China is not Russia or Iran
- Neither vengeful nor ideological, the Middle Kingdom is a status quo power because it benefits from the international security and trade systems, as well as globalisation, more than any single country in this century
These days, among Western analysts, China, Russia and Iran are frequently lumped together.
Actually, they have little in common, China especially. At least you can argue that Russia is a revanchist power while Iran is a theocracy. And why wouldn’t they be hostile? Both countries have suffered real or perceived grievances at the hands of the West and are hostile to the existing US-led global order. In terms of national wealth, power and prestige, both have failed to benefit from it, but are rather crushed by it.
Not the Middle Kingdom. No single country has derived more benefits from riding on globalisation and international trade in the past three decades than China. Ironically, the collapse of the Soviet Union made all that possible.
Measured in terms of the United Nations index of human development, ordinary Russians and Iranians today have barely improved, and in many categories, actually slipped when compared to their parents and grandparents in 1991 and 1979.
China scores much higher in all but a handful of categories in the past three decades. In fact, if you take out China’s highly successful poverty eradication programme, world poverty in the aggregate has barely budged.
China has, therefore, every reason to be a status quo power. So, how come all three countries are so often linked together? China does not want to challenge or overturn the system, it only wants a greater say than what the United States and the West are willing to concede. That’s a real conflict.
But even this does not fully explain the US-led hostility against the trio. The US chooses to make them enemies. After 9/11, Iranians held vigils for the American victims of al-Qaeda; the mayor of Tehran sent his condolences to his New York counterpart.
Iraq under Saddam Hussein was originally intended to be a bulwark against Iranian expansionism in the Middle East. Once Saddam was removed, how did the US expect the Iranian leadership to behave now it had rejected any possibility of entente or even detente?
Former Nato secretary general George Robertson recently acknowledged Vladimir Putin had asked for membership but was told off. Instead, Nato admitted the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Croatia and Albania – former Soviet satellites or allies one and all. Russia has behaved exactly as you would expect ever since.
America’s enemies are not born, but made.