Options for Middle Eastern Countries Amid the US-China Escalation Against Taiwan


ByAbdul Rauf Mostafa Ghonaimy

The world is witnessing strategic shifts in the global power structure and complex economic dilemmas amid food, energy, and debt crises. Ultimate chaos is snowballing; countries have resorted to hard power to end longstanding conflicts against the backdrop of the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the recent Russian war against Ukraine that poses a challenge to the European bloc. The prestige of US unilateral hegemony has been shaken and its commitments to its allies around the world have notably declined.

The decline in US prestige has weakened the trust of its allies; they no longer believe in the ability of the United States to uphold their security nor to protect their interests. They realize that they are no longer a foreign policy priority for the United States. The United States’ Middle Eastern allies and others have started to search for new allies, delinking themselves from dependency on the United States. Claims about Washington’s declining power and prestige are being made by seasoned political analysts and powerful politicians with significant influence in Western policymaking circles. John Mearsheimer, Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair reportedly concur that the global order is undergoing massive changes that will see American and Western global hegemony losing out to a bi-polar and multipolar global order, enabled by Washington’s diminishing footprint on the world stage.

The United States is well aware that its image as the unchallengeable “leader of the free world” has been dealt a massive blow. As a result, it is exerting efforts on multiple levels (political, economic and military) to maintain its exclusive hegemony over the global order. Some of the measures it has taken are the following a) encircle and besiege foes and competitors such as China and Russia which seek to strip it of global leadership, b) implicate adversaries and competitors in complex disputes in an attempt to deflect their attention from vying for global leadership, c) influence the choices of its allies — who are looking for global alternatives — in order to make them lose confidence in the newly emerging global powers while ensuring they continue to be dependent on Washington, d) exerting pressure on regional powers with expansionist inclinations and nuclear ambitions, such as Iran, to return to compliance with the nuclear deal — but only on Washington’s terms.

The Biden administration recently stepped up its efforts — which have never been accidental — to reestablish trust in the United States’ global might and prestige. The Biden administration has promoted America’s space program and capabilities, with it emphasizing that no other superpower has achieved the same level of success in space. The first full-color image taken by NASA’s James Webb telescope while it was on an exploratory space mission was released by the US president. After this, Biden hurried to the Middle East to reassure US allies that the United States had the capability to breach the most heavily fortified positions on Earth, and to send a message to the rest of the world that the United Sates is still capable of fighting terrorism, despite its military withdrawal from Afghanistan. This happened after the United States used an advanced missile to kill al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The United States was eager for this assassination to coincide with the first anniversary of its withdrawal from Afghanistan (end of August 2022), the impending 21st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and the approaching midterm congressional elections scheduled for November 2022.

However, the United States considered the aforementioned efforts insufficient to reaffirm its position as the world’s sole superpower. In light of this, the US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan as part of an Asian tour that also included Japan and South Korea, despite Chinese warnings that such a visit would set off a war in the South China Sea. Through this visit, the United States hoped to undermine the confidence of China’s allies in its capabilities, especially those countries that are spinning in Beijing’s orbit and to involve China in a cold war of attrition in Taiwan, similar to Russia’s debacle in Ukraine. Such a visit, in the eyes of the Chinese, violates the One China principle and sends the wrong message, namely that the United States, which ostensibly recognizes this principle, supports Taiwan’s breakaway from China.

The response of China, which is rapidly rising in the international arena, to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan demonstrated the relevance of emerging global powers in striking a balance in their relations with the United States. Contrary to the image that Washington wants to depict to the world about the true scope of Chinese power, it has been made clear that Beijing is a geopolitical heavyweight wielding significant impact, and with serious standing and influence over international affairs. Albeit by the use of revisionist approximations, China has displayed to the world that it is shrewd enough to be aware of US traps, denying it the opportunity to drag it into a costly war of attrition.

China has made calculated escalatory moves, starting with it conducting three days of military drills with live ammunition in six vital locations in Taiwan’s territorial waters off key Taiwanese ports. Through this, China sought to send messages to Taiwan and the United States and other Western allies that Beijing can easily control Taiwan’s exports and imports and tightly besiege it, strangling it and even invading and imposing control over it if the need arises. If this was to happen, it would create a series of new crises between Washington and Western capitals, adding to the existing crisis caused by the Ukrainian war, specifically in the field of electronic chips which the United States and the Europeans badly need.

Additionally, following Pelosi’s visit, Beijing launched 11 ballistic missiles into the waters around Taiwan’s northeast and southwest coasts. Media outlets noted that these missiles traveled through Taiwanese airspace and toward the Japanese Economic Zone, which is located about 2,000 kilometers from Taiwan. Analysts confirmed that the missiles’ range sent clear signals to Washington’s allies, such as Tokyo and Seoul, that they, like Taiwan, are within the range of Chinese missiles, as well as other countries that have endorsed the sanctions on China. The launch also conveys to Washington the fact that Chinese missiles are capable of reaching American military bases in Japan. In preparation for any potential Chinese attack on Taiwan, Washington was compelled to send the larger military vessels in its fleet to Taiwan. Furthermore, China’s sanctions on Pelosi sent a clear message to Washington that it does not have a monopoly on the imposition of sanctions. In addition to this, Beijing also announced a reduction in Sino-American cooperation in the fields of climate change, maritime safety, drug trafficking and fighting cross-border crime.

In conclusion, it can be said that the US policy to undermine the confidence of its allies in the Middle East and beyond in Washington’s rivals, and to challenge rising world powers such as Russia and China, has yet to bear fruit. The weaponization of sanctions did not prevent Russia from achieving its objectives from the invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, this war plunged Europe into a strategic limbo against the backdrop of Moscow’s adept use of the gas lever against the European powers to deter them from supplying Ukraine with weapons and logistical support.

Similarly, Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan did not succeed in enticing China to start a war against the island nor did it undermine the confidence of Beijing’s allies in its capabilities. The aforementioned Chinese and Russian moves prove to Middle Eastern regional powers that a new regional and global reality is taking shape, defying Washington’s uncontested hegemony over the world — despite its efforts to maintain its status and prestige. China has also proven that it could be a reliable global pole and alternative superpower after its might and tools to influence global affairs were recently put to the test in light of Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. This visit also proved the wisdom and rationality of regional powers having several alternative backers and allies when shaping their foreign policies.

 Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of Rasanah

Abdul Rauf Mostafa Ghonaimy
Abdul Rauf Mostafa Ghonaimy
Political researcher at Rasanah IIIS