China Power

Asia and the Middle East

The Valdai conference in Malta offers an interesting chance to look at Asia’s potential role in the Middle East.

From Thursday I’ll be writing from Malta, where I’ve been invited to attend the second annual Middle East Peace Conference being held by the Valdai International Discussion Club.

The meeting is being co-hosted by the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy. The Valdai Discussion Club describes itself as providing a global forum for the world’s leading experts on Russia to engage in a sustained dialogue about the country’s political, economic, social and cultural development.  Certainly for this Middle East themed meeting there are some interesting speakers and delegates expected to attend, including Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov, Israeli opposition leader and head of the Kadima Party Tzipi Livni, and former Israel Foreign Affairs Minister Shlomo Ben Ami.

As well as attending the numerous plenary sessions, I also hope to get a sense of how Asia, and perhaps also specifically China, fits into the Middle East dynamic. This is an issue that was taken up by my fellow China Power blogger Mu Chunshan last month, when he looked at the growing pressures on a rising power like China to engage more with the peace process.

He wrote: ‘(A) catalyst for change may have been the May 2009 uprising in Xinjiang. The eruption of unrest there, and the subsequent reaction from the Arab world, underscored for many the reality that if China wants to maintain stability in Xinjiang, it will require the support of the global Muslim community.

‘In addition, later the same year, China took the rare move of endorsing a report by a UN investigative team in Gaza that condemned the humanitarian crimes committed by Israel in Gaza.

‘The events of the past decade have demonstrated that it’s still too early for China to directly participate in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. However, with its growing economic development, national strength and more vocal stances on international affairs, it seems only a matter of time before the Chinese directly enter peace negotiations.’