King Abdullah Goes to China

Roger Price Photography. September 2013

Roger Price Photography. September 2013

Russia and the United States may no longer be the world’s primary powers dominating conversations within Syrian conflict’s political and diplomatic arena. On Wednesday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II “held talks on the Syrian crisis with Chinese President Xi Jinping” in China. While Beijing has claimed it has made “strenuous mediation efforts” and has called for “a negotiated political settlement” to the Syrian conflict, the Jordanian plea for more Chinese involvement may jumpstart more direct Chinese influence in the region.

This political turn toward China reflects a recent trend in MENA foreign policy. Similar to United States foreign policy, there has been a Middle Eastern pivot toward Asia that is dictated by a mutual interest in both regions for collaborations in both economic growth and political stability.

King Abdullah has asked his Chinese counterpart to aid in the promotion of “peace, stability, civility and prosperity in [the] region through an active role in the (Israel-Palestine) peace process as well as that of the Syrian conflict.”

China, like Russia, has “vetoed the three western-led UN resolutions which sought to increase pressure on Assad.” China has also historically played a minimal role in the Israeli-Palestinian relations.

King Abdullah views China as “‘a team member of the United Nations Security Council and a friend of Jordan and the Middle East, "despite Beijing’s and Russia's unhelpful deliberations over the Syrian regime's clear use of chemical weapons.” The emphasis on an “active role” denotes that Jordan believes that there needs to be an up in the Chinese diplomatic ante in the region as a whole. To Jordan, what China is doing (or not doing) is unacceptable.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jordanian desire for a more “active” Chinese role implies that the current Russian proposal is not viewed as a final solution to the conflict. And for Jordan, military intervention of any sort is of the table. Jordan sees the great potential for China to fill the international diplomatic and political chasm that exists in negotiating an end to the crisis in Syria.

This new upswing in Jordanian-Chinese rhetoric leaves many questions still unanswered

 It is still unknown what kind of role Jordan envisions for China—only that it’s active. Will Jordan promote Chinese activity within the corridors of diplomatic channels or more within public domain?

If China accepts the Jordanian request to be more active in the region, how will this affect the chances of a potential American military intervention?

Similarly, with the Russian plan already under careful consideration, where does China fit?

It is also still unknown how President Xi responded to King Abdullah’s statement, as reporters were barred from the room. Perhaps the remaining three days of the Jordanian-Chinese talks will provide more insight on this role.