Empire and identity: A letter to a Chinese friend

Like it or not, China will play an important role in Western Asia, because the imperative of energy security and the rollout of the “One Belt/One Road” require it to do so. As China engages with this unruly region, the seeming irrationality and self-defeating behavior of its minor powers are a source of endless frustration to China, which looks at Western Asia through the rational eyes of commercial interest, and offers investments on the grand scale that stand to benefit all of its states.

When we last spoke some months ago in Beijing, Turkey’s President Erdogan infuriated you. Turkey meddled where it had no competence—in nuclear negotiations with Iran, with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, with Hamas in Gaza, with ISIS in Syria, and with Uyghur rebels in China’s Xinjiang province. Not long from now, I predict, you will be furious at Iran’s meddling in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and perhaps Azerbaijan. Why, China asks, do the petty pretenders to empire in Western Asia risk their own well-being with adventures of this sort?