John W. Garver, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and an expert on China’s foreign policy, said China can uphold friendly relations with all Middle Eastern countries without challenging the role the United States has assumed in the volatile region.
Garver, who spoke as part of a lecture series hosted by the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, said China’s economy is, has been, and is certain to remain dependent on export markets. As the U.S. carries the “biggest stick” in the global capitalist system, he said, China depends upon the U.S. for access to western markets and technology.
For economic reasons alone, Garver said China wants to avoid political competition with the U.S. in the Middle East.
The U.S. repeatedly has asked China for diplomatic assistance in the Middle East, and China has agreed on occasion, mostly when it has suited its interest in maintaining neutrality in the region. Beginning with the Iran hostage crisis that started in 1979, China cut a fine line condemning both the kidnapping and the attempted use of force by the Americans. In the Iran-Iraq War, China supplied weapons to both sides but was Iran’s primary arms supplier. China did not back down from this position despite U.S. demands, according to Garver.
From a policy perspective, Garver said China views U.S. military actions in the region over the past two decades as fallout from the Cold War, during which an unopposed super power has sought to take possession of the region’s oil.
Though China continues its “strategic cooperation” with the U.S., the Chinese have a low opinion of American policy in the Middle East. Garver emphasized this point, referring to Chinese analysts with whom he had spoken.
“The underlying Chinese belief,” he said, “is that American policies are ill-considered, wrong-headed, and not wise.”
Garver said Chinese commentators believe the American drive for “hegemony” is simplistic, and the attempt to impose western values will fail at immense cost.
The Chinese do not believe that the religiosity of the Islamic Middle East can, or even should, be weakened. China believes, according to Garver, in a pluralistic world, where one area should not try to impose its beliefs on others.
Garver’s lecture provided a far more disciplined view of Chinese foreign policy than the nation is often given credit for.
It was “interesting to hear about Chinese policy from someone who is not speaking from a strictly American point of view,” Caitlin S. Pendleton ’15 said.