Politics is not a zero-sum game, it is open-ended. It follows the principle of tit for tat. In a landmark development this month, China has stealthily brokered a major deal, a reconciliation agreement between bitter rivals, the mainly Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Shia-majority Iran. Ironically, in a 180-degree reversal of loyalties, the KSA, which during the Trump presidency was the closest ally of the US administration, is today seeking full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as the US disengages with the Middle East. Formed in 2001 by China, Russia, and former Soviet states of Central Asia, the SCO is a security and political bloc of countries spanning much of Eurasia. Led by China, the SCO is aimed at challenging Western influence in the region. (In 2017, India and Pakistan also joined the SCO.)
Why do I describe this significant development in the Middle East as tit for tat? Reason: the surprise brokering of the agreement by Chinese President Xi Jinping happened surreptitiously, while US President Joe Biden was busy pivoting away from the region towards the Indo-Pacific, giving formal shape to the Quad (comprising the US, Australia, Japan, and India) precisely to contain China. In this new rivalry between the US and China, while Biden tried to throw a bouncer at China, the dragon entered the Gulf on the front foot and hit a sixer off the US bouncer. In the process, relations between China and the US have become more embittered and hostile than ever.
And why is this game-changing development in the Middle East important for Pravasi Indians? What are its implications?
I spent two decades abroad. Last month I wrote about my interactions with the Indian diaspora in the UK and the US where I spent my first decade. Let me tell you of my interactions with the Indian diaspora in the Middle East, where I spent my second decade, particularly the six Persian Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain. The six together form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Over 10 million (one crore) Indians lived in these six countries. The Covid pandemic has reduced the Indian presence in the Gulf since a large section returned home after losing their jobs. But nine million Indians still reside there.
When shale oil was discovered in the US, trade relations altered drastically in the Middle East. As the US began losing interest in Gulf oil, China and India began filling the trade gap. The Non-Resident Chinese (NRC) presence in the Gulf was negligible in comparison to the 10 million NRIs. With the hegemonic presence of China in the oil- and gas-rich Gulf countries today, the geo-strategic equations in the Middle East are about to alter. This will prove to be a game-changer in the long run. Unless India intervenes diplomatically and strategically, the Gulf might soon become a new arena for the Dragon.
Happy reading Pravasi Indians!