In just one month, in January, five high-ranking officials from Arab oil monarchies visited China to discuss possible energy and infrastructure cooperation, the New York Times reported. The top Turkish diplomat also promised to eradicate “reports targeting China” from the Turkish press, and the Iranian foreign minister pushed for an acceleration of $ 400 billion in investments from China to his homeland.
After decades of war and unrest in the Middle East, the United States is seeking to limit its presence. And China is rushing to fill the void left behind by strengthening its ties with both Washington allies and Washington's enemies in the region.
Turn to China
At present, it does not even approach the degree of American involvement. But countries in the region are increasingly turning to China, not only to sell their oil, but also to invest in their infrastructure and collaborate on technology and security – a trend that is likely to accelerate. as the US moves away.
For Beijing, recent unrest in neighboring countries such as Afghanistan and Kazakhstan has strengthened the desire to develop strong ties in the region. As the United States withdraws from Afghanistan after a 20-year presence and formally ends its combat mission in Iraq, but also sets talks with China as a top security priority, many of its partners in the region believe that Washington is now shifting elsewhere. .
The US is leaving, China is coming
Beijing has hailed the opportunity to expand its influence, while Arab leaders say China, which advertises the value of “non-interference” in other countries' internal affairs, is not going to intervene in domestic politics or send troops to overthrow dictators. who do not like it, the Times notes. At the same time, for obvious reasons, they are not worried that it will raise concerns about any human rights violations.
“There is a feeling in the region that the United States is preparing to leave and this is an opportunity for China,” Gendalaya Afterman, head of the Reichman University's Asian Policy Program in Israel, told the Times.
China's interests in the Middle East stem from its need for oil. It buys almost half of its crude from Arab states, with Saudi Arabia topping the list of suppliers. And it is certain that it will need more, as its economy – already second in the world – continues to grow.
A Road A Zone
But in recent years, China has also invested in necessary infrastructure in the region, while concluding contracts for the provision of military technologies and telecommunications networks.
Chinese state-owned companies are considering investing in a commercial port in Chabahar, Iran. In addition, they have partially funded an industrial park in Oman's Dukm port and the construction and operation of a container terminal in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, as well as two new ports in Israel.
Such moves reflect Beijing's view that the Middle East is crucial to the One Belt One Road initiative, the country's plan to invest in international infrastructure that will serve Chinese trade.
China hopes to unite markets and supply chains from the Indian Ocean to Eurasia, turning the Persian Gulf into “a very important hub,” Jonathan Falton, a Middle East researcher at the Atlantic Council, told the Times. .
In its business negotiations in the region, China has not come into open conflict with the United States. But it often presents itself as an alternative partner for countries that question Washington's development model or the history of its political and military intervention.
“At a time when the United States is facing turmoil in its domestic and foreign policy, these countries feel that China is not only the most stable choice, but also the most credible,” Li Guofu, a Chinese researcher, told the American newspaper. Institute of International Studies, which operates under the supervision of the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
China's main interests in the region are economic, but deepening its ties also entails political gains. Middle Eastern countries have kept their mouths shut on issues such as the suppression of civil liberties in Hong Kong and China's threatening moves toward Taiwan.
Perhaps most striking, however, given their Muslim majority, is the fact that almost no one has openly criticized the brainwashing of Uighurs, a Muslim minority in China. By comparison, the United States has called these practices “genocide.” Some Arab states have even deported Uighurs to China, ignoring concerns that they risk torture or even execution.
In recent diplomatic visits to the region, only Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoλουlu raised the issue of Uighurs, according to official descriptions of the meetings.
In return for the grace
For the countries of the Middle East, the benefits of a relationship with China are obvious: China promises to buy oil and gas for a long time to come, while at the same time being a potential source of investment, without the policies… side effects of doing business with the USA.
Beijing has agreements with governments that the United States despises. Syria, whose leaders have been severely sanctioned for its atrocities of civil war, has just joined the One Zone, One Road initiative. And Iran has become heavily dependent on China since the United States pulled out of an international deal to curb its nuclear program and reinstate sanctions that have brought its economy to its knees.
But China's deepest ties to the region, the Times notes, are those with the oil giants, and especially with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
China is the largest trading partner of many countries in the region, which expect to buy more and more oil and gas, unlike the US, which under the Biden government has pledged to make its own energy transition – and therefore to buy less and less. Last year, trade between China and the Gulf states topped $ 200 billion for the first time, and cooperation between them expanded to other areas.
Bahrain and the Emirates were the first countries to approve Chinese coronavirus vaccines, while the Emirates partnered with Chinese companies to produce them.
In the Chinese government's official summaries for the January meetings, most of the praise went to Saudi Arabia, which China called a “good friend,” a “good partner” and a “good brother.” On Wednesday, top national defense officials from China and Saudi Arabia held a teleconference to discuss possible ways to further deepen their countries' military ties.
State-of-the-art technology – and surveillance
The Emirates, which wants to strengthen its role as a technological and economic hub, is showing particular interest in Chinese companies. “There are a lot of Chinese tech companies that are pioneering right now and looking to enter global markets, which they can't do in the US and Europe because of their regulations,” Eik Freiman, a doctoral candidate in Chinese studies at the University, told the Times. of Oxford.
He cites SenseTime, a Chinese company that has been criticized by human rights groups and excluded from the United States for supplying Beijing with technologies used to target Uighurs. However, this does not bother Arab consumers: in 2019, SenseTime opened local headquarters in Abu Dhabi.
The United States has tried to block some of China's moves in the region, particularly in terms of infrastructure upgrades from telecom giant Huawei, which Washington warns could serve Chinese espionage. Some Arab countries have ignored these warnings and have already entered into contracts with Huawei.
Over time, analysts say, China's aversion to regional policy and conflict could become an obstacle to strengthening its ties with the Middle East, where wars, uprisings and sectarian tensions often erupt. China has made no attempt to replace the United States as a guarantor of security in the region, while the United States' Arab partners have sought to engage with China in ways that will not alienate Washington.
“Gulf states have been careful to strike a balance in their approach to ensure that strengthening ties with China will not work in competition with their main security guarantor, the United States,” Elham Fakro told the Times. , visiting researcher at the Center for Gulf Studies at the University of Exeter.
Source: in.gr / New York Times
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