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Seven ways China can benefit from the Israel-Hamas war

opinionSeven ways China can benefit from the Israel-Hamas war

Serious aggression by China in Taiwan or elsewhere won’t be as shocking to those in the West given what’s going on.

While it may take a while to uncover what role, if any, Beijing played in the lead up to the horrific attack on 7 October, here are seven ways—some quite substantial—it could benefit from the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

1. Stall the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). IMEC, one of the key announcements made at India’s September 2023 G20 summit, calls for the creation of a shipping, rail and road network that would enable goods and services to run to, from and between India, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Europe.

It also includes plans to run cable for “electricity and digital connectivity, as well as pipe for clean hydrogen export” along the rail route.

Signatories are India, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, the UAE, France, Germany and the United States.

IMEC is a serious threat to Chinese and Russian control over supply chains and energy supplies. Also worth noting is Qatar—Hamas’ home away from home—wasn’t involved.

What’s going on now at the very least delays IMEC, and possibly kills it.

2. Damage the Abraham Accords. The Abraham Accords were a major American diplomatic win, and had the potential to stabilize and normalize relations in the region—leading to more of the sort of innovations represented by IMEC. They increased U.S. prestige, bypassed the PRC’s ally Iran and affected the PRC’s own goals for the region.

Now Bahrain, one of the signatories, has announced it is suspending ties with Israel.

3. Undermine India’s relations in the region. India generally has good, if low key, relations with countries across the region. The G20 increased India’s stature, and Delhi had been working with partners to craft new economic and political options, as seen with IMEC. In Beijing’s zero-sum view of the world, that is detrimental to its interests.

Deliberate information warfare, in some cases tied to India’s position on the war, could affect India’s partnerships.

For example, unsubstantiated stories, such as that the eight former Indian naval officers who have been sentenced to death in Qatar were spying for Israel, might make some in the region not want to hire Indians while, at the same time, make Indians nervous about working in the area for fear of arbitrary arrest. This would leave more room for Chinese influence to take deeper hold.

The story might not have originated with China (or even China’s “Iron Brother” Pakistan, that would also like to see less Indian influence in the region), but China gains by it.

The same is relevant for infrastructure. For example, as pressure mounts on Iran, and China presses its advantage, that could negatively affect India’s role in Iran’s Chabahar port—something long desired by Beijing.

4. Relatively lower energy costs for China.  If the conflict contributes to higher energy prices, that could give China, which has long-term purchase contracts with Russia, a relative advantage, especially against potential competitors in high energy usage sectors.

5. Normalizing international conflict. This particularly applies to the West, and especially the United States. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was a shock to many who had been lulled into believing that war was something that happened “over there”, and was fought by a volunteer force of professionals. Suddenly there was reporting on tanks rolling across a border, early 20th century-style warfare, and conscription, in Europe.

Still some rationalized it as an aberration, but now they are seeing pogroms against Jews, mass mobilizations and street-by-street, building-by-building fighting.

In Washington, the two wars are often compared and debated—should there be money from Congress for both, just one, none? What equipment should be shared? What are the economic ramifications?

At this stage, adding a third conflict, say a blockade or invasion of Taiwan, won’t be as shocking. It is almost as if conflict is being normalized. And while it may be less of a shock, there is real doubt about American capacity to handle another conflict—or more conflicts—either in a direct combat or support role.

6. War fatigue. This is leading, in certain sectors, to war fatigue. Some just want, in the words of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni “a way out”, especially of the Ukraine conflict.

Combined, the normalization of conflict and war fatigue feed into a psychological warfare narrative nurtured by Beijing that gives it room for maneuver.

For years China has been saying it will take Taiwan, by force if necessary. Now serious aggression by China in Taiwan (or the Himalayas, ASEAN Sea or elsewhere it claims as its own), won’t be as shocking to those in the West given what’s going on in the names of land and ethnicity in Ukraine and the Middle East/West Asia.

Meanwhile, any western response might be muted, delayed or confused given the war fatigue in certain quarters. Layered on this are concerns in the U.S. of a recruiting crisis in the military and a perceived (at least) degradation of military capabilities.

This is also sure to be exacerbated by PRC-influenced media, including TikTok, that will inevitably be deployed to sow internal U.S. conflict and paralysis (and is possibly being tested for that now). Large sections of social media-addled youth might even cheer on a “liberation” of Taiwan by the PRC.

7. Diverting resources away from defending against the PRC. In several sectors, resources that might otherwise be dedicated to investigating and countering PRC activities are being diverted. For example, in the U.S., internal Gaza-related protests—including one that blocked a U.S. military supply ship from leaving port in California—have the potential to draw attention, resources and coverage away from investigations of PRC operations in America in the year before the general election.

While there may be ways China is being hurt by the conflict, it seems easier to find ways it is benefiting.

Cleo Paskal is Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies and The Sunday Guardian Special Correspondent.

Grant Newsham is a retired U.S. Marine Colonel and the author of When China Attacks.

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