“Jews and Arabs should settle their differences in a Christian manner.” That famous line by Charels Durning, the Governor of Texas, in Colin Higgins’ film, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, received a bit of tweak during the recent visit to the Middle East of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Now it appears that Iranians and Arabs might settle their differences in a Chinese manner.
Xi’s just-concluded visit to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran reveals the most spectacular difference between the Chinese version of international relations and the manner in which the United States and its European allies go about making a mess of things by trying to micro-manage the world.
The Chinese president visited Egypt at a time when Egyptians were gearing up to mark the fifth anniversary of their January 2011 revolution, and he visited Saudi Arabia and Iran at a time when the relations between the two countries was at its historic low, endangering any remote possibility of a peaceful resolution to the bloody Syrian mayhem.
But he seemed to be entirely oblivious to all such otherwise historic traumas as he single-mindedly pushed his country’s economic interests.
Business is business
Xi visited these leading Arab and Iranian capitals at a time when the plunge in the Chinese economy had forced a shut down of its stock market and caused Beijing to further devalue its currency.
“That in itself is sending an ominous message to investors”, according to analysts, for “all the government’s stimulus efforts simply aren’t working”.
Xi obviously had his own economic reasons and agenda when he visited the US in September 2015 or the UK in October, and his quick visit to the Arab and Muslim world. More to the point, he seemed oblivious to the dominant political problems of the region. How could that be?
With the lifting of economic sanctions, unfreezing of billions of Iranian money, and the passing of recent legislation that punishes anyone ... visiting Iran, the US government has effectively shot itself in the foot...
For the Chinese, “business is business” – an entirely American dictum that the Chinese have warmed up to, apparently savouring more than Americans these days.
With the lifting of economic sanctions, unfreezing of billions of Iranian money, and the passing of recent legislation that punishes anyone including businessmen visiting Iran, the US government has effectively shot itself in the foot and given the Iranian market like a bunny rabbit gift basket to the Chinese to enjoy. With contracts worth $600bn the Chinese gratefully accepted the gift.
The Chinese pivot into the mess of what the US and the European Union imperialist strategists have termed their “Middle East” is now a rising indicator of a calamitous region reduced to unrecognisable ruin by the US and its European and regional allies by way of overriding economic developments by political domination.
Mapping the world
As the thing that calls itself “the West” tries to conquer the world politically to rule it economically, the Chinese are doing exactly the opposite: Mapping the world in economic detail from which may emerge a bona fide political order.
The Chinese leadership do not as much ignore as sidestep the political conundrum of the region. It does not interest them. They have a gargantuan economy to run, and to run it they must cross over their borders deep into Asia, Africa, Latin America, including the US and EU. They did not create the bloody mess in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan to try to fix it. The US and its allies did – and they can never fix it.
According to the BBC: “Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he and Mr Xi had signed a ‘comprehensive 25-year document’ on strategic relations. They also discussed terrorism, instability in the Middle East, as well as ‘science, modern technology, culture, tourism … security and defence issues.”
Rouhani is here trying to sell the Chinese economic interest in terms of Iranian political preferences. But the Chinese could not care less. That 25-year document, 17 contracts, and $600bn price tag is what interests them most.
The Chinese indulging in the neoliberal economic logic of globalisation, to be sure, will in no shape or form correct its destructive forces stacked up against the poorer nations, or against the poorer segments of the richer nations.
But at least they sport no political hubris in spreading their economic priorities, nor do they fancy any moral manifesto of trying to fix the calamities afflicting the region.
A bit of nonchalant Chinese “business is business” attitude is perhaps what the boiling Arab-Iranian tensions now badly needs.
The Chinese want to buy their oil as cheaply as possible, sell their own goods and services back to them as expensively as possible, and in the process make sure the navigational routes between the East and South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf remain safe, sound, and trouble-free. What mess the US and its EU and regional allies have created inland is their “business”.
The Chinese are beating “the West” at its own game without any “End of History” fanfare or any “Class of Civilization” hot air.
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.