmity in the region, China has been obliged to navigate a diplomatic minefield cautiously, combining direct support for Iran with what appear to be calculated, yet sometimes convoluted attempts to leverage the current U.S.- Iranian conflict to its regional advantage.
An equivalent level of cooperation was also extended to Afghanistan, emphasizing that CPEC benefits not only Pakistan and China but also all the regional states.
Although Pakistani media recently that BRI would eventually extend from China through Pakistan’s port of Gwadar and onto Africa via Oman and Riyadh, an offer to join CPEC made to Saudi Arabia by Pakistan was later , undoubtedly due to objection by Beijing.
Although China has Saudi Arabian investments in Pakistan, including a in Gwadar, CPEC’s strategic port, and a , Saudi Arabia becoming a third member of CPEC conflicted with China’s greater interest of maintaining good relations with Iran.
The Saudis are not only considered allies of the U.S., but they have a festering conflict with Iran including a proxy war in Yemen. In addition, the Saudis have been accused of exacerbating long-standing tensions along the Iran-Pakistan border, a flash point that remains a threat to the success of CPEC.
From the standpoint of U.S. relations with Riyadh, it is important to note that Saudi Arabia has $500 million, a 20-percent stake, into the Russia-China Investment Fund by two government-backed entities, the Russian Direct Investment Fund and China Investment Corporation (CIC) to advance bilateral economic cooperation between Russia and China.
In response to the November 4th reimposition of U.S. sanctions against Iran, China that the Bank of Kunlun, which handles China’s financial transactions with Iran, will stop processing them on November 1.
China’s largest oil refiners, Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corporation, may also stop importing Iranian oil in November, actions which appear to acquiesce to the Trump Administration’s policy to pressure the Iranian regime.
Nevertheless, China has already begun to erode the illusion that it will adhere to the U.S. that countries reduce Iranian oil imports to zero. Beijing’s announcement does not preclude from accessing Iranian oil and Iranian and Chinese bankers have already held several to establish a new financial system to replace the Bank of Kunlun.
Chinese-Iranian collaboration is an important element in the formula for CPEC success, which remains the center of gravity of China’s global ambitions.
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa. He receives email at .
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.