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A 5.0 magnitude earthquake strikes northern Afghanistan

A 5.0 magnitude earthquake strikes northern Afghanistan


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Welcome back to the China in Eurasia Brief, an RFE/RL newsletter tracking China's renewed influence from Eastern Europe to Central Asia.

I'm RFE/RL reporter Reed Standish, and this is what I'm following now.

As Houthi rebels continue their attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, the worsening crisis poses a new test for China's ambitions to become a power broker in the Middle East – and raises questions about whether Beijing can help eliminate the group.

Seeking perspective: US officials have been asking China to urge Tehran to rein in the Iran-backed Houthis, but according to the Financial Times, US officials say they have seen no signs of help.

However, Washington continues to raise this issue. In weekend meetings with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bangkok, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan again asked Beijing to use its “significant influence with Iran” to play a “constructive role” in stopping the attacks.

Reuters, citing Iranian officials, reported on January 26 that Beijing urged Tehran in recent meetings to put pressure on the Houthis or risk jeopardizing trade cooperation with China in the future.

There are many reasons to believe that China would like to put an end to these attacks. The Houthis have disrupted global shipping, raising fears of global inflation and further instability in the Middle East.

This also hurts China's bottom line. The attacks raise transportation costs and endanger tens of billions of dollars that China has invested in nearby Egyptian ports.

Why it matters: The current crisis raises some complex questions about China's ambitions in the Middle East.

If China decides to pressure Iran, it is not known how much influence Tehran will actually have over the Houthis in Yemen. Iran supports the group and supplies it with weapons, but it is unclear whether it can actually control and rein in it, as American officials call for.

But the bigger question may be whether these calculations play out in Beijing.

China may be reluctant to intervene too much and squander its political capital with Iran in trying to convince the Houthis to stop their attacks, especially after the group announced that it would not attack Chinese ships crossing the Red Sea.

It is also unlikely that Beijing will want to put an end to something that is more harmful to America's interests than its own at the moment.

US officials say they will continue talks with China about helping restore trade in the Red Sea, but Beijing may decide it has more to gain by simply backing down.

Three more stories from Eurasia

1. “New historical heights” for China and Uzbekistan

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyev made a historic three-day visit to Beijing, where he met with Xi, spoke with Chinese business leaders, and left with an improved official relationship as the Central Asian leader increasingly looks to China for his economic future.

Details: As I mentioned here, Mirziyev left Uzbekistan looking to usher in a new era and returned with well-developed diplomatic relations as an “all-weather” partner with China.

The move from a “comprehensive strategic partnership” to an “all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership” does not bring any official benefits, but it is a clear signal from Mirziyev and Xi about the direction in which they want the relationship between the two countries to go. countries.

Before heading to China on the trip, which will last from January 23 to 25, Mirziyev signed a letter praising the progress China has made in the fight against poverty, and saying that he wants to develop a “new long-term agenda” with Beijing that will last “for decades.”

Besides the diplomatic upgrade, China said it is ready to expand cooperation with Uzbekistan across the new energy vehicle industry chain, as well as in major projects such as photovoltaics, wind energy and hydropower.

Xi and Mirzoyev also spoke about the long-discussed China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway project, with the Chinese president saying work should start as soon as possible, although no details were provided, and there are said to be still major disagreements over how to finance the project. Giant project. .

2. The Taliban's new man in Beijing

In a move that could lay the foundation for further diplomatic engagement with China, Xi received his diplomatic credentials from the new Taliban ambassador in Beijing on January 25.

What you need to know: Mawlawi Asadullah Bilal Karimi was accepted as part of a ceremony that also received letters of accreditation for 42 new envoys. Karimi was appointed the new ambassador to Beijing on November 24, but has now been formally received by Xi Jinping, another step in the slow boil toward recognition underway.

No country officially recognizes the Taliban administration in Afghanistan, but China – along with other countries such as Pakistan, Russia and Turkmenistan – has appointed envoys to Kabul and has maintained steady diplomatic engagement with the group since its return to power in August 2021. .

Formal diplomatic recognition of the Taliban appears to still be a long way off, but the move highlights China's strategy of de facto recognition that could see other countries follow suit, paving the way for formal relations in the future.

3. China's tightrope with Iran and Pakistan

The airstrikes and diplomatic sparring between Iran and Pakistan have raised difficult questions for China and its influence in the region, as I reported here.

Since then, both Islamabad and Tehran have moved to repair relations, with their foreign ministers holding talks on January 29. But the incident highlighted what China might do if two of its closest partners came into conflict against each other.

What it means: Retaliatory strikes hit armed groups operating in each other's territories. After a heated exchange of views, the two countries quickly moderated their rhetoric – a matter that culminated in the recent talks held in Islamabad.

While Beijing has a lot to lose in the event of a broader conflict between two of its allies, it appears calm, with only a formal offer to mediate if necessary.

This approach reflects how China “dodges situations like this,” partly to protect its reputation in the event it intervenes and then fails, said Lee Abdul Basit, an associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center's South Asia Institute, added that despite Beijing's cautious approach, China has shown a willingness to mediate when the opportunity presents itself, pointing to the agreement it helped broker between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March.

“The Pakistanis and Iranians seem to have enough in their relationship to ease tensions on their own,” Lee said. “So [Beijing] “They may feel relieved now, but that doesn't mean they won't step up their efforts if necessary.”

Across the great continent

China's strange moment: What do the fall of the Soviet Union and China's economic slowdown have in common? The answer is more than you might think.

Listen to the latest episode of the Talking China In Eurasia podcast, where we explore how China's complex relationship with the Soviet Union is shaping the country today.

Invitation sent. What now? Reuters reported that Ukraine invited Xi to participate in a planned “peace summit” of world leaders in Switzerland, in a gathering linked to the second anniversary of the Russian invasion.

Banned, but why? China has stopped issuing visas to Lithuanian citizens. Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis confirmed the news and told Lithuanian journalists that “we have been informed about this matter.” No further information was provided.”

More hydropower plans: Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Energy and the China National Electrical Engineering Corporation signed a cooperation memorandum on January 24 to build a series of power plants and a new thermal power plant.

One thing to watch

There's no official word, but veteran diplomat Liu Jianchao appears to be the leading contender to become China's next foreign minister.

Wang Yi was reappointed to his old post after Chen Gang was abruptly dismissed as Foreign Minister last summer. Wang currently holds positions as Minister of Foreign Affairs and the top position of Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

Liu has limited experience in dealing with the West, but he served stints in the Communist Party's anti-corruption body and currently heads a party agency traditionally charged with building relations with other communist countries.

He also appears to be being groomed for the role. He recently completed a tour of the United States, where he met with senior officials and business leaders, and also made visits to the Middle East.

That's all I have at the moment. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments or tips you may have.

Until next time,

Red Standish

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