Center for Strategic Decision Research

Paris '07 Workshop

The Security and Future of the Middle East

Major General Maohai Zhan

Major General Maohai Zhan

Vice Chairman,
China Institute of
International Strategic Studies

Former Director General of
Foreign Affairs,
Chinese Defense Ministry

Major General Maohai Zhan (right), VIce Chair of China IISS and former Director General of Foreign Affairs for the Chinese Defense Ministry, discussed the future of the Middle East and chaired the panel on "Expanding Security Challenges--Political Views" with Pakistan's Ambassador to the UN, Munir Akram (left).

"There are many causes of terrorism, including poverty, injustice, corruption, and hegemony, but poverty and lack of economic development may be the most important ones. How can we solve the problem of terrorism once and for all?
Every country in the world must channel its efforts to that cause."

Its important strategic position, rich oil resources, and unique history and culture give the Middle East an important place in the modern international system. Former U.S. President Eisenhower once pointed out that “even only from the geographic perspective, there is no region more important than the Middle East in the entire world strategy.” The Middle East gave birth to ancient and splendid civilizations. However, because of the intertwining of various and complex contradictions, the Middle East has now become “one of the most troubled, unstable, and harmed regions in the world.”

            Up until now, the Middle East has been fragile in terms of the domestic and regional order of the countries in the region. How can we put the Middle East on the road to peace and stability? This is of great significance for maintaining world peace and enjoying growth and development.


            Since the end of the Cold War, especially since September 11, the Middle East has been faced with a new security situation. First of all, the U.S. Greater Middle East Initiative has met with setbacks. Since the start of the Iraqi War, the United States has invested huge human and material resources in introducing Western democracy to the Greater Middle East.  However, the results are well short of expectations. With complex ethnic contradictions, a strong religious consciousness, a weak democratic basis, and rampant violence and terrorism, things may turn out contrary to American wishes if the United States tries to force democracy on the Middle East in a hurried way. Middle East countries believe that the introduction of democracy should be based on specific conditions in each country, and that democracy should not be imposed from the outside. If the United States pushes from the outside when internal conditions are not ripe, the outcome may be half of what is wanted at twice the effort.

            Second, there is the issue of anti-terrorism. At present, the Middle East remains a region that experiences frequent terrorist activities, which not only affect the economic development there but also pose a serious threat to the daily life of the people. There are many causes of terrorism, including poverty, injustice, corruption, and hegemony, but poverty and lack of economic development may be the most important ones. How can we solve the problem of terrorism once and for all? Every country in the world must channel its efforts to that cause.

            Third, complex ethnic and religious issues are involved. The Middle East is a region in which three religions and various religious sects exist.  Owing to historical reasons, ethnic and religious misunderstandings and contradictions have arisen that, if mishandled, may lead to bloody conflicts and clashes.

            Fourth, there is a lack of regional security mechanisms—the Middle East has not yet set up a regional security framework. The imbalance of regional power may result in additional instability.


The deterioration of the security situation in Iraq has now caused widespread concern in the international community. Addressing the enlarged ministerial meeting of Iraq’s neighbors that was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, on May 4, 2007, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi pointed out that, at present, solidarity, stability, and development, in particular solidarity, are the three prime essentials for resolving the Iraq issue.

China firmly supports the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Iraq, and calls for resolving the disputes of the various Iraqi groups through the political process, in a peaceful and democratic way and through efforts to improve the humanitarian conditions in Iraq. China also supports the acceleration of the reconstruction process in Iraq in accordance with the principles of equality and openness. 

In addition China supports the blueprint for Iraq’s development and reconstruction described in the International Compact with Iraq, and proposes the following for its implementation. 

• Overall planning and coordination are needed so that assistance from all quarters of the world can converge into effective support for the Iraqi people. China supports the United Nations in continuing to play a leading role in this endeavor. The Iraqi government should work with the international community as soon as possible to shoulder its responsibility for safeguarding its national security to create a peaceful and stable security environment for implementing the International Compact with Iraq. 

• A comprehensive and balanced approach should be taken. The various fields covered by the International Compact with Iraq are closely related and complementary and comprehensive and balanced efforts should be made to push forward dialogue and reconciliation among the various Iraqi groups, promote human rights and the rule of law, accelerate economic and social reforms, properly arrange the allocation of resources, and ensure access to basic social services.             

• The third point is that the international community should deliver on its promises and pay attention to actual effects. As the old Chinese saying goes, “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.” With the initiation of the International Compact with Iraq, the international community should take practical measures to carry out its commitments concerning reconstruction assistance and help Iraq to restore and enhance its capacity for self-development, enabling the Iraqi people to benefit from peace and development as soon as possible. 

• Efforts must also be made to strengthen implementation supervision. A fair and transparent environment is conducive to arousing the various parties’ enthusiasm to participate in Iraq’s reconstruction. China supports regular evaluations of Iraq reconstruction progress and of international assistance, so that they are based on respecting Iraq’s sovereignty and independence and the relevant principles and requirements of the International Compact with Iraq.

China also supports Iraq’s various ethnic groups and religious sects in strengthening dialogue, promoting reconciliation, and establishing a mechanism for Iraq’s self-development. The political solution should have high priority and stability should be realized through comprehensive measures. Continuous efforts should be made to promote reconstruction, improve the livelihood of the people, and ensure that each can equally participate in politics and have a fair share of the wealth. At the same time, Iraq cannot achieve solidarity, stability, and development without the support and participation of its neighbors and the international community. Neighboring countries should strengthen coordination and cooperation with Iraq and their concerns should also be understood and taken care of.


On December 23, 2006, after the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1737 imposing sanctions on Iran, Iran immediately declared that it resolutely rejected the resolution and that it would continue with and accelerate the implementation of its nuclear program, intensifying the conflict over the Iranian nuclear issue. The international community’s current concerns include whether Iran can make major breakthroughs in uranium enrichment technology, how the United Nations should react to the current situation, and whether the United States will decide to resort to force against Iran. 

How can we sort out the crux of the Iranian nuclear issue? Therein lies the key to its settlement. China calls for upholding the integrity of the international nuclear nonproliferation regime, stands opposed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and holds that the legal rights of countries to make peaceful use of nuclear energy should be respected provided they strictly fulfill their international nonproliferation obligations.

China also maintains that the best option in the interests of all parties concerned is to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic negotiations. This requires not only political willingness but also diplomatic wisdom. All parties concerned should exercise patience and restraint, and stay committed to pursuing a peaceful solution. They should resume their dialogues and negotiations as soon as possible and work for a permanent and comprehensive solution.

China calls on Iran to enhance its cooperation with IAEA and to create the necessary conditions and atmosphere for resuming negotiations. This will break the vicious cycle of the U.N. Security Council adopting new resolutions that impose sanctions and then Iran escalating its nuclear activities. Imposing sanctions is not an end in itself, but only a means to putting Iran back on the track of negotiations. The sanctions adopted by the Security Council this time are limited and reversible. They are strictly confined to sensitive nuclear activities and to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems. It is clearly stipulated that if Iran suspends its enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and complies with the relevant resolutions of IAEA and the Security Council, the Security Council will suspend and even terminate the sanctions. China hopes that Iran will value the negotiation channels with EU countries and Russia.


The best option for realizing security is a peaceful solution. History has proven time and again that military force cannot resolve the Middle East issue in a permanent and comprehensive way, and that it can only result in a vicious cycle of fighting violence with violence.

            To achieve security, exchanges and cooperation should be strengthened. All parties concerned should enhance mutual political trust and cooperation and increase exchanges and contacts, especially in economic and trade areas, to create a mutually complementary and a win-win situation. China and the Middle East countries can complement each other economically, and there is great potential for developing economic and trade cooperation. China is willing to continue to strengthen economic and trade cooperation with countries in the region on the basis of equality and mutual benefits.

            Finally, the United Nations should play a leading role. The principle of “land for peace” established by U.N. resolutions on the Middle East issue and the Madrid Peace Conference should be the basis for Middle East peace talks. All parties concerned should take substantive measures to implement resolutions and understandings already reached to realize the peaceful coexistence of “two states for two nations.” This is the key to breaking the deadlock in the Middle East peace talks. Furthermore, we should promote dialogue between civilizations, advocate an open and all-embracing concept of civilization, support the friendly coexistence and equal dialogue between civilizations, and join efforts to build a harmonious world.


            The state of instability in the Middle East is unlikely to be resolved in a short time, and its solution will require extended and active efforts by all parties concerned. China actively supports the Middle East peace process and believes that the realization of peace is the common desire of all the people of all the countries in the region, and that it serves their fundamental interests. Steady progress in the Middle East peace process is a guarantee of security for all the countries in the region. China will, as always, work with the international community to realize a comprehensive and just peace in the Middle East as soon as possible.

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