A boy attends prayers with other Muslims to celebrate Eid al-Adha at a mosque in Yumen, Gansu province on Oct. 26, 2012.
In my two most recent novels, “The China Gambit,” and “The Spanish Revenge,” I deal with China’s rising military power, the growth of Islam, and the possibility of collaboration between Islamic nations and China. Based upon recent developments, there are strong reasons to believe that Islam and China will form an alliance.
As the 21st century unfolds, the trend is toward three major power blocs in the world: The West, led by the United States; China; and the Islamic nations. Increasingly, these nations are coming together for a common purpose, which was demonstrated by the recent cease-fire negotiations in which Turkey worked with Egypt to support Hamas, a pawn of Iran. What all of these have in common is their Islamic religion. In contrast, in China, Mao suppressed religion.
Islam has gone through some incredible ups and downs in its history. A high point was the glorious period in southern Spain from the 8th to the 15th century, when learning, the arts, and architecture flourished. It all came crashing down with the conquest of Spain by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, which led to Muslim exile or conversion. Saladin’s victory over Richard the Lion Heart for control of Jerusalem was another. And the Ottoman Empire was a third.
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Rebiya Kadeer is an exiled leader of the Uighurs, Chinese Muslims currently involved in violent protests in China, in 2009.
From the end of the World War I until recently, Islam was in demise with Islamic nations often ruled by western colonial powers or by autocrats installed by those powers. All that has changed in recent years. Iran set the example with its Islamic government which took control of the revolution following the overthrow of the Shah. More recently, the so-called Arab Spring is leaving in its wake the strong possibility of Islamic governments in North Africa and Egypt.
Meantime, in Western Europe, demographics and higher birth rates will produce Muslim majorities, made up largely of migrants from North Africa, in a number of Europe’s largest cities by the end of the next decade. New mosques are being constructed; sometimes churches are being converted to mosques.
While the Islamic world is in a gradual ascendency, with faith playing a major role, secular China’s rise has been meteoric. Economically, the Chinese are projected to surpass the American economy by 2030. Militarily, China has been increasing its budget by 12 percent a year in the last decade. They have almost as many bombers as the United States. Beijing has launched its first aircraft carrier, developed a stealth fighter, and is rapidly catching up with the United States in naval vessels.
Against this background, powerful factors point toward an alliance between Islam and China. One potential area for cooperation is natural resources. The Chinese economy needs them; and many of the Islamic states have them.
Already, we’ve seen a cooperative agreement for oil and natural gas between China and Iran. This has led to China opposing harsh U.N. sanctions against Iran for nuclear developments. Here is a clear example of China teaming up with Islam.
More generally, there is an old expression: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” While the United States and China are not now enemies, there are many potential flashpoints between them—Pacific Islands, Japan, Taiwan, and natural resources—that confrontations are likely. This is particularly true now that China has a new leader, Xi Jinping, with close ties to the military. Likewise, President Obama’s Asia pivot, an attempt to link up with countries like Burma, on China’s border, is viewed by Beijing as a belligerent act.
As for the Islamic countries, many of them are demonstrating hostility toward the West. Iraq and Pakistan, two large Islamic countries, certainly cannot now be considered friends of the United States. Increasingly, these two and others will enter into mutually beneficial alliances with China.
Religiously, there is an irony here. United Nations committees have criticized China for their restrictions on freedom of religion. And the Chinese government has been in a virtual war to suppress the Uighur people living in Western China who practice a form of Sunni Islam, and whom China alleges to be linked to al-Qaeda. Both Islamic Pakistan and Turkey have cooperated with China to arrest and to extradite some Uighurs. So once again political expediency has trumped a common faith.
History is change; empires die. We would be foolish not to anticipate the developing ties between China and the Islamic world.