Discover more from The Signal
Biden’s folly, Xi’s boon
The war in Gaza opens up new opportunities for China in the Middle East
Good morning! As the Israel-Hamas war intensifies and US president Joe Biden faces mounting criticism for his pro-Israel stance—not least in the form of lawsuits against his administration filed by various Palestinian petitioners in the US—Beijing may have several cards left to play. Apart from brokering a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Chinese president Xi Jinping may have other West Asian countries warm up to him as the Global South inches towards a multipolar world. Much of this is the US’ own doing. Decades of Washington-backed wars and upheavals in the volatile region have exposed its (and the western world’s) double standards on democracy and sovereignty. Will Xi grab the opportunity? Also in today’s edition: our longread picks of the week.
This situation undermines the West’s international standing and offers opportunities for China to enhance its regional and global diplomatic influence. Whether and how it will seize them remains to be seen.
Led by the United States, the West has presented itself as following a “rules-based liberal international order” that ostensibly protects human rights and international norms.
On this basis, the West has opposed Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine. However, it isn’t applying these rules to Israel and Palestinians.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. supports a humanitarian pause but not a ceasefire. The White House says Israel has now agreed to four-hour daily pauses in military operations in Gaza.
Most western governments have thrown their support behind Israel as it launches a devastating attack on Gaza. In response to Hamas’s brutal attack and hostage-takings on Oct. 7, Israel has bombed schools, hospitals, ambulances, refugee camps, bakeries, mosques, churches, flattened neighbourhoods and killed thousands of people, possibly 40 per cent of them children.
UN Secretary General António Guterres has said “Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children.” About 1,300 children are believed buried under rubble. Hospitals are collapsing. The perception in the Global South is that Palestinian lives are virtually worthless to the West.
Some western governments’ efforts to censor and criminalize public demonstrations supporting Palestinians adds another perceived dimension of hypocrisy to the West’s actions.
Even mild statements of support for Palestinians can be enough to endanger peoples’ careers, especially in the U.S.
A boon to China?
In this environment, the war in Gaza provides China with diplomatic and political opportunities.
From the Chinese perspective, one political benefit is that the U.S. has lost any credibility in its criticism of China’s treatment of the Uyghur people.
The U.S. argues that Israel has the right to protect itself from terrorism. China has claimed the same right in its oppression of the Uyghurs of Xinjiang.
China’s actions against the Uyghurs are certainly disturbing, but they aren’t as devastating as what Israel is doing to Palestinians. And unlike Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, Xinjiang is China’s sovereign territory.
Four Middle Eastern countries have joined BRICS, the international forum representing the world’s rising powers founded by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Saudi Arabia is also considering selling China oil in its own currency, the yuan.
Ongoing American efforts under President Joe Biden to normalise relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel were partly motivated by fear of China’s diplomatic and economic progress in the Middle East.
Some have argued this American attempt to bypass the Palestinians may have played a role in Hamas’s attack on Israel. The U.S. has fomented conflict in the Middle East to keep the Islamic world divided and empower Israel, in contrast to China’s imperative for regional stability.
The U.S. has promoted the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor to enhance its presence in the Middle East, more fully integrate Israel into the regional economy and counteract China’s growing regional influence.
But Arab states don’t share the American desire to contain China. They prefer a multi-polar world where they can leverage several larger powers against each other and increase their own global geopolitical influence.
The longer Israel’s assault on Gaza continues, the higher the civilian death toll climbs and the more politically difficult it will be for the Arab world to co-operate with Israel or the U.S. That will push the Gulf states even closer to China.
In the current Gaza conflict, China has emphasized the need to avoid civilian casualties while rejecting Israel’s demand that it specifically condemn Hamas. China’s position reflects the consensus of the Global South, which considers the recent historical context of the conflict and Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
The Israel-Gaza war is also distracting the U.S. from the Indo-Pacific region, further working to China’s advantage.
The U.S. appears unprepared to use its leverage over Israel to force it to accept a two-state solution. Any Israeli government that tried to move huge numbers of illegal settlers out of their settlements would face massive domestic criticism, even a potential civil war.
China’s diplomatic successes in the Middle East have involved reconciling states that were already inching towards restoring relations. Nonetheless, China could position itself as the superpower that champions the interests of the Arab world and the perspective of the Global South in future negotiations.
Is China willing to play a more active role in the Israel-Palestine dispute? It may be tempted to let the U.S. stew in a problem of its own making, but regional peace and stability benefits China’s economic development.
Shaun Narine is Professor of International Relations and Political Science, St. Thomas University (Canada).
This article is republished from https://theconversation.com under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article at https://theconversation.com/the-war-in-gaza-opens-up-new-opportunities-for-china-in-the-middle-east-216392
Season’s greetings: Back in June, we kicked off our weekly podcast TechTonic Shift with an episode about (the lack of) smartphone innovation. In the months since, hosts Roshni Nair and Rajneil Kamath have scratched their heads, rubbed their chins, debated, and bantered about current technological booms and busts that will determine life in the future. AI is a no-brainer, yes, but sweeping changes have also taken place in the realms of dating tech, social media, manufacturing, space tech, and ride-hailing. And those topics comprise just six episodes. In the 20th and final episode of this season, we tie a neat bow on the year up until festive season. If you’re a newcomer to TechTonic Shift, head to Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts to binge listen. Stay tuned yall. We’ll brb.
The cult of mediocre masculinity: Yes, another one. This time it’s built by British comedian Russell Brand. The 48-year-old has amassed legions of (mostly male) fans with his podcasts and shows that offer a rather adolescent model of masculinity: always rebellious, given to conspiracy theories, and heavily influenced by American reactionary-right idols like Joe Rogan. But (predictably), Brand has been hit by a series of sexual assault allegations. They may jeopardise his career but for now, they have prompted his loyal fans to rush to his defence. It has also pushed him further into his cult-like persona as he fends off the fallout of the allegations, including a cancelled tour. This story in The New York Times details Brand’s transformation into yet another conspiracy theorist-cum-cult leader as an attempt to shield oneself in the post-#MeToo era. One must worry for young men though; how many times will they fall for a tattooed man with sexual offence allegations and a recycled doctrine?
Grocer for the deluded: A cult without an uncanny origin story? Puh-leeze. Joining the list is Erewhon, a grocery shop in LA you probably might’ve never heard of but is the darling of the Hollywood elite. Known for its alternate/fad food and drink selections, customers can expect offerings like flavoured tonics with ground-up ants. But before becoming a phenomenon, Erewhon was a movement to spread the word of an ideologue, George Ohsawa, and his teachings called the Unique Principle. The Principle is rather expansive: it ranges from eating whole grains and shunning sugar, meat, and milk to bizarre dictums like increasing salt, encouraging smoking, and urging women to urinate twice a day. Erewhon’s original founders Aveline Yokoyam and Michio Kushi played a pivotal role in increasing its popularity. To understand more of this phenomenon and its enduring legacy on the health movement in the US, read this feature in The Cut.
Powering up: Indonesia is set to be the world’s sixth largest economy by 2027. The resource-rich archipelagic country is also South East Asia’s largest by population as well as area. Much of the credit for its recent economic growth goes to its popular President Joko Widodo. Jokowi, as he is popularly known, assumed office in 2014 and since then, the country has grown at an average 5% annually. But his most memorable legacy is likely to be Indonesia’s new $32 billion capital under construction in Kalimantan. It will replace the sinking Jakarta, infamous for its floods and traffic. Half the city lies below sea level and the whole megapolis is likely to go underwater if ocean levels continue to rise. Much of the country’s economic rise depends on resources—coal, palm oil, and nickel. The last of them, nickel, is an essential metal for batteries. As demand for battery storage skyrockets, so does demand for nickel. And that is key to Indonesia’s economy. That’s why the Financial Times asks whether it can be the next economic superpower.
Hunting wrecks: Deep sea treasure hunting is a fascinating endeavour, one that can pay handsomely or net nothing. It is estimated that there are over three million wrecks on ocean floors. It is prohibitively expensive and almost always comes with legal wrangles spread across countries, institutions, communities and individuals. Bloomberg Businessweek details the handiwork of 43-year-old Anthony Clake, a British hedge fund executive whose Cayman Islands company Ocean Infinity has done about 30 salvages, the most famous of them being the well preserved HMS Endurance that was fished out of icy Antarctic waters. Until now, Clake and his enterprise were hidden and he was identified only as “the unknown salvor” or the “originator”. Clake’s significant innovation in deep-sea mapping and artefact recovery is extreme automation, which helps him map vast areas of the seabed in days that would otherwise take months. The company helped search for the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and managed to cover as much area in five months as others covered in two years.
Not all it’s cracked out to be: Spoiler alert: “The fakes aren’t deep, and the deeps aren’t fake” is the takeaway in this book review in The New Yorker. The book in question is computer scientist Walter J. Scheirer’s upcoming A History of Fake Things on the Internet, which argues that AI-generated deepfakes aren’t as deceptive as we fear they are. Or rather, we aren’t as convinced by deepfakes as we assume. Not yet, anyway. Scheirer (and reviewer) Daniel Immerwahr travel back in time and walk us through a century-long history of technological deceit, where photo manipulation was used and abused by both photographers and people in power. Consider that Arthur Conan Doyle—whose most famous fictional protagonist Sherlock Holmes is the epitome of logic and deduction—himself was fooled by the Cottingley Fairies series of doctored photographs. Or that so many Americans believed Orson Welles’ 1938 radio drama The War Of The Worlds to be literal. The point is that although the internet is populated by deepfakes (and will be even more so in the foreseeable future), we as a people have fallen for the digital proliferation of fake news even in the pre-AI era. That may be, but one still believes deepfakes not holding sway today doesn’t mean they won’t hold sway tomorrow. 🤷🏾♀️
Peak craziness: This is an oldie (if you consider four month-old content stale) but a goodie. Most remember the 1960s for the counterculture movement, the Vietnam War, the JFK assassination, and arguably one of the best decades for music. Older Indians also warily recall India’s wars against China and Pakistan. Sandwiched between Mao’s Beijing and Ayub Khan’s Islamabad, India was particularly vulnerable in a world gripped by Cold War paranoia. After the defeat in the 1962 Sino-Indian War, a bruised India looked on as Mao Zedong started testing nukes in the Xinjiang region. The US was also watching closely. Not long after, the two countries hatched a bonkers plan: assemble a team of elite mountaineers and spies from both countries and install a nuclear-powered monitoring device on the summit of Nanda Devi, India’s second-highest mountain. Over 20 episodes, Audible Original podcast The Nanda Devi Mystery walks us through a tumultuous time in Indian history—one where the US’ CIA and India’s Intelligence Bureau teamed up in several ways to try and counter China. To be fair, the podcast could’ve been a few episodes shorter, but the narration and attention to detail trump all else. That’s because it’s based on expedition leader Mohan Singh Kohli’s tell-all book, Spies In The Himalayas: Secret Missions And Perilous Climbs.
Oh btw, the Nanda Devi expedition wasn’t a success. The nuclear device went missing and remains lost in the snow nearly 60 years on. How the hell did that happen? Tune in to find out.