[26 March 2024] The Hindu Op-ed: China, a ‘want-to-be’ superpower

PYQ Relevance:Mains: 

Q) The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is viewed as a cardinal subset of China’s larger ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative. Give a brief description of CPEC and enumerate the reasons why India has distanced itself from the same. (UPSC IAS/2018) 

Q) ‘China is using its economic relations and positive trade surplus as tools to develop potential military power status in Asia’, In the light of this statement, discuss its impact on India as her neighbor. (UPSC IAS/2017) 


Southeast Asia has captivated the attention of the global community over space and time as a geostrategically significant region. Which among the following is the most convincing explanation for this global perspective?  (UPSC IAS/2011) 

a) It was the hot theatre during the Second World War
b) Its location between the Asian powers of China and India
c) It was the arena of superpower confrontation during the Cold War period
d) Its location between the Pacific and Indian Oceans and its pre-eminent maritime character


Prelims: International Relations;

Mains: International Relations;

Mentor comments: The enmity between Iran, a Shia-majority theocracy, and Saudi Arabia, a Sunni-majority absolute monarchy, has been one of the dominant drivers of conflicts in the region. The Saudi-Iran reconciliation in a China-brokered agreement reflects the new reality in West Asia where old rivals are warming up to each other and Beijing is increasingly willing to play a bigger role at a time when the U.S., the region’s traditional great power, is preoccupied with challenges elsewhere. Iran has agreed to prevent attacks against Saudi Arabia, including those from the Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen, and both countries would restore full diplomatic relations, which were severed in 2016. The later years saw the Arab world and Israel, faced with the common Iran challenge, deepening their cooperation, despite Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine territory. As the U.S. has deprioritized West Asia — it is now heavily focused on Ukraine and countering China’s Indo-Pacific influence — its allies in West Asia have started looking out for solutions for what they see as America’s diminishing security guarantees. This agreement also marks Dragon’s arrival on the Sand as a power broker.

Let’s learn. 

Why in the News?

Chinese strategy in West Asia seems aimed at working steadily to translate its economic clout in the region into geopolitical clout in the medium term.


  • On 9 October, two days after the horrific Hamas attack, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Mao Ning, said China had been “deeply saddened” by the civilian casualties and opposes and condemns acts that harm civilians. She did not refer to Hamas by name and went on to add that it was “essential to restart the peace talks, implement the two-state solution, and settle the Palestine question fully and properly through political means.”
  • However, it has adopted a seemingly neutral stance, refusing to name Hamas in its condemnation of the violence there and reiterating its known positions on the need for a two-state solution to the Palestine issue.
  • It aims to ensure that it maintains its traction with the Arab states of the region, who are once again focused on the Palestinian issue.

What are the present aims of Beijing?

  • Diplomatic aims: In early 2023, Wang Yi gave his endorsement to a plan to set up a new China-backed International Mediation Organization headquartered in Hong Kong. Countries like Algeria, Belarus, Cambodia, Djibouti, Indonesia, Laos, Pakistan, Serbia, and Sudan were signatories to the initial statement as a preparatory office was launched.
  • Infrastructural Aims: The Chinese establishment hopes to link the mediation initiative to its expansive economic corridor, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI has extensive membership in West Asia as well, with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE among others being part of China’s economic highways.
  • Exceptional country: Israel, being heavily reliant on the United States for its security, is not a signatory. However, Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aired the fact last year that China had invited him for a state visit.

Efforts made by the Chinese government in West Asia to be a ‘Superpower’:

  • Multilateral Peace Talks: China has been involved in the Iran nuclear deal (2015) peace talks (from which the U.S. unilaterally withdrew in 2018), but this is the first time Beijing is using its leverage directly to bring conflicting parties to reconciliation.
  • Chinese concern: Stability in West Asia, a major energy source, is essential for China, which is the world’s largest oil importer. And unlike the U.S., which has hostile ties with Iran, Beijing enjoys good ties with Tehran and Riyadh, as a leading oil buyer and trading partner, respectively.
  • West Asian Scenario: Saudi Arabia, which is undergoing rapid changes, wants peace in its neighborhood, while Iran, which is under U.S.-imposed sanctions, wants more diplomatic and economic openings. Hence if this agreement holds towards its capacity, it will have far-reaching implications on regional geopolitics, from peace in Yemen to stability in Lebanon.

Dilemma on Chinese Government stand: China’s absence in the Red Sea crisis

  • Beijing’s role in the Saudi-Iran agreement: The war in Gaza has drawn strong red lines between China and Israel. This raises interesting questions about the exact role Beijing played in the Saudi-Iran issue. The probability of China being pulled into the process by Riyadh and Tehran, rather than actively brokering a deal, remains high.
  • Efforts made by Western players: China has also been absent through the crisis in the Red Sea, where predominantly Western naval forces have attempted to maintain the free flow of trade in this critical waterway. Contrarily, Yemen-based Houthis were not targeting Chinese and Russian ships.
  • China’s crafty diplomacy: These two incidents show China’s diplomacy was to predominantly protect its interests and not wade into the crisis as an influential power looking to use its position to broker peace or even a ceasefire. Much of this kind of actual heavy lifting remains at the doorsteps of the White House.

What is China’s actual role in the more challenging geopolitical regions such as West Asia?

  • On the Palestinian Issue: Beijing’s support for the Palestinian cause without criticizing Hamas practically aligns with the larger Arab posture. This stands against U.S. support for Israel, which is increasingly being criticized for its absolutist nature.
  • ‘Mediation’ which is non-existent in high-stake conflicts: Following both aims is to counter long-standing American influence and to take advantage of crevasses in regional diplomacy.
    • It aims to position itself as an antithesis to what Beijing sees as decades worth of Western interventionist policies, specifically in a region such as West Asia, where conflict has a direct correlation with colonial history.
    • It aims to increase its own geopolitical weight as a responsible international actor and power.

In Global perspective:

  • West Asia (or the Middle East) is emerging as a premier playground for these new geopolitical fissures as Arab states look to renegotiate their historical relations with the United States.
  • Beyond these regional trends, the global order is also under duress. The US today is increasingly discussed, in the words of former US Secretary of Defense Robert M Gates, as a “dysfunctional superpower”.
  • The frameworks of Multipolarity, Multilateralism, and Minilateralism are being re-shaped and re-constructed amid issues of climate change, food security, and global health.

Conclusion: In all of these, Beijing’s role is not insular nor is it avoidable as it continues to be an economic and military power, the world’s biggest factory and consumer, and more than often the refiner of natural resources.




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