Hongda Fan, a leading Chinese expert and professor at Shanghai International Studies University’s Middle East Studies Institute, tells Newsweek that the United States has indeed ignored the urgent needs of Middle Eastern countries for development, signaling that the end of the American century begins in the Middle East.
Chinese official communications often echo a phrase of President Xi Jinping’s about “great changes unseen in a century.” Increasingly that line seems less like propaganda and more like a simple statement of a vast transformation in the world order.
This overhaul, years in the making, is taking the clearest shape right now in the Middle East, a region where the U.S. has devoted many resources in the 21st century. In March, China helped arrange a peace deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia, taking the kind of broker role in the region long held by the U.S. Washington currently has no diplomatic ties with Tehran and relations with Riyadh have grown strained.
“We bluster, we threaten, we menace, we sanction, we send the Marines, we bomb,” says Chas Freeman, a veteran U.S. diplomat, “but we don’t ever use the arts of persuasion.”
Freeman was principal interpreter for President Richard Nixon on his visit to China in 1972. The trip ultimately resulted in the U.S. recognizing the People’s Republic over Taiwan and the opening of an embassy in Beijing, where Freeman served as deputy chief of mission. Now he tells Newsweek, Washington’s “moment of diplomatic glory” is long over. “What has happened is that the American ability to coerce is declining,” he says. “We seem to be approaching the world as though we still have an unchallenged authority that we imagined we did at the end of the Cold War.”
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Many nations are pursuing their own paths, sometimes called “strategic autonomy.” The concept remains a hallmark of India’s non-aligned foreign policy, even as it improves relations with the U.S. It is also gaining traction with once-close U.S. friends such as Saudi Arabia, and has appeared in comments by French President Emmanuel Macron following his April visit to Beijing.
Freeman, who once served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, says, “The world is changing; the kaleidoscope is in motion. We’re trying to put all the pieces in place,” he says. “The basic aim of our foreign policy is retention of primacy, which is impossible. Nothing is forever. No great power is always supreme forever.”
“It’s not just that the Pax Americana, the American Century, which turned out to be about 50 years long, is over,” he adds, “but the 500 years of Euro-Atlantic global ascendancy are over.”
According to Anil Sooklal, South Africa’s ambassador to the group, 19 nations, including five Arab states and Iran, are ready to join BRICS.