Saturday, June 17, 2006

China and Iran: a perfect match

China and Iran: a perfect match

Taipei Times Editorial

Saturday, Jun 17, 2006

Those who argue that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a dangerous zealot have plenty of resources to back this opinion, not the least being his call for the destruction of Israel. Such is the extreme nature of his language that potential sympathizers in the West who are more hostile to the US and/or Israel are forced to openly back Washington's position of support for Israel's right to exist.

Ahmadinejad's language and policies, combined with Iran's defense of its nuclear program in the face of warnings from the US and the UN, have been threatening to upstage the mess in Iraq as the prospect of a wider conflict in the Middle East grows.

Russia and China have stepped in as mediators; both have substantial oil interests in the region to boost their utility, as this week's Shanghai Cooperation Organization reveals most vividly.

But more than this, China has an interest in fortifying and building an alternative network of diplomatic links to counter US influence.

In decades gone by, China's rhetoric of socialist revolution in Africa, Asia and other developing regions was largely offset by its diplomatic isolation and the turmoil of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Today, it has abandoned any consistent position on what other countries should and should not do in terms of governance; all that matters is what other governments do to benefit China. In other words: Anything goes if you show us the money.

This is why Ahmadinejad can have the audacity to ask for an "impartial" and "independent" investigation into the Holocaust while on Chinese soil. The Chinese ought to be outraged and ashamed at such putrid remarks being aired in their country by a foreign leader, but in fact shame is not relevant to the Chinese in this instance. The anti-Semitism of Chinese philosophers and reformers in the last 100 years or so may help explain why Ahmadinejad's comments might be considered unremarkable in that country -- by party officials or the average peasant.

All in all, it seems, the Iranians are fundamentalists and the Chinese are godless pragmatists. Yet the present Iranian regime is more of a Beijing soul mate than perhaps Beijing would want the US to realize.

Iran is only interested in the fate of the Palestinian territories to the extent that it involves the humiliation or worse of Israel; the fortunes of Palestinians as a nation-in-waiting or individual Palestinians are of as much interest to Tehran as they are to Israel-lobby hardliners in Washington.

Iran's dealings with China also turn a blind eye to the sufferings of Uighurs in Xinjiang. Iran's would-be championing of the interests of Islam and Muslims rings terribly hollow the moment that it rubs up against Iranian national interests. In this, Tehran is not that different to the much more secular Iraqi regime under former president Saddam Hussein.

China, meanwhile, is doing everything it can to portray itself as a can-do country with economic clout and unlimited growth potential. But it is also delighted to do deals with the most vicious governments imaginable -- Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Sudan, North Korea and many others.

There is an ugly truth that underlies this amorality. China has an object of zeal that is as fundamentalist and intractable as anything Iran can come up with: a race-based dream of global pre-eminence and a belief that it is entitled to far more than it is capable of achieving for itself. Taiwan is merely one of the non-negotiable elements in this sickly fantasy.

When we read of the Chinese president giving his Iranian counterpart a "warm welcome," we can be sure of this: there was genuine warmth. Therein lies the strongest possible warning signal for the US and other nations who do not swallow the "peaceful rise" of the Central Kingdom.


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