We often need an out-of-the-box idea in a traditional surrounding in order to have new and different perspectives on the same issue. There is an interest in what is happening in our region not only from the United States, Russia and Europe, but an important and pivotal country, Japan, is also watching the developments in this part of the world with keen interest. Nearly six years ago, I was invited by a global industry research and decision-making center to meet with ambassadors and representatives of the Japanese Foreign Ministry to discuss about the region’s tumultuous events. Japan is very interested in the region because it has been engaged in important economic activities and its companies have been operating here for a long period of time. Moreover, it imports more than 85 percent of its oil from the Gulf countries.
Today, however, it is confronting another issue, as I have seen. I recently met with a veteran Japanese diplomat who has had a long association with the region and speaks Arabic fluently. His preoccupation was China’s huge and growing presence. Japan sees and monitors the steady Chinese expansion in various parts of the world, all of which is directed against Japan in the first place and not the United States of America.
China has “ambitions” in Japanese islands and Japanese waters, which is a source of dispute between the two countries as Beijing seeks to secure a safe passage for the Chinese submarines in the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, China is flexing its muscles, using its influence vigorously, and unleashing its ally, North Korea, to constantly harass and threaten Japan, thereby sabotaging it economically and pressuring it to allocate a significant portion of its budget on defense expenditure.
Today, China is moving to secure the “practical” trade or commercial marine business lines. It has a major military base in Djibouti and it rules alone on the mobility of pirates in the Horn of Africa. Today it has a fully owned and operated port in the Republic of Sri Lanka, the port of Hambantota, as Sri Lanka has been unable to repay the enormous debts to China, which the latter provided to build and operate the port. This important “presence” has given China the “right” to criticize the intervention of its regional rival, India, in Sri Lanka’s neighboring Maldivian affairs, areas India regards as its strategic depth.
Japan firmly believes that the port of Duqm in Oman, which is part of a huge Chinese industrial city on the Arabian Sea that is entirely financed by China, will be the property of China just as is the case with Sri Lanka.
Japan is carefully watching the growing relations between Saudi Arabia and China, China’s increasing investments in Saudi Arabia and the vice versa. Japan does not care and does not pay much attention to South Korea as it is convinced that the latter suffers from inferiority complex and jealousy, but takes a strong notice of China and the history of their movements due to the turbulent relations between the two countries in varying periods of time.
Japan considers that there is an innocent movement from China to Iran “to strengthen” against the United States and thus gives Iran a deep breath to continue its work as well as today, it is China’s embrace of Pakistan, which has shaken and strained relations between them and the United States of America. Pakistan used to be a security partner with them after US President Donald Trump’s sharp remarks against Pakistan, China did what is called hitting two birds with a stone. It kidnapped Pakistan from America and put its ally in the face of an important regional rival India, which is not in its best of relations with Pakistan.
The Japanese are mindful China’s mobility, especially with regard to the latter’s breakthroughs in very important region like Africa, influencing the nations such as Ethiopia, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Djiboutito to fall in China’s orbit. Apart from it China is growing its presence in Eastern Europe, Greece, South America, Australia, and even engaging in the talks to buy sports clubs such as buying an AC Milan team.
It is not a Chinese era but its gigantic project, like One Belt, One Road has far larger dimensions than the apparent economic cover.
This piece was first published in the Saudi Gazette.
Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. In 1995, he was chosen as one of the “Global Leaders for Tomorrow” by the World Economic Forum. He received his B.A. in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa. His twitter handle is @husseinshoboksh.