While China has long-standing relationships with regional organizations, its involvement in the Middle East is growing as a result of several agreements with various Middle Eastern countries. The China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF), established in 2004, the China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Strategic Dialogue, established in 2010, and the publication of an Arab policy paper in 2016, which provides an understanding of China’s regional policies and goals, are notable turning points in China’s quest for the regional dominance.
China’s dedication to developing strategic alliances and advancing economic growth in the region goes beyond its conventional energy objectives. The China-GCC Summit and the first China-Arab States in 2022 prove the growing regional interests of Beijing. These developments highlight China’s expanding Middle Eastern participation, which has a substantial impact on regional geopolitics and contributes to changes in the US-led world order.
China is undoubtedly prepared to advance its political and economic interests around the globe to secure crucial resources and get access to Middle Eastern markets. Furthermore, China’s policy of non-interference in its allies’ internal affairs makes it a desirable choice for Middle Eastern nations wanting a variety of economic and geopolitical connections, giving them greater autonomy in both their domestic and foreign affairs.
The Middle Powers’ Shift Towards Multipolarity
It’s important to highlight that middle powers are playing an increasingly important role in global power politics against the backdrop of China’s growing prominence and are contributing towards the emergence of a multipolar world order. Middle powers, including some Middle Eastern nations, are gaining influence and actively participating in shaping international affairs. Their growing role alongside major powers like China is transforming the traditional power balance.
China’s trade ties with Middle Eastern nations have grown significantly, and in 2020, China overtook the EU as the GCC’s top trading partner. This economic cooperation is further cemented by the signing of various trade agreements with Gulf countries. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in the Middle East have become a crucial tool for augmenting its political influence in the area. Further underscoring China’s commitment to the region, a marine route under the BRI project intends to address China’s energy demands coming from the Middle East.
Notably, in 2021, almost a quarter of Chinese BRI investments were made in the Middle East. China has made significant investments in the region, with $10.5 billion set aside for construction contracts in Iraq in 2021 alone. Additionally, China has contributed $10 billion to the construction of infrastructure in northern Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan. Additionally, Iran has received around 10% of the BRI funding overall, aiding in the growth of its ports in the Strait of Hormuz.
Saudi Arabia supports Chinese investments in cutting-edge technology and research, and China has secured 5G partnerships through its Digital Silk Road program in recognition of the Middle East’s aspirations for digital growth. Furthermore, China and Israel are working more closely together on infrastructure, security, and technology, which has alarmed the US.
China is committed to promoting peace and stability in the region, as evidenced by its strong ties with Middle Eastern countries and its economic and strategic interests in the region. China is prepared to fill the gap created by the United States’ shift in focus from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, as seen by its expanding arms sales and military drills with important Middle Eastern players like Iran and Saudi Arabia in addition to Russia.
China’s decision to supply contemporary weapons to neighbors after the United States declined to do so strengthens its position. In critical regional crises like the Afghan issue, the JCPOA talks, and the peace initiatives in Syria and Yemen, China has also emerged as a key mediator. Western countries have expressed concern over Saudi Arabia and Iran’s involvement in BRICS, as well as their participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and recommendations for the de-dollarization of the BRICS framework.
China’s Hard and Soft Powers
Iran’s improving ties with Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China may make it harder for the United States to enforce sanctions against it. The geopolitical landscape has changed as a result of China’s expanding worldwide influence and its standing as a trustworthy friend, affecting both regional and international powers. Growing Chinese influence in the Middle East has a variety of effects since it strengthens China’s soft power and increases its political sway there.
Middle Eastern countries are increasingly considering China as a substitute for the United States to provide their needs in terms of finance, development, and security. Therefore, Israel and the United States’ hegemony in the region and globally faces threats from China’s growing influence. This change emphasizes the necessity for the United States to improve its reputation and reevaluate its Middle East policies to maintain its position as a trusted ally for neighboring nations.
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