Thursday Brief

Is China’s Mideast Peace Plan Anything More Than A PR Campaign

Xi Jinping caught many off-guard when he unveiled a four-point Mideast peace plan, which includes an independent Palestine.

David Cohen contends that Xi’s efforts are rooted in a belief that China has lost its standing on the international stage and that negotiating a settlement between Israel and Palestine is a step toward redemption.

“From my perspective, blaming Hu Jintao for this apparent loss of influence is unreasonable – China always had real disagreements about territory with its neighbors and about the relative importance of sovereignty versus human rights with developed countries in Europe, and they were probably bound to reemerge when Bush left office.

“But given the lengths to which Xi has gone to distance himself from his predecessor, I think it is worth considering the possibility that this Middle East push is aimed at repeating the PR victories of the last decade,” Cohen adds.

Whatever their motives, other analysts argue the China plan is hampered by a lack of trust and understanding of regional dynamics.

Gerald Steinberg, professor of political studies at Bar Ilan University in Israel, tells Time magazine that China is “trying to be Europeans. They want to be global actors, and the way to be global actors is to claim that you have something to offer. They have good trade relations with Israel, but there’s a huge gap in terms of understanding the perceptions of the region.”

The reality, Steinberg says, is that no country except the U.S. is trusted  enough by both sides to serve as broker to peace talks — especially by Israel, which sees itself as persecuted and misunderstood by a world that does not understand its situation the way Americans do.

Google CEO: The Internet Remains Positive Force For Change
Google CEO Eric Schmidt makes the case that the Internet is a vehicle for individuals to affect positive change, particularly in isolated cultures like China.

“The Chinese I’ve spoken to believe that, eventually, the digital world will win out. Ultimately, the authorities will run out of police, censors, and other tools of oppression. The citizens will overwhelm the source of oppression against them,” he says in a recent interview, while acknowledging the potential downside.

“There is a negative view – that the tools of oppression will create a data record from the virtual world which can ultimately be used to imprison, jail, or otherwise terrorize all of the dissidents. In other words, the tools win. What we are seeing today is a fight between the two models.”

Syria: Internal Factors Cast Doubt On Prospects For Negotiated Peace
This week the US and Russia announced their intention to convene a peace conference in the hopes of bringing a settlement to the Syrian civil war. However, as word of the agreement spread, rebel forces were already responding with skepticism. But what could come of talks if the sides agree to meet? Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations examines the history of peace conferences in an effort to provide guidance for the US and Russia .

Patrick cautions that history demonstrates that “negotiated settlements are notoriously difficult to maintain” as they “rarely remove the underlying societal conflicts, such as political and economic inequities between different tribal or sectarian groups, that led to war in the first place.”

He says the success or failure of peace talks will be determined by two sets of factors – international and internal. Even if the international community were willing to put forth the effort and the financial resources to support a negotiated settlement, Patrick contends internal factors in Syria make it even more difficult to secure a lasting peace.

“Taking all of these factors together, chances for an enduring peace in Syria would appear to be dim. Let’s begin with the warring parties. Despite press coverage dividing combatants into government and rebel forces, the latter are extraordinarily heterogeneous. For example, there is little agreement on Syria’s future between those secular opponents of the Assad regime favored by the West and the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, which is already establishing Islamist rule in cities under its control. Syria is also replete with potential spoilers to any eventual peace treaty.”



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