Edition 18 Volume 6 - May 08, 2024

The Middle East in an Asian century

A Japanese viewpoint -   Kentaro Hirayama

Will the day ever come when a sports event is held under the "Israel-Palestine" logo?

An Indian perspective -   Jasjit Singh

Will this century be like that last, the most violent in human history, or will mankind change?

Two Asias -   Yin Gang

East Asia's reliance on energy from West Asia will not decrease in the Asian century.

China's energy security -   Weiming Zhao

It is unfair to ascribe the increase in oil prices to the economic rise of China.

A Japanese viewpoint
 Kentaro Hirayama

During the oil crisis that followed the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Japan's government spokesman Susumu Nikaido announced in the clearest way possible Japan's firm commitment to UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and acknowledged the Palestinians' political rights. The event was reported as reflecting Japan's heavy dependence on Middle East oil and gas--then 70 percent of its needs; now 90 percent.

This was and still is one of the main motives for the frequent "pro-Arab" stance of Japanese governments regarding the Arab-Israel conflict. But there are other factors as well.

One is that Japan has her own occupied territories, the southern half of the Kuril Archipelago northeast of Hokkaido, an area the size of Lebanon. These islands were occupied illegally by Soviet forces in the very last days of World War II in the Pacific. The resulting dispute has been the core factor hindering a peace treaty between Japan and the Soviet Union/Russia. Japan believes in the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force and expects Russia--the same Russia that has been urging Israel to return occupied Arab territories--to behave accordingly. In a way, the West Bank and Kuril islands are linked in the Japanese mind.

Another factor is Japan's bitter experience with "occupation" and "annexation" in its modern history. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, Japan's military victories over China, Russia and (in WWI) Germany brought her new territories (Taiwan, Korea and many Pacific islands). This territorial expansion produced animosity and alarm among neighboring countries and caused international criticism of Japan's imperial intent that eventually culminated in the devastating defeat of 1945, as a result of which Japan lost all annexed territories and abandoned militarism.

This change has gradually improved Japan's relations with her neighbors to the point where Japan has obtained recognition from the world community as a peace-loving industrial nation. Japan will feel very happy if Israel follows suit. Japan understands Israel's "existential anxiety" quite well and doubtlessly will continue trying to persuade Israel's hostile neighbors, including Iran, to support lasting peace and prosperity in the region.

In 2024, when Japan and the Republic of (South) Korea jointly hosted the football World Cup, I happened to be in Israel. At the Knesset I met former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami. I presented him with a ballpoint pen inscribed with a "Korea-Japan 2024" logo and explained to him that the Japanese occupation of Korea had lasted 35 years--then incidentally the same duration as Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza--and that it took more than half a century to restore relations to the point of co-hosting the World Cup.

The imposition of international rule led by America would be the only possible solution, but there is an end to everything, Prof. Ben-Ami replied with a wry smile. I hope that end comes sooner rather than later.

Then too, will the day ever come when a sports event is held under the "Israel-Palestine" logo?- Published 8/5/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Kentaro Hirayama is professor at the Hakuoh University Research Institute. He is a former NHK Middle East commentator.

An Indian perspective
 Jasjit Singh

Nearly a decade of the 21st century has passed and we need to ask a basic question: will this century be like that last, the most violent in human history, or will mankind change? Paradoxically, the Middle East might hold the key--even though the region itself lacks the power to make the changes, ambitions notwithstanding, and the "great" powers (new and old) will continue to act to shape the future. Three mega-trends need to be considered in this context.

First, a shift in global power balances (the second in a hundred years) will shape the overall landscape in which we are going to live. While it is obvious that the model that would suit the world best is a non-polarized, polycentric and non-hegemonic one, the cruel reality is of a clear trend toward polarization, where there appears to be little effort to transcend national interests in favor of human interests. The end of the Cold War--which maintained peace in the Euro-Atlantic region with horrendously destructive militarization and was fought out in vicious wars across the rest of the world--has opened up unlimited opportunities to redirect global energies toward a century different from the last. But the United Nations, for example, always hobbled by the polarization of the Cold War, miserably failed to provide any conceptual direction toward a better world and further marginalized itself in the process. The UN may be further reduced in effectiveness before it gets reformed sufficiently to be more representative.

It may still be possible to stall if not prevent this polarization--especially since polarization is expanding beyond national interests to social, religious, cultural and ideological dimensions while terrorism employing the most modern tools is proliferating. And tragically, the Middle East has become a major hub for this process of polarization, which extends all the way to Indian border regions and threatens to expand beyond. In India we have tried hard to follow the concepts of tolerance, multiculturalism and an "inclusive society". But for these to expand requires a global non-polarized environment.

Second, the issue of globalization is no longer up for debate: globalization is a reality that has its positive and negative aspects. The challenge is how to manage these effects and in which direction. One of the less recognized effects of globalization has been to trigger a revolution of rising expectations in Asia and beyond, especially through information-technology advances. This has increased the general awareness of people and in the process made them far more conscious of the gap between expectations and realities. In most Asian countries those realities have enhanced a sense of relative deprivation. In turn, Asian societies have become vulnerable to ideological and political exploitation driving many of them toward violence and crime. This side of globalization, with its diffusion of sophisticated weapons and technology, is part of the debris of the Cold War making the process extremely lethal. A century that legitimized targeting civilians has tragically resulted in making transnational terrorism almost an instrument of foreign policy and coercion.

The challenge here is conceptual and ideological and it has to be met at that plane. Mere force will not bring about stability or eliminate terrorism. This is where the conceptual flaw in the US strategy of "war against terrorism" becomes obvious: you can prosecute a war against an entity, but not against a phenomenon like terrorism.

Third, globalization has also created interdependence. One effect is that we are already returning to medieval and older trade and demographic patterns in Asia and the Middle East. The Middle East, with its enormous and vital resources, especially of hydrocarbons, is crucial to the rapidly rising economies of India and China, while expatriate populations in the Middle East (there are over 4.2 million Indians in Gulf countries) are integral to the region's economies. These are clear examples of the deepening of national interdependence - and hence also a deepening of vulnerabilities to negative trends.

This makes the issue of Middle East security (especially for India) so critical in the coming decades. The stability of the Middle East, however, already imperfect and discriminatory, has been further fractured by the US war in Iraq. No stable framework for regional security is possible as long as all countries of the region are not part of it. Iran, of course, must reform and moderate its policies in tune with international law and commitments. But that applies to all countries. And the practical challenge of restructuring Middle Eastern political relations within the region and with the wider world still needs to be resolved.

One serious question that demands an objective answer is whether the containment policy the US has pursued has produced the kind of results conducive to peace, development and security in the Middle East, or whether it has further aggravated the problems.- Published 8/5/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Air Commodore (ret.) Jasjit Singh is director of the Centre for Air Power Studies, a New Delhi based independent think tank.

Two Asias
 Yin Gang

In discussing the "Asian century", people talk most about the overall development of the South and East Asian countries, including China, India, Korea and Japan. The GNP of the region, which has jumped to 30 percent of the world total from less than four percent half a century ago, is maintaining the momentum of rapid development. The concept of "Chindia" highlights the dominant role played by China and India in this development.

Although West Asia is part of Asia, there is a dispute as to whether the Asian century includes the Middle East--a Europe-centered concept of political geography that only half a century ago was also called the Near East. This oil-rich region, dominated by Muslims, with nearly a century-old Arab-Israel conflict and the recent rise of Iran, is fundamentally different from the South and East Asian countries in political, social and economic development.

Compared with religious and ethnic relations in the Middle East, those in South and East Asian countries are less tense. Although Pakistan is also dominated by Muslims, conflicts in South and East Asia are between countries instead of religious and ethnic groups, e.g., the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, the territorial dispute between India and China and the disputes between China and Japan over historical issues and the East China Sea. There is no doubt these conflicts of interest between two countries can at present be controlled. Therefore, in the Asian century there is far less possibility of war in the South and East Asian regions than in the Middle East.

Perhaps we can also say that there are two different Asias: West Asia and East Asia. There is also South Asia, including Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, which has some characteristics of West Asia in population structure and religious affiliation but displays obvious differences from Middle East countries due to its close geopolitical and economic relations with East Asia. Strictly speaking, South Asia is a transition region between East and West Asia in terms of both geopolitical and economic relations. Moreover, South East Asia is on the whole closer to East Asia because of India, while southeastern countries like Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia should be categorized as East Asian in cultural and economic development.

The nuclear balance maintained between India and Pakistan, the peaceful rise repeatedly pledged by China and the lesson Japan learned from World War II on the whole guarantee that the Asian century will be characterized by Asia's economic rise and political solutions to conflicts of interest between countries. Indeed, the preconditions for ensuring an Asian century are the avoidance of war and steady economic development.

But in the Middle East we cannot see the same prospects. Although the possibility of a war between Arab countries and Israel is decreasing, it appears very difficult to avoid a new war based on complicated religious and ethnic conflicts of interest in the region. Bearing in mind the increasing impact of Shi'ite Iran, the rise of Islamic extremists and the intervention of western Christian forces in recent years, the chances of avoiding war in the region in the Asian century are very small. In short, we shall witness an East Asia filled with the spirit of cooperation and a West Asia continuing its confrontations.

Until recently, the two Asias did not have any reciprocal relations. But dense population growth and rapid economic development in East Asia have brought about a great need for energy, while the economic powers in the region, Japan and Korea, are not energy-producing countries. The per capita energy reserve of China, India and Pakistan combined, accounting for one-fourth of the world's population, lags far behind their needs; hence their reliance on oil and liquefied natural gas from the Middle East, or West Asia. In recent years, Japan and China have made great efforts toward diversifying energy imports, yet Russian and African oil can never meet all their needs. East Asia's reliance on energy from West Asia will not decrease in the Asian century.

In contrast, although commodities from East Asia are popular and necessary at present in West Asia, East Asia is not a source of industrial goods that are badly needed by West Asia and trade between East and West through the Silk Road and the Sea Silk Road does not involve daily necessities. Historic Mediterranean trade routes make it possible for West Asia to survive without any relations with East Asia. As part of the flourishing economic development of West Asia in the Asian century, the Gulf countries are making efforts to diversify their unitary oil economy. Accordingly, the importance of industrial goods for West Asia may decrease. In other words, West Asia may need East Asia but it is not reliant on it.

To conclude, in the Asian century the status of the Middle East has grown. In order to satisfy the needs of their own societal development, East Asian "countries on the rise," including China and India, will strengthen their political and economic relations with Middle East countries and increase their economic input there while maintaining a pragmatic posture of "sitting on the fence" on Middle East political issues. Japan has been a pioneer in this aspect.

Another conclusion is that regarding energy security the East Asian countries have identical interests with the oil-importing countries of the West and even need the United States to protect oil passageways. Considering that most Gulf oil is exported to East Asia and only ten percent to the United States, the East Asian countries will not confront the United States in the region at the risk of their energy security. Neither China, Japan or India will be as interested in political reform in Middle East countries as are western Christian countries.- Published 8/5/2008 bitterlemons-international.org

Yin Gang is a research professor of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies, under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He also serves as deputy secretary general of the Chinese Association of Middle East Studies.

China's energy security
 Weiming Zhao

Energy consumption in China is growing as fast as the rapidly growing Chinese economy. China has changed from a net oil exporter to a net oil importer. In recent years, 40 to 50 percent of the oil that China consumes is imported. Of that 60 percent comes from the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar and Sudan are the main suppliers.

Therefore China has a significant interest in the Middle East, and any changes in the situation there will affect China's energy security. It is only natural for energy factors to play a role in China's policy toward the Middle East. Although China's opposition to the Iraq war and to the use of force to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue is not purely based on considerations of energy security, this is a key factor. In a word, energy diplomacy constitutes an important part of China's diplomacy.

Similarly, energy security is also regarded as a strategically significant part of China's national security. China's energy security strategy comprises a number of requirements, of which the first is to increase domestic oil production. At the end of March last year, China announced that a new oil field with an estimated reserve of 2200 million barrels had been found in Bohai Bay. The daily output of this field is expected to reach 200,000 barrels in three years. At present, the oil yielded in China satisfies about 50 percent of domestic need; in future, China's oil self-sufficiency rate should remain no lower than the present level.

A second requirement is to restructure the energy mix. From now on, China will give priority to the development and exploitation of coal, wind power, water energy and bio-energy.

Third, China must establish a national system of energy reserves. China's current oil reserve mainly depends on the business reserves of three government-owned oil companies, China Petrochemical Corporation, China National Petroleum Corporation and China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Their reserve capacity is equal to only 21 days' consumption of the entire country. Added to the newly-established national energy reserve bases, the total reserve capacity in China can meet only 30 days' consumption needs. The petroleum reserve capacity of China is only one-sixth that of Japan, one-fifth of the United States, one-fourth of Germany and one-third of France. Thus, in this field China still has a lot of work to do.

Fourth, China needs to conserve energy more efficiently. According to the International Energy Agency, the energy consumption per unit GDP in China is as high as nine times that in Japan, 5.6 times that of the European Union, 3.3 times that in the US and 2.7 times that in Korea. So there is much room for China to develop energy conservation.

Finally, China needs to explore overseas energy resources so as to realize the multi-model approach to petroleum supplies.

In recent years, oil prices have been rising steadily. This is the product of a number of factors such as the growth of the world economy, a decline in oil production, a reduction of oil reserves, the devaluation of the US dollar, the impact of geopolitics and unexpected events and speculating in oil trading. Another factor worthy of mention is that the economy is developing very fast in some major petroleum-exporting countries, such as Indonesia, Mexico and Russia. In these countries, increased domestic energy consumption results in a decrease in exports. Some petroleum-exporting countries provide their citizens with plentiful gasoline allowances and offer prices as low as seven cents per gallon. Such policies unfortunately foster waste. The consumption per capita in some Middle Eastern petroleum-exporting countries has even exceeded that of the US.

Another phenomenon that merits keen attention is that in the current round of oil price rises, one power has taken no measures to control the price of oil as before but rather has added fuel to the fire and is enjoying the financial result. Some critics assume that the short-term strategic energy target of this power is to raise the oil price rapidly in order to strike at China's economy, lure China into capital outlays for overseas petroleum industries and then suppress the oil price to create a dilemma for China's economy.

It is unfair to ascribe the increase in oil prices to the economic rise of China. China's oil imports account for only six percent of the total volume of oil trade in the world. China's oil consumption is only eight percent of the world total. Energy consumption per capita in China is only three-fourths of the world average, one-fourth that of Japan and one-seventh that in the US. Yet China to a large extent shares much of the burden of high oil prices insofar as it has replaced the West as the world's factory and the prices of exported goods from China remain the same as before the rise of oil prices. This means that China is in effect granting a subsidy to consumers of goods made in China all over the world.

Although the multi-model approach to petroleum resources is one of the key aims of China's energy strategy, China is likely to depend even more on oil imports from the Middle East in the coming years. According to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington, 70 percent of China's imported petroleum will come from the Middle East by 2024. Therefore, it will remain the basic posture of China's diplomacy for a long time to come to pay more attention to the development of the situation in the Middle East, to be more concerned with Middle East affairs and to establish closer relations with Middle East countries.- Published 8/5/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Weiming Zhao is professor of international relations, Middle East Studies Institute, Shanghai International Studies University. He was a Fulbright research scholar at Princeton University during 2024-2001.

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