Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Manama Dialogue: Asia's Role in the Persian Gulf


Sorry for the delays in blogging the Manama Dialogue...there seems to be some problems in getting governments to approve the release of the transcripts of their officials. But, I now have a few more addresses....

Speaking on Asia's role in the Persian Gulf was H.E. Mr. M.K. Narayanan, National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of India and H.E. Mr. Sun Bigan, China's Special Envoy to the Middle East. The full texts of their speeches can be found here and here respectively. Unfortunately, the speeches seem to be plagued by what I have previously identified as the Immutable Law of Speeches by Public Officials: the fact that the more important and higher up in government the speaker, the less meaningful the speech. Both of these speeches are long in vague generalizations, but short in concrete suggestions for solving the serious security problems. My guess is that the most interesting work at the Manama Dialogue is happening off-the-record at dinners, over drinks, and between plenary sessions. Note that there are also break-out groups, which are not being made part of the public record.

Mr. Narayanan makes a few interesting points, perhaps the most interesting of which is:
There are other issues as well which demand close attention. Any calibration of effort to create stable conditions cannot, for instance, ignore the role of Iran. India has long-standing ties with Iran. It is an important trade partner, apart from providing for India’s access to Central Asia. Like any other nation, Iran has its security concerns and perceptions; these need to be suitably addressed. Regional security quite clearly requires that there is a dialogue between the concerned parties in this regard. Non-engagement cannot be the basis of a long-term strategy.
India and Iran have long shared dissatisfaction at the exclusion from the parents' table, each feeling itself to be ignored and underappreciated by the most powerful players on the international stage. This has contributed to a synchronization of many mutual interests, including nuclear proliferation. The US and the West has long tried to get India to participate in ramping up pressure on Iran, which India has refused to do. The comments by Narayanan indicate that India will continue to press for direct negotiation, as well as an acknowledgement of Iran's legitimate security concerns. India's own proliferation makes it unlikely that India would support sanctions or punishments on Iran. Here, India's interests diverge from those of most of the relevant actors in the Gulf.

Narayanan does express very strong support for the stabilization efforts in Afghanistan, which is not surprising a stable and secure Afghanistan provides a check on India's major concern, Pakistan. Narayanan stated that:
Taliban’s incursions into Southern Afghanistan have been made possible by the existence of support structures across the border from Afghanistan. Any destabilization of the moderate and democratic Afghan Government would have incalculable long-term consequences, not only for Afghanistan but for almost all countries in the region, including India, and also Central Asia. It could, in turn, also have a domino effect with extremist and fundamentalist elements gaining the upper hand, endangering peace and stability along a very wide arc. This could have incalculable global consequences. Thus, the international community has a vital stake in ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for extremist and fundamentalist forces.
Note the not-so-subtle accusation of Pakistani support for the Taliban. This is an issue of vital importance for India, and an area where pressure can be placed on India to, perhaps, join international efforts to deal with Iran. It does point out why Afghanistan is so critical for global security, and why NATO's effort there must not fail.

Mr. Bigan's speech was even less substantive than was Mr. Narayanan's. However, given China's recent forays into Africa, the Persian Gulf represents an excellent opportunity for China to continue to extend its influence and balance the US and the West. Thus, perhaps the most important part of Bigan's address was:
In order to build a harmonious Gulf, we must be committed to promoting economic and social development of the region. Development is a precondition to eradicate the destabilizing factors of regional security, and an important basis and the guarantee of peace and stability. Sustained peace is impossible without sustained development. We support the Gulf countries to strengthen regional economic cooperation, and to endeavor to set up an open, fair and regulated multilateral trading system, so as to realize mutual benefit and win-win results with other economies. We also support the Gulf countries to choose a model of development that adapts their own historical traditions, cultural characters and development levels. We believe that sustained and sound economic and social development will provide a solid basis for the regional security.
Again, we see a strong argument for globalization. China has learned, perhaps more than any other country, of the power of economic reform and openness. This may herald a drive for China to increase its presence in and connections to the Persian Gulf. But more importantly, it entrenches the need for economic liberalization, which cannot help but produce, albeit slowly, political liberalization.