Archive for the ‘PRESS’ Category

More catch up posting, this time a short piece for the Telegraph reflecting on the Indian action in Kashmir. It draws on a point made previously a few times, and doubtless something that will return to in the future. Hard to tell at this stage how things are going to play out, but there will undoubtedly be consequences of some sort.

India’s actions in Kashmir could have bloody consequences in the UK

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Indian security personnel stand guard along a deserted street during restrictions in Jammu, August 5, 2019 Credit: Reuters

In February 1984, the deputy head of the Indian Consulate in Birmingham was grabbed as he got off the bus heading home with a cake for his daughter’s birthday. The next day, Kashmiri nationalists announced that they had kidnapped him and were demanding a ransom and the release of a Kashmiri leader in Indian custody. The Indian government refused and Mhatre was brutally murdered. Three decades later in 2005, the Kashmiri connection came to life once again when a group of British born young men blew themselves up on the London public transport system murdering 52 innocent commuters. Their journey to Al Qaeda training camps had started through Kashmiri oriented ones.

This sad history of violence shows how intimately the UK is tied to the waves of violence that occasionally pulse through Kashmir, and shows why attention needs to be paid to what is happening in there now. The newly crowned BJP government led by Narendra Modi won a landslide election victory on May 23 on a platform of revoking a key part of the constitution which defined Indian controlled Kashmir as separate to the rest of the country. This reclamation has come at a moment when violence in Kashmir appears to be sharpening as the Muslim majority population chafe against rule from Delhi.

The Indian government’s assessment of the potential impact of this decision can be seen in the fact that the Internet has been largely cut off and the mass deployment of thousands of soldiers into the region. Over the weekend thousands started to stream away from the region near India’s border with Pakistan after the government issued a series of warnings about potential violence.

They are right to be concerned. Quite aside the fact that internecine violence between different ethnic and religious communities in India has in the past resulted in mass death and violence, this region often acts as a flashpoint between India and Pakistan. Since 2015 there has been an growing number of terrorist attacks against Indian security forces which has resulted in an escalating level of response by the Indian government against Pakistan. While there is some evidence of cross-border support from Pakistan, they are able to exploit genuine and growing anger in Kashmir at the moment.

This move by the government in Delhi is unlikely to do much to tamp this down. Rather, it is likely to exacerbate people’s fears that Delhi is going to open the region more to re-settlement by non-Muslim populations from elsewhere in India. The region’s special status will feel further under threat and create a context that will become a further flashpoint between India and Pakistan. These are two nuclear armed states who have shown in the past few years an escalating pattern of armed confrontation over incidents starting in Kashmir.

This has hugely dangerous consequences for one of the most populated parts of the world. But it also resonates in the UK. Talk to any MP who represents a constituency with a substantial South Asian population, and they will tell you about the degree to which issues in the subcontinent show up regularly in their surgeries. At one point, a Kashmiri focused political party managed to claim city council seats in Birmingham on a platform largely focused on Kashmir. The UK is right to be deeply proud of its South Asian communities (both current Chancellor and Home Secretary claim this proud heritage), but unfortunately there are difficult politics attached. What happens in Kashmir resonates in the UK.

Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)

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More belated posting, this time another book review for Literary Review. It looks at Joan Smith’s thought-provoking Home Grown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists. Very pleased to be contributing regularly to this publication and look forward to doing more of it.

Murderers in the Making

Home Grown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists

By Joan Smith

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While the process by which a person becomes part of a terrorist group is different in every case, there are patterns and similarities in the ways people are radicalised. Identifying them is a big part of what our security services do nowadays, looking at individual behaviour to try to understand who may end up taking a path towards violence. Joan Smith’s new book, Home Grown, seeks to identify one set of indicators, focusing on misogyny and domestic violence. It is not based on data-driven research. Rather, it relies on anecdotal evidence, drawing on a somewhat random set of case studies from Western societies in recent years. But that does not stop it from being a very stimulating meditation on a topic on which gallons of ink have already been spilled. 

Understanding the ‘close link between private and public violence’, Smith suggests, can provide a ‘new way’ of identifying potential terrorists. Her main point is that if you dig into the backgrounds of those who commit terrorist acts, you will find life stories littered with abuse at home – angry men beating their wives and children – and a litany of misogynistic behaviours. She cites as an example the case of the Kouachi brothers, responsible for the January 2015 massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. Their sister Aicha told the police after the massacre, ‘My father used to beat us, my mother neglected us.’ Both men were openly misogynistic too. While on trial a few years earlier for suspected terrorism-related offences, one of them refused to stand up in court because the judge was a woman. Smith also cites the case of Darren Osborne, who drove a truck into congregants outside the Finsbury Park mosque in 2017. Osborne was a repeated abuser of women and at the time of the attack was effectively homeless, having been thrown out of his house by his long-suffering partner. 

There is now an awareness in the security establishment of the importance of studying the inner lives of the people who become involved in terrorism. In the past few years there has been a growth in the number of psychologists and social scientists working on countering terrorism. MI5 has had a dedicated behavioural sciences unit for some time. The part played by broken homes and abusive fathers in radicalisation has certainly been noticed by the security services. What is more interesting and thought-provoking is the question of where misogyny and violence against women fit into the picture. This is the question that most animates Smith, who is a longtime campaigner for women’s rights and co-chair of the mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board. For her, the underlying problem of misogyny in societies contributes to an environment in which terrorism can germinate. She refers to Salman Abedi, the perpetrator of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, who belonged to a social group in which misogyny was commonplace. After the attack, one of his contemporaries at college told the authorities that ‘he would hang around with other lads who would smoke weed and harass girls. They’d say really inappropriate things, he just had no respect for women.’ In 2012 he assaulted a young woman at his college.

There is surely some truth to Smith’s claim of a connection between misogyny and terrorism – societies in which the victimisation and abuse of one half of the population is a daily occurrence are likely to create a range of problems for themselves. Violent Islamism and right-wing extremism, the two terrorist ideologies that most bother us today, are both fundamentally male-supremacist, and Smith reminds us that forced marriages, rape and sex slavery are widespread within ISIS. But the matter is complicated by the fact that some women are drawn towards such organisations. For them, joining an extremist group that advocates the subordination of women can, paradoxically, foster a feeling of agency over the future.

Even more complicated is the question of whether the phenomena Smith describes have long been present and under-observed or are new developments. Here Home Grown is frustrating, as the case studies Smith offers are all relatively recent – she draws particularly heavily on the explosion of violence in the West that began with ISIS’s proclamation of a caliphate in 2014. The other frustration with this book is that it is hard to know what practical conclusions to draw from it, aside from the need to pay more attention to people who come from abusive homes. The recommendations Smith offers at the end of the book are for the most part about improving the reporting of abuse of women in general. Only two out of twelve of them relate specifically to terrorism or radicalisation. And this in some ways captures the essence of Smith’s book. While it uses the topic of terrorism as a way of approaching these subjects, it is in fact more about misogyny and domestic abuse in society as a whole.

Another catch up post which might have a more limited audience on the site. A short interview with a very generous introduction which was run in the Italian La Repubblica in the wake of the double tragedies in Texas and Ohio. I am sure you will all race to learn Italian to be able to appreciate it fully.

Intervista
Suprematismo Bianco

Strage Texas e Ohio. Pantucci: “I suprematisti come i lupi solitari islamici. Attacchi quasi inevitabili”

04 AGOSTO 2019
L’opinione di uno dei massimi esperti mondiali di terrorismo, commenta quanto avventuto negli Stati Uniti a El Paso e Dayton
DI ENRICO FRANCESCHINI

LONDRA. «Dopo la fase del terrorismo islamico, ora stiamo vivendo il tempo del terrorismo suprematista. I leader politici come Trump che diffondono odio e razzismo hanno sicuramente una parte di responsabilità». È il parere di Raffaello Pantucci, uno dei massimi esperti mondiali di terrorismo, analista del Royal United Services Institute di Londra, la più antica think tank di questioni di sicurezza al mondo, all’indomani di due nuove stragi in America.

Che pensa di quanto accaduto in Texas e in Ohio, dottor Pantucci?
«Purtroppo, ormai questi eventi hanno una certa aria di inevitabilità: è deprimente ammetterlo, ma ce li aspettiamo, specialmente negli Stati Uniti. C’è una ragione di fondo: la facilità a procurarsi un fucile».

Diversamente da quanto è successo in Nuova Zelanda, dove dopo il massacro di Christchurch il governo di Jacinda Ardern ha messo al bando le armi automatiche e ha già iniziato il programma per requisirle.
«A dimostrazione che, se c’è la volontà politica, si può fare e anche in fretta. La Nuova Zelanda non è l’eccezione. In Gran Bretagna, dopo l’eccidio di Dunblane in Scozia negli anni ’90, quando un uomo uccise 16 bambini in una scuola, furono passate leggi molto severe sul possesso di armi da fuoco e gli episodi di questo genere sono diventati rari».

Ma un filo comune che lega il massacro in Nuova Zelanda con quelli in Texas e in Ohio: l’odio suprematista bianco contro le minoranze. Da dove viene questo nuovo tipo di terrorismo?
«Molta responsabilità ce l’hanno leader politici come Donald Trump, che difendono i suprematisti o fanno ripetutamente commenti razzisti».

L’ideologia guida è la cosiddetta teoria della Grande Sostituzione, il presunto complotto di asiatici, africani e ispanici per rimpiazzare l’uomo bianco in Occidente. Perché si è sviluppata proprio ora?
«Perché l’immigrazione è diventata il tema che spacca l’Occidente, la grande paura del nostro tempo».

Si può dire che il terrorismo suprematista ha preso il posto di quello di matrice islamica come principale minaccia alla sicurezza?
«No. Sia perché il terrorismo islamico non è scomparso, sia perché i servizi segreti di molti Paesi hanno fatto un grande sforzo per combatterlo. Ma si può dire che il terrore suprematista lo sta affiancando. Ogni epoca ha il suo terrorismo: c’è stata l’era di quello di stampo anarchico, poi del terrorismo rosso e nero, quindi di quello islamico. Adesso tocca al terrorismo suprematista».

A book review for a new outlet, the Literary Review, an excellent literary magazine which asked me to review Being Young, Male and Muslim in Luton. Hopefully more of these coming and of course the topic is one that will remain of interest. Beyond this, spoke to Monocle about China at the Shangri La Dialogue and the Independent about extreme right wing terrorism in the UK.

Raffaello Pantucci

Fatwas & Fried Chicken

Being Young, Male and Muslim in Luton 

By Ashraf Hoque

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The story of Britain’s Muslim youth is largely presented in the mainstream media through narratives of extremism. This is especially true for those living in Luton, a place that is indelibly associated with violence and division on all sides. On the one hand, it is the town where the 7/7 bombers gathered before launching their attacks on London in July 2005. On the other, it is the birthplace of Tommy Robinson and the English Defence League. Ashraf Hoque’s slim book is an attempt to look beyond this narrow discourse and understand what it is that male members of Luton’s Muslim community are really thinking. 

Early on, we discover that this is not the book Hoque set out to write. Initially, he planned to research ‘the dissemination and flows of religious knowledge’ between Britain and Pakistan in order to ‘assess to what extent religious devotion and attitudes shifted or remained the same in the two contexts’. The Pakistani side of this, involving research at madrasas and seminaries, proved too dangerous, and consequently Hoque scaled back his project to encompass just Luton. This is a shame, as there has not been ample first-hand research into the links between British and Pakistani religious communities, and in particular on the extremist tendencies that sometimes tie them together.

The book draws mainly on a series of seemingly ad hoc interviews with members of Luton’s Muslim community. From his perch at an EU-funded, Salafi-run counter-radicalisation project in the city (which he calls the Minority Skills Project), Hoque moves among the city’s Muslims, guided by organisers whose credibility within the community stems from their deep religiosity and their own somewhat chequered pasts. As a result, his view is invariably affected by the Salafi window through which he is being shown things.

Luton, Hoque is told by a young Salafi Muslim called Kamal, ‘is second only to Saudi Arabia as a Mecca for the pious’. It is a place where the Muslim community appears to be comfortable with itself. Yet the city has also been home to a number of extremists, most notably Anjem Choudary and his Al-Muhajiroun movement. Hoque interviews at least one of their number, after approaching their dawa (missionary) stall in the high street. A boastful and opinionated 25-year-old named Hamed tells him, ‘People say America is the Great Satan. They’re wrong. Britain is the Greatest Satan.’

Fortunately, Hoque is able to see past this braggadocio. He speaks to others in the community who ridicule Al-Muhajiroun (and its predecessor organisation, Hizb ut-Tahrir), characterising its programme of establishing a caliphate as ‘idealistic and impractical’. One of the more entertaining vignettes captures how groups of Salafis regularly visit the Al-Muhajiroun stall to argue religious doctrine with the group’s members as they attempt to spread their message among passers-by. These confrontations, we are told, regularly descend into shouting matches. The purpose on both sides, Hoque concludes, is largely to present a display of piety for the watching crowd.

The most interesting parts of the book are the superficially more pedestrian interviews with idle young Lutonites who are struggling with their mixed identities as Muslims of South Asian origin brought up in Britain. Their religious identities are heavily shaped by the cultures of their parents’ homelands – there are stories of young men and women being taught Islam at madrasas, where they are beaten for failing to answer teachers talking to them about a religion they don’t understand in a language they barely speak. Such experiences leave them more interested in the purist forms of religious expression that Salafism and similar ideologies seem to provide. As Hoque sees it, young Muslims welcome the ‘existential security of a “back to basics” doctrine of certainty’ that the revivalist Islam of Salafism offers. This, alongside the camaraderie and sense of belonging that concepts such as the Ummah (the global community of Muslims) provide, gives a tidy explanation of why such ideologies are able to capture people’s imaginations. For those disconnected from both their native and their inherited identities, a system of belief that offers clarity and a connection to an international community is welcome.

This book has a somewhat dated feel. While Hoque has gone to great lengths to make his text seem fresh, the bulk of the interviews for it were carried out between 2008 and 2010. The world of Islam in the UK has moved on quite a bit since then, and while this snapshot of Luton life is enlightening and we get some sparks of colour from Hoque’s brief pen portraits of interviewees, one has to wonder if the landscape today is quite the same as the one he describes.

While ISIS looms in the background and is mentioned a few times, what is not explored is the impact of its attempts to establish a caliphate on Al-Muhajiroun and its followers in Luton. The group has spent its entire life shouting for the establishment of a caliphate. But when ISIS came along and created one, Al-Muhajiroun’s members found that their bluff had been called. To ignore this caliphate would amount to a renunciation of their life’s work, yet to acknowledge and engage with it would be a criminal act. For those most seriously drawn to it, it would also require moving to a very dangerous place. Some headed out to the Levant anyway; others hemmed and hawed. A few, such as Choudary, were arrested and sent to jail for trying to drum up support for it. Luton’s dense fundamentalist community will have had to wrestle with these problems and dilemmas, but this story is unfortunately missing from Hoque’s book.

Britain’s Muslim community is of course not made up solely of extremists. In Hoque’s text we meet young men working to support their families, building lives in modern Britain while tied to tribal communities in South Asia and ultimately liking nothing more than chicken and chips and holidays in Ibiza. We see some of them drawn into criminal fraternities, many of which have links to tribes, and justifying selling drugs as a way of providing for their families. We see others suffering from drug dependency and meet the Salafis trying to bring them back from the brink. These are fundamentally stories of young men in modern urban environments. The book’s most valuable work is to shed light on this reality. Hoque shows us a world of people who have been parodied in the press but are for the most part ordinary citizens trying to understand how they fit into modern life.

A new article for the South China Morning Post which seeks to offer a broader lens with which to consider the recent spate of terrorist incidents in South Asia. There is an interesting running theme of them all having global consequences, something that has now been made even more relevant by the death of Zakir Musa (AQIS head) and ISIS’s announcements of affiliates in Pakistan and India. Related to this story, spoke to the Wall Street Journal about the Sri Lanka attacks.

Time for South Asia to more closely monitor regional terrorism with global reach

  • Raffaello Pantucci writes that growing regional anger must be kept from spiralling out of control and creating broader havoc
  • Recent terror attacks in Kashmir, Sri Lanka and Gwadar have worrisome implications for global security
Topic |   Pakistan

A new short piece for London’s Evening Standard this past week looking at the discussion about China that the UK seems not to be having at the moment. Rather than a nuanced discussion, it has become very polarised at the moment and seems to be going further in this direction at the moment. Going to be a hot topic for a while I suspect.

This aside, spoke to AFP about the relationship of Xinjiang to the broader Belt and Road Initiative (which was picked up in a few places) and rather randomly the Italy-Russia relationship to Sputnik. Separate to this, spoke to a few in the wake of the terrible attack in Sri Lanka, including Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Economist, Washington Post, NPR, and the Dutch Nieuwsuur and NRCFinally, for those more visually inclined, please check out this video done for my home institute of RUSI on the Sri Lanka attack.

China is both an economic opportunity and a threat

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The hysteria around the Government’s decision on Huawei and 5G is distracting from a more mature conversation about Chinathat the UK has not yet had.

How are we to establish a manageable existence alongside a country that is becoming one of the world’s biggest economic pillars, while at the same time incarcerating Western researchers, holding vast numbers of its own population in arbitrary detention and continuing to stymie open political debate?

It is a power we want to engage with, but it threatens some of our closest allies. How we deal with this should be the discussion we are having.

There are questions around Huawei. Large Chinese companies are close to the State. Firms contain Communist Party cells, and national legislation obliges them to respond to demands from the Chinese security apparatus. 

Whether we should allow this sort of company to build parts of our telecoms infrastructure is a question best suited to those who are technically minded and understand the level of risk posed, and how (or if) it can be managed.

Yet this narrow question has overwhelmed the debate around China. You are either for Huawei or against it, in much the same way that you either want to confront China or engage with it. But this binary choice is a false one. The world is more complicated than that.

China is both an opportunity and a threat. Beijing is rising as a major power that is investing in, and developing, parts of the world we have long worried about. Having lifted millions of its own people out of poverty, it is helping countries the UK has spent billions of pounds on.

There are problems with its approaches, many of which are being aired during the current Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. But China is offering an opportunity that developing countries are also keen on. And from a UK perspective, this is a good thing. We also agree with its creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and its views on pollution and international peacekeeping.

Yet Beijing is also threatening some of our closest allies, arbitrarily jailing Western nationals and ruling its people harshly. Japan and India are Asian giants equally close to the UK that have tense border confrontations with China.

But Delhi and Tokyo are trying to balance these issues with the reality that Beijing’s growth is the major economic story in their back yard. They are often trying to find ways of both engaging and challenging Beijing at the same time.

We too must understand how we are going to manage the fact that we want China’s co-operation and support on important issues but need to be deeply concerned about others. We have to both remonstrate and work with it, in concert with our close allies.

China is complex, and our response requires an equal nuance. Having a more sophisticated national conversation would be a good place to start.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute.

Belatedly posting a piece for the Financial Times excellent Beyond BRICS blog which focuses on the reality of the Chinese relationship with Iran and Russia. More complicated than is often assumed. A topic that I would like to focus on more in the future, both in terms of the reality and complexity of China’s relations with Iran and Russia, as well as broader Eurasian geopolitics. On that particular note, please check back into the China in Central Asia website which  I am hoping to awaken soon.

Separately, spoke to the Guardian about the UK’s disengagement and desistance programme, to the BBC about the extreme right wing, to the LA Times about a Uighur fighting extradition from Turkey, to De Trouw about the role of mainstream political discourse in dragging the extreme right forwards, to AFP about ISIS (which was translated into Spanish), to the Independent about a plot that was uncovered to target Europe by some Sunday Times reporters, and finally a Press Association interview was used in the MetroDaily Star, and Al Banaba. Beyond this, my recent Observer piece was picked up and translated in digest into Spanish by El Mundo.

Russia and Iran cannot always count on China

In response to US sanctions, Beijing’s own interests come first

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping at a friendly ice hockey match between Russian and Chinese youth teams in Taijin last year © Getty

Beijing is seen by some as the financial backstop that countries can call on to bail them out when they fall foul of US displeasure and face sanctions. Yet a close examination of the cases of Russia and Iran instead shows that China is reactive to US sanctions policy, to the detriment of its supposed strategic allies.

This reflects the attractiveness of the US market, the reach of extraterritorial sanctions and the independence of some Chinese institutions from Beijing’s geopolitical interests.

It also highlights the existence of fissures between powers that are often painted as members of an anti-western alliance. They may talk with the rhetoric of allies, but their relationships are more complicated. Understanding how this will play out will be key for policymakers seeking to navigate today’s dangerous waters.

At a geostrategic level, China, Russia and Iran appear to be in lockstep. Yet notwithstanding their proximity, expressed in public shows of affection between their leaders (in particular between presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin), the reality is that there are deep tensions in Beijing’s bilateral relationships with Moscow and Tehran. Nowhere are these expressed more substantially than in the economic sphere, where Russia and Iran have consistently been disappointed by the willingness of Chinese entities and institutions to invest in their countries.

Most recently, China has been hesitant in its support of Russia’s de-dollarisation policy, through a cross-border system of bilateral settlements, for fear of angering the US. The two powers failed to conclude an agreement as planned by the end of last year, with one Russian source close to the talks telling Kommersant: “From Washington’s standpoint, China’s agreement with Russia would look like it was helping Moscow evade sanctions.”

This came after reports that Moscow was ready to bet heavily on China, diversifying its foreign reserves so that 15 per cent ($67bn) were held in renminbi, leaving the Russian central bank with a quarter of the world’s renminbi holdings. This was after it had sold about $100bn of its US dollar reserves while purchasing $44bn worth of renminbi in the second quarter of 2018.

The two countries already settle 14 per cent of bilateral payments in renminbi and 7 to 8 per cent in roubles, but were seeking to increase this, and to enshrine cross-border use of the Chinese Union Pay and Russian Mir credit card systems in each other’s countries.

A similar story can be seen in Tehran, where eagerness by authorities to use Beijing to circumvent a newly hardening US sanctions policy has been met with hesitation by Chinese institutions.

This was most publicly expressed in December, when it emerged that Kunlun Bank, which is majority owned by China National Petroleum Corp, was only going to clear Iranian payments, in full compliance with US sanctions policy, until the end of April, when China’s “significant reduction exemption” for the import of Iranian oil expires. Cutting this major lifeline for the Iranian economy was believed to be the product of CNPC’s concerns about the impact of its Iranian activities on its interests in the US.

Tehran has also seen a drop in imports from China, with an analysis by Bourse & Bazaar suggesting a 70 per cent drop from October to December last year after two months of tightened US sanctions. Like Moscow, Tehran has sought to increase the volume of transactions in local currencies but its central bank does not publish the composition of its foreign reserves, so it is not clear whether this has changed.

Frustration can also be seen in the supposed benefits that Russia and Iran have sought through investments under the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s global infrastructure programme.

When Total, the French oil company, withdrew from Iran’s South Pars gasfield in response to President Donald Trump’s overturning of the agreement to lift sanctions on Iran, CNPC initially stepped forward. But it has not developed the field it at the pace Tehran had hoped, and reports this year suggested CNPC may have suspended its activities. The Financial Times has reported that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are ready to take its place.

Similarly, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, expressed concern that Chinese developers were taking their time in redesigning the Arak heavy water reactor according to the terms laid out in the 2015 nuclear deal. He attributed this to fears of US sanctions.

While it is hard to draw a straight line between US sanctions and Chinese reticence, it is also clear that Moscow does not always find Beijing a useful infrastructure partner. In reported comments in December about the Moscow-Kazan High Speed Rail (HSR) train line, Anton Siluanov, deputy prime minister and finance minister, said he did not see the line’s economic benefits and questioned its viability. The project was proposed and signed in 2015 when China was on a global HSR push, and questions always hung over its practicability (and indeed of other HSR projects around the world). Its seeming jettisoning reflects the reality that not all Chinese infrastructure projects work out, even in countries that are supposedly strategic allies of Beijing.

There are a number of explanations for these trends. First; Chinese banks, companies and other institutions may sometimes act in ways that contradict Beijing’s view, driven by specific concerns of their own. The assumption that all of China works in lockstep to advance Beijing’s geopolitical world view does not always match up with facts on the ground. It may be hard to divine whether a Chinese institution is responding to sanctions pressure, fear of losing access to the US market or some central Beijing command, but their behaviour does not always match policy declarations.

Second, Chinese institutions drive hard bargains. In the context of Iran and Russia, China is the funder and their local counterparts the supplicants. This puts Chinese institutions in the driving seat — something they are aware of and will exploit. Commenting on Beijing’s reticence to sign a bilateral memorandum with Moscow, one source told Kommersant that in addition to concerns about the US, “China needs time to tweak the final document more to its benefit”.

Third, countries like Iran and Russia are fearful of becoming overly dependent on Beijing. They realise that opening too much to China risks flooding local markets and potentially curtailing their own development.

In Tehran, the government has gone further, with reports of authorities advising against buying Chinese goods because it amounted to “exporting jobs”.

It is clear that China’s alliance with Russia and Iran is more complicated than sometimes realised. It is also clear that US sanctions continue to have a deterrent effect on Chinese institutions.

Yet it is hard to project such complications into the future. While Beijing may have tensions with Moscow and Tehran, the three continue to be willing to support each other at a geopolitical level. If the aggression with which US economic sanctions are employed continues, alternative global economic structures will develop.

Their beginnings are already visible. Moscow is taking the firmest steps in this direction through its de-dollarisation policy. Tehran may find itself obliged to follow if it is unable to find a way out of its current impasse.

While it is clear that US sanctions may have an effect on their economies, it is not clear that they are generating the change in behaviour that Washington desires. In this context, Beijing will sense an opportunity.

This article has been modified since publication to correct the statement on Iran’s imports from China, previously stated as exports to China.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi)