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  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 10:05pm
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 December, 2013, 5:38am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 December, 2013, 5:38am

Iran nuclear accord, China's new air zone will affect the world profoundly

Philip Bowring says the nuclear accord between Iran and the West, plus China's expanded air defence zone, promise to have a long-term bearing on the entire global community


Philip Bowring has been based in Asia for 39 years writing on regional financial and political issues. He has been a columnist for the South China Morning Post since the mid-1990s and for the International Herald Tribune from 1992 to 2011. He also contributes regularly to the Wall Street Journal, www.asiasentinel.com, a website of which he is a founder, and elsewhere. Prior to 1992 he was with the weekly Far Eastern Economic Review, latterly as editor.

The past week has seen two events with major long-term consequences for the world; one positive, the other equally negative. First, the good news. The preliminary accord between Iran and major powers, not least the United States, may just be the beginning of a long, torturous process. But it does show a recognition by the US that a workable relationship with Iran is essential for any hope of stability in the Middle East, a region whose religious and ethnic quarrels spill over into Russia and China, among others.

Significantly, the only two countries upset by America's acceptance of the need for dialogue with Tehran have been those uncomfortable allies-by-default, Zionist Israel and Wahabist Saudi Arabia, the tails that for so long have wagged the American dog in the Middle East.

They are now protesting that this represents a US retreat from the region, as though larger and older central Asian countries such as Turkey and Iran were less important than Israel, a state created by Western imperialism, and Saudi Arabia, a socially backward tribal assemblage using oil wealth to promote medieval religious practices throughout the Muslim world. Imagine Saudi Arabia with oil at US$40 a barrel!

Recognition that Iran, a civilisation and state as old as China, has as much right to nuclear power - or weapons - as its neighbours should have come long ago. But such was the animosity between Iran and the US after the Islamic revolution of 1978 that the West encouraged Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980, just as it sponsored Islamist insurgency against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and has ever since been reaping the consequences.

The possibility of any US-Iran rapprochement - even though the US needed Tehran's help in Iraq and Afghanistan - during the presidency of the moderate Mohammad Khatami was ruled out by the crude simplicities of the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney era. Then it was ruled out by the moronic rhetoric and empty threats of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, enraging the West and providing nuclear-armed Israel with cover for its illegal expansion into Palestinian territory.

It is too early to say "three cheers" to the tentative accord. US congressional ignorance and susceptibility to ethnic and religious lobbies may provide stumbling blocks. President Hassan Rowhani may be checked by the Revolutionary Guard and other forces in Iran.

As the nuclear issue has become the immediate focus of Iran, it must be dealt with. Only then can there be some gradual movement to finding common ground with Iran on the need to reverse the drift towards the large- scale breakdown of the state system in the region in the face of Sunni-Shia, Arab-Persian, Turk-Kurd and other conflicts. These are tearing apart Syria, prevent a stable government in Iraq and could threaten the oil-rich Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, where religious conflicts lurk close to the surface. Looking at the region, it is quite likely that, in 20 years, only Iran and Turkey will have the borders they enjoy today. The rest of the region is still struggling with the legacy of the final collapse of the Ottoman empire. So the nuclear accord is the first good news for a long time.

The bad news was without question China's massive expansion of its air zone. At one level, this means little. It has no standing in international law or treaties, and can and will be ignored by many, not least the US and Japan. But it is another example of how China has been unilaterally laying claim to hegemony over waters, and now sky, far from its own shores and close to the territorial waters of others. To make Japan the target of this move obviously goes down well with nationalistic circles in the military and among a public fed versions of history which assume hegemony. But it has left even the South Koreans, currently drumming up their own anti-Japan rhetoric, upset. China's unilateral demarcation line goes close to the territorial waters off Jeju, the large Korean island which lies off the peninsula but 400 kilometres from the coast of China.

The attitudes which China is applying in the East China Sea could equally be applied in the Yellow Sea, impacting North as well as South Korea and almost the whole South China Sea, claiming jurisdiction close to Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. China may see itself as only having an issue with Japan - and by extension the US. Neighbours may see it as continuing the expansion of the Chinese empire during the Qing dynasty - the incorporation of Manchuria, Taiwan, Xinjiang and part of Mongolia.

Two years ago, China alarmed its Southeast Asian neighbours with its aggressive moves in the South China Sea. It has since shown a more co-operative face to all except the Philippines, and bought time and smiles with trade and investment. But the latest demonstration of its will has not gone unnoticed, strengthening Japan's resolve to be a regional friend - contrary to many Chinese and Western illusions. Japan is not hated in much of Southeast Asia, where its 1941 victories ended European empires. It can only reinforce America's "pivot" to Asia and intensify India's search for eastern allies.

China has drawn some very specific lines on the map from which it cannot now retreat without loss of face beyond Beijing's capability.

Philip Bowring is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator


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This article is now closed to comments

Dear Mr. Great and Wonderful Bowring, please call upon your vast personal experiences of 1941 together with your advanced formal education to explain how the rape, pillage, torture and suffering inflicted by the Japanese Imperial Army on the peoples of Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam (Indo-China at the time), China and Korea were welcomed by those people, who died by the millions, as liberating them from “European empires”.
Daily, I thank Almighty God you have no power, do not make policy for any nation and are becoming such an embarrassment to the SCMP you will soon be asked to retire.
"Recognition that Iran, a civilisation and state as old as China, has as much right to nuclear power - or weapons - as its neighbours should have come long ago " What's this? A state that wants to wipe out the state of Israel and has the official motto of "Death to America" has a right to nuclear power. Mr Bowring, access to nuclear power should be kept from rouge regimes where ever possible. What relevance does Iran's past glories to access to nuclear weapons today?
According to the late Carl Sagan, there are many potential locations in the universe that could have created intelligent life and that could have contacted earth, yet none of them have. Sagan concluded that it was likely that these intelligent life forms had gone extinct. Unlimited access to nuclear weapons on the part of rogue regimes could lead to such an occurence hear on earth. The ability to create such terrible weapons must be balanced with the need to respect the interests of all mankind. Iran's fanatic rulers show no such interest.
" Iran, a civilisation and state as old as China, has as much right to nuclear power - or weapons..."
WHAT? A RIGHT? Some confusion about what rights are here. Why not pick the most loony dictators in the world and say they have the same right? What has the age of a 'civilisation' got to do with it?
China is a fascist dictatorship bent on undermining the free world by bribery, cajolery, subterfuge and, if necessary, force. It must be stopped and contained. The only way to do it is for the West to disengage from investing in or trading with it.
How come you do not criticise America (the leading democracy in your West) as a genocidal hegemon for killing so many innocent men/women/children & displacing millions with their invasions & wars? I guess it’s OK with you as long as the Americans do not kill your folks or invade your country. There are still people/children that are suffering from the effects of Agent Orange which they dropped in Vietnam & Laos. What’s more, they are still at it in Syria and with their Asia pivot, I urge you to sell that flat in HK pronto before their drones drop a bomb on it & make it valueless.
Does the editor speak English? Recently, the paper has embarrassed itself with some howlers in Alex Lo's column. Now we have Brit Bowring writing "torturous" when he means "tortuous". Aiyahyah!
the US are still killing babies and children in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq today.. they are still doing this in the name of freedom and human rights!!!!
do we really think these yanks worship God just because they know Gods name?
The middle east is a tempest of anger, accusations and war. If it’s not Afghanistan, it’s Turkey, if not Turkey, Syria, if not Syria, it’s Iran, etc... The wars and many other problems are raging all around the world today because these are the end times the Bible has been warning us about for thousands of years. This is the first time frame in history where we have so many end times prophecies occurring at the same time. Earthquakes in diverse places, wars and rumors of wars, starvation, illnesses, and people traveling to and fro and knowledge increased. In just the last few decades man has started traveling in mass by means of flight. Our homes have pluming and heating, electric lights, cloths washers, dish washers, TV's and computers, and the BIG one,,, Israel is back as a nation.The rapture of the Church is on the verge of taking place. When that happens there will be no Christians in the world for a brief time and the antichrist will quickly take control of a new one world government. I wrote a book in 2012 that discusses some of the prophecies written about in the Bible. It’s a short read of 6 or 7 pages and it’s totally free. I hope you will have a look: ****www.booksie.com/religion_and_spirituality/book/richard_b_barnes/after-the-rapture-whats-next
well i'll be chanting "Death to America" after watching those B-52s flying over my head :) there is a reason why the US is hated around the world u know..


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