On October 18, Saudi Arabia announced that it would reject the seat in the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member because the council adopts double standards on the Palestine-Israel issue, the Syrian crisis and the weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East and does not fulfill its responsibilities to defend world peace. The international media chorused their agreement with a view that Saudi Arabia’s decision testified to its discontent with the recent U.S. policy toward the Middle East and triggered a new round of discussions about the U.S. Middle East policy.
Recently, the U.S. has focused more on the Middle East; the Obama administration is working to stabilize its Middle East policy and to maintain or regain its already-weakening dominance in the region. For instance, it vigorously pressed for the resumption of Palestine-Israel talk, adopted a more pragmatic and cautious attitude towards the changes in the transition countries in the region. In addition, by using the chemical weapon issue as an excuse, Obama sought a solution to the Syrian crisis from the treat of military action. The president also adopted flexible diplomacy on the Iranian issue and showed his willingness to break the ice and ease the decades of confrontation in the US-Iran ties in response to the olive branches from new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
All these adjustments in the U.S. Middle East policy reflect its overall strategic interests. The Middle East, due to its unique geopolitics and energy resources, contains a great strategic importance to any big powers. The Iran nuclear program and the Palestine-Israel issues are the current focus of the U.S. diplomacy in the region. From a strategic point of view, the U.S. Middle East policy concentrates on: securing its own security interests and defending its allies and partners; guaranteeing the safety and smooth operation of the energy passage; preventing the spread of terrorism in the region; and prohibiting the research and development and the use of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons in Syria and Iran’s nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Middle East diplomacy is under grave challenges as the current development in the region fails to body out the lofty goal set during Obama’s first term of office, which attempted to promote the democratic process and the reconciliation of the Islamic world. Many people have realized that the contraction policy in the Middle East among Obama’s “rebalancing” strategy only contributed to a recent upsurge of political unrests and other dramatic changes in the region. Furthermore, they argue that the U.S. should review the serious defects and inherent contradictions within its policy as it promotes compulsive military interventions in other countries by bypassing the United Nations, ignoring the international laws and applying “multi-standards.” Some analysts even believed that the strong and unprecedented action of Saudi Arabia in refusing the seat in the UN Security Council is a “clear signal to air their protest” by some Middle East countries against the U.S. foreign policy in the region.
The voice of Saudi Arabia should not be ignored. The Middle East, after the “Arab Spring,” has been plunged into a long winter of instability and turmoil. Amid the brouhaha in the region, the Gulf States have become the “safety island” and stabilizer in the Arab world with their stable domestic situation and healthy economic and social development. In April, the author visited three Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar – in the capacity of the Chinese special envoy to the Middle East, and was very much impressed by their accomplishments.
The UN obviously plays an irreplaceable role in the Middle East as the most important international organization. China and the United States, the two permanent members of the Security Council, both have played positive roles in promoting peace, security, prosperity and development in the Middle East. Regarding the Middle East, while China and the US disagree on a few issues, they often share a great amount of common interests in the fields of fighting against terrorism, prohibiting weapons of mass destruction, guaranteeing the safety of the maritime passage, seeking political solutions to hot regional issues and achieving stability and economic development in the region.
China and the U.S. therefore should initiate in-depth strategic dialogues and communications on the issues of the Middle East to increase mutual understanding, to seek common grounds and enhance cooperation. They should also work together with the relevant parties to resolve the recent conflicts in the region. The author believes that the China-US cooperation in the Middle East would become an important stepping-stone for the two countries to establish a new type of relationship among big powers.
Wu Sike is a member on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and member on the Foreign Policy Consulting Committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affair.