US-Iran Phony War: Another Attempt To Strangle China

Angkoso Nugroho l
The US is going for China’s jugular vein – its booming export-oriented economy – by trying to significantly reduce China’s massive oil imports. Journalists coined a special term for the the first few months of World War 2: Phony War. A phony war is when two opposing groups are openly hostile towards each other, as if they are at war, but there is no real fighting. Phony war refers to a period of war during World War 2 in which no fighting occurred between Nazi Germany and Allied powers. It will not be wrong to label the recent US-Iran fiery and bellicose rhetoric as the new Phony War.

It was baffling to see General Qasim Soleimani assassinated by the US military in the Iraqi theatre as both the USA military and Iranian paramilitary forces have been fighting almost shoulder to shoulder in northern Iraq since the protracted conflict in Iraq began with the invasion of US led forces to topple the government of Saddam Hossein under the pretext of WMDs. It is also pertinent to remind the readers that it was the Iranian backed radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi militia who executed Saddam by hanging under the watch of the US military occupation forces. The Iranian cooperation and coexistence with USA continued in the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Since the times of operation Desert Storm there has not been a single instance of one attacking the other but now the hit on Soleimani happened with a bang and left the world aghast. To understand the underlying motives behind the mysterious killing of General Soleimani, first we need to make sense of the evolving geo-strategic, political and economic rivalry of USA with China.

The US is going for China’s jugular vein – its booming export-oriented economy – by trying to significantly reduce China’s massive oil imports. The unprecedented industrial growth of China is causing sleepless nights inside the Beltway. The Chinese model is unique in a way that the influx of USD coming to China due to its immense and impressive exports have remained inside China instead of being reinvested in US financial products like insurance, savings etc. This has given China an ingenious opportunity to create its own version of Ithe MF with which the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is getting financed.

Getting in the way of the industrial growth of China has become a strategic imperative for USA as progress of BRI means swift and rapid distribution of Chinese goods; therefore, threatening the dominant position of the USD as global reserve in the long term. The conceived solution for the dilemma that the USA is facing is not trade war as is misleadingly portrayed in some media outlets, but rather an undeclared oil blockade through indirect means.

To counter the growing Chinese threat, a typical modus operandi has been adopted by USA without any semblance of creativity – one of the major signs of a dying empire. It began with fomenting trouble in the Strait of Malacca and South China Sea (SCS) by stirring up the already existing low-intensity maritime territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone disputes and piracy issues. The aforementioned causes were used as a pretext by USA for deployment of naval forces with an offensive posture in the SCS. This was a thuggish display of gunboat diplomacy in the 21st century. China’s response was spectacular and ingenious. They started building ports in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar that were in close proximity and having land routes to China. Thus, significantly reducing the vulnerability of Chinese oil imports via SCS.

In order to counter Chinese strategy of creating alternate supply routes through ports, the USA responded with manufacturing the Rohingya Crisis, fomenting trouble in Xinjiang and supporting India against Pakistan – the main node of BRI. In addition to that, the Chinese oil imports from KSA were obstructed by creating chaos around the Bab al Mandeb through the Yemen Crisis and Somali piracy, leading to the blockade of Saudi oil outlet in the shores of the Suez Canal. Perhaps this is the clue that also explains the reason behind why the USA-supplied batteries of Saudi patriot air defense grid were down when the state-owned Saudi Aramco facility was attacked by drones.
To stop Chinese imports of Iranian oil, the nuke deal was canceled and Iran was sanctioned. The objective of sanctions was to restrict Iran from exporting its oil, Iran being one of the main powerhouses for Chinese industries. The EU vassal states refused to become part of the oil sanctions regime because they are dependent on Iranian oil too, so an attack against outgoing oil tankers from Hormuz was orchestrated. And without wasting much time about gathering evidence and presenting some concrete facts, the USA blamed Iran and sent its Lincoln carrier group, that in effect blockaded Hormuz; UK and India also joined the foray and sent their warships, with the UK going so far as to seize an Iranian oil tanker and reprimanding and accusing Iran of selling oil to the “murderous regime” of Bashar al Assad. The gathering of warships in the Strait of Hormuz created an effective blockade but failed to achieve its intended objective of cutting off China’s oil imports.

Despite blockades and sanctions, China continued with its import of Iranian oil. And all of the measures taken by USA, explained above in detail, didn’t stop Chinese tankers from sailing to the Middle East, which incited the USA to attempt a last-ditch effort: provoking a USA-Iran war. The killing of Soleimani and the subsequent missile retaliation by Iran brought the USA and Iran almost to the brink of war. The downing of the Boeing airline was a fiasco and should be interpreted as a well-intended signal for the Chinese leadership to show them the possible extent of collateral damage in a prospective war. Thus China was left with no option but to turn its back on Iran’s crude.

As the world’s largest oil buyer, Chinese interests would be best served with an uninterrupted and continuous oil flow from the Middle East. Any threat to the oil sources, its production and distribution facilities and especially to the world’s busiest oil tanker shipping lane, the Strait of Hormuz, the main oil choke point and the lifeline of modern civilization, would undermine the capacity of China’s industrial base for which oil is the most vital component.

From the above analysis it can be also concluded that there are strong elements within the Iranian deep state who are in cahoots with the USA regardless of the belligerent rhetoric and in spite of the bravado. Perhaps no country is paying more attention and becoming more worried about the recent US-Iran escalation than China. And it also proves the modern adage that Empire thrives on chaos that is in stark contrast to the rising Eurasian powers that prefer stability and order.

This article was first published in