In the past few weeks, there have been rumors of PetroChina and Sinopec acquiring a share in the Saudi energy giant Aramco. The two Chinese companies owned by a public consortium are looking to buy between 5% and 10% of the Saudi state-run company. The transaction is poised to represent a new step of Beijing in its quest for solutions for China’s great energy supply problem. It would also take place alongside the purchase of around 15% of the Russian Rosneft by CEFC China Energy. These moves would consolidate Beijing’s position in the Middle East at the very moment when the United States is taking a step back and raise some concerns regarding the long-term process during which China is rising to assume the position of a superpower in the current unipolar system.
To this point, Chinese foreign policy has been characterized by the ‘peaceful rise’ strategy, based on a principle of prudence to avoid confrontation with the hegemonic superpower and other actors in the international community. China’s CCP’s party-liner thought holds that the country must grow while refraining from any behavior similar to that of the European colonial powers. Any alternative would be a paradox in the context of Beijing’s Third World-leadership narrative and its defense of the pacific coexistence principles.
Yet, this legacy of colonialism takes out of the equation a fundamental element of its origins. It is true that the terrible condition of the colonial system was connected to the ideas of racial hierarchies and religious and civilizational proselytism. The obsessive-compulsive extractive exploitation syndrome of many countries was critical. But in reality, colonialism can only be fathomed by the will of some states to protect private commercial interests obtained before the using of the first dress coats and muskets. In some cases, the imperialist drift was born in the zeal of helping non-public interests in front of prejudicial situation.
But this raises some crucial questions: Will China be able to sit calmly amidst the events taking place in the Persian Gulf? What will it decide to do if the defense of its interests were to become incompatible with the non-interference principle and the bases of peaceful coexistence? Will it be ready to stand idly by if those are at stake and regime changes?
The reasons why Beijing could make a move and change its course of action, and start intervening more regularly and forcefully in the affairs of other states, may not necessarily be constructed around old-fashion reasoning of mission civilisatrice. It is also likely that colonial behaviors will be the outcome of conceptions presented as protective and defensive acts before uncertainties and threats of change. Absurdly, the fact that the Chinese government is asking itself these questions demonstrates its arrival to the status of the world’s superpower.
‘Forced Into Empire?: China, Aramco and the Peaceful Rise in the Middle East’ – Opinion by Jordi Quero Arias – Barcelona Centre for International Affairs.