Of the two great Communist powers of the 20th century, China had always played a smaller, quieter, more subtle role in geo-politics vis-à-vis the USSR.
This phenomenon has largely continued in the 21st century with Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation expanding upon traditional alliances made during the Soviet years.
Yet China’s global outlook cannot be overlooked and there are many signs that China is looking to play a more active role in global affairs alongside Russia and other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
In a clear stab at those trying to undermine his presidency in the amidst of his crucial fight against ISIS and similar terrorist groups, Bashar al-Assad took to Twitter and wrote the following
He clearly knows who his friends are and these countries will be given the opportunity, perhaps better called the monumental task of rebuilding Syria. Beyond this however, the Tweet implies that far from being worried about his presidency, he and the Syrian Arab Republic are not going anywhere.
Damascus will not be they graveyard of Assad but will be the graveyard of ‘regime change’ and ‘nation building’ policies.
The task of rebuilding Syria will be a major step towards enhancing China’s presence on the global stage. Whilst Russia has helped to stabilise the political situation in Syria and her military and advisors have made key gains in rolling back terrorist control of the country, China is set to focus more on the ‘soft side’ of the process, namely humanitarian aid and infrastructural reconstruction.
This combined with Iran and Russia cooperating against ISIS in a more public manner than ever, shows clearly that the regional balance of power has shifted as has the global balance of power.
Theoretically NATO could have been part of this coalition, but the long term agenda to use NATO as a means of thwarting cooperation between Russia, Middle Eastern and Eastern states has taken precedent over forming a global coalition against ISIS. By engaging in unnecessary conflicts against non-threats whilst ignoring legitimate threats and negating essential areas of cooperation, the NATO powers have sown the seeds of their own demise.
By sitting out the most important re-ordering of the world since the early 1990s, the NATO powers have in the words of Donald Trump, made themselves obsolete. Even if an America led by Trump were to reorganise her priorities, in certain respects it will have been too little, too late.
Once the battle against ISIS ends the next battle, not just in Syria but also across the wider Arab world, will be the battle for ideas and the accompanying soul searching in respect of understanding just who is and is not a friend of secular Arab states.
Russia’s commitment to helping anti-extremist Arab states, China’s expertise in infrastructural re-development, and Iran’s emerging role as a moderating force in the region, are slowly but surely limiting the poisonous influence the Gulf States have had on secular Arab states. This coincides with the dwindling influence a corrupt and confused West will be able to exert on the Arab world over the next 20 years and beyond.
Russia’s aid to Syria in her hour of need ought to be understood as a beacon of hope in an Arab world which has suffered from terrorism, theocratic dictatorship and war for far too long.
Syria’s victory is all but assured due to Russian assistance. However it is now for the Arabs to face their own political identity crisis, one which has burned ever since the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916.
There are broadly three styles of governance the Arabs can choose from.
1. Traditional monarchy (Jordan or Morocco for example)
2. Varieties of secular Arab Nationalism, including varieties of Ba’athism.
3. Hard line theocracy (Saudi Arabia for example or indeed pseudo-states organised by Wahhabist terrorists)
Option 2 in its various guises has always been the most modern, forward looking, rational and effective way for Arab states to be governed.
Colonel Nasser, the most renowned exponent of modern, secular Arab nationalism, brought his country prosperity, respect and prestige. Yet even during his rule Arab states and politicians within Arab states remained divided, even before foreign powers mastered the art of exploiting and maximising such divisions.
Whether Syrian chauvinism, which divided Nasser’s United Arab Republic, the Ba’athist split between Syrian and Iraqi Ba’athists in 1966, or the political chaos which paralysed Iraq in 1963, Arab infighting has repeatedly retarded the progress of politics in the secular Arab world.
Many in the Arab world have simply given up hope, but the slow but assured victory in Syria is demonstrative of the fact that the possibility of genuine hope still exists.
The clear message to the Arabs is this: Yes, the Wahhabists are coming for your throats, yes the western powers are coming for your resources, true the Arab League is thoroughly useless in its present form, but there is a better way.
A combination of strong leadership with a commitment to alliance with the Great Powers that will not betray the secular, modern, educated Arab world, can restore the Nasserist dream, a dream betrayed by the Arabs themselves.
The USSR was always a strong friend of modern, forward looking Arab regimes. However Arab disunity impeded much of the progress that could have been made with the help of the USSR.
Now though history is repeating itself, but it mustn’t have the same end.
The leaders in Baghdad must look to Damascus and learn valuable lessons should they wish their country to survive.
Libya which has become something of a non-state since the execution of Gaddafi, also must find a kind of leadership which can destroy the terrorism wreaking havoc in this once stable and wealthy country.
Irrespective of what the Arabs choose, global alignments have changed.
The Russia-Chinese axis which may well grow to include other great eastern powers has the ability to provide both a practical and moral leadership which can be of great assistance to the wider non-western world.
If this new reality is ignored by the Arab world, more and more Arab countries will sink into the abyss of instability, poverty and extremism.