China, Saudi Arabia, UAE, United States

The saying ‘subduing the enemy without fighting’ appears profoundly convincing when it comes to China’s policy towards the Middle East. The oscillation of China’s diplomatic pendulum among Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Iran and Israel is shrewdly moderate and resulting in China’s growing influence in the Middle East. This is perhaps the first time in Middle Eastern history that any great power is enjoying moderate relationship with almost all countries hostile to each other. The Iran-Saudi rivalry, the Israel-Iran rivalry and the Saudi-Israel rivalry-turned-bonhomie have been the ground realties of Middle Eastern geopolitics since the creation of Israel. The Cold War witnessed vivid animosity among these key states of the Middle East. In the post-Cold War era, the US posed to be the unilateral hegemon of the Middle Eastern region, yet many in the region despised its interference. In all cases, no great power whether Great Britain, Soviet Russia or the US has been successful in fostering good relations with all key Middle Eastern states, simultaneously. Gradually, China’s influence on Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel has been enhancing and making the US’ unilateral dominance blur and murky.

In all cases, no great power whether Great Britain, Soviet Russia or the US has been successful in fostering good relations with all key Middle Eastern states, simultaneously.

The US’ paranoia, China’s quest for energy and the Middle East’s desire of digitalization are the three right angles of this triangle. In the making of this triangle, China opted for strengthening bilateral relations in the region, unlike the US who has been trying to control the whole region from Libya to Saudi Arabia and from Iran to Syria in an autocratic manner. The stratagems of hiding capabilities and biding time are the guiding principles of China’s policy. For this reason, China is dealing with all rival countries on bilateral terms, in a manner that as it seeks economic opportunities it is also strengthening its bilateral ties with these countries.

Saudi Arabia being the largest trading partner of China is steadily increasing its economic relations with the latter. On one hand, Chinese corporations are heavily investing in building Saudi infrastructure, and on the other hand Saudi Arabia is eager to install oil refineries in China.

Currently China is focusing on five key states in the Middle East. These include Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Iran and Israel. Saudi Arabia being the largest trading partner of China is steadily increasing its economic relations with the latter. On one hand, Chinese corporations are heavily investing in building Saudi infrastructure, and on the other hand Saudi Arabia is eager to install oil refineries in China.  It is pertinent to mention here that Saudi petrochemical trade with the West is under threat since Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s era due to his authoritarian style. In these circumstances he has faced fierce criticism from the  western world which is still haunting his image specifically after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. Therefore, Muhammad Bin Salman’s visit to China in the current year signals a change in policy and has paved the way for future bilateral prospects. Secondly, the bilateral trade between UAE and China has increased ten times in the last six years. The Chinese presence in UAE has also been multiplying and it is estimated that the total numbers of Chinese in UAE are more than 200,000. Moreover, China sees it as a ‘comprehensive strategic partnerships’ with both oil-producing heavyweights and with the least verbosity.

According to Thompson Reuters, ‘Chinese investment in Israel increased tenfold between 2016 and 2017, totaling more than $16 billion’. Chinese firms are deeply engaged in Israeli infrastructure, building tunnels for light rail, expanding port facilities in Ashdod and Haifa, and striking agreements to operate the ports for 25 years.

In the pastfive years China has invested billions of Dollars in Egypt and is heavily concerned with transit through the Suez Canal. Chinese firms are helping construct Egypt’s new administrative capital in the desert outside of Cairo, and they are developing a Red Sea Port and industrial zone in Ain Sukhna. President Sisi has made at least six trips to Beijing since taking office in 2014, compared to just two trips to Washington.

Above all, China’s growing strategic partnership with Israel and Iran at the same time is nothing but a diplomatic miracle. Israel considers China as a new strategic partner after the US due to its technological advancement in military affairs. According to Thompson Reuters, ‘Chinese investment in Israel increased tenfold between 2016 and 2017, totaling more than $16 billion’. Chinese firms are deeply engaged in Israeli infrastructure, building tunnels for light rail, expanding port facilities in Ashdod and Haifa, and striking agreements to operate the ports for 25 years. On the other hand, China’s influence on Iran is increasing as China sees the gaps in Iran’s economy and is endeavoring to fill this gap as both have mutual interests.

The US labels China as the revisionist power but essentially China is only exerting its economic influence over the region through the corridors and norms of liberal market economy. The multiplication of this economic influence with technological advancement is becoming the source of China’s growing influence and the resultant paranoia of the US over the region. In fact, the source is great; the influence is growing, but the leverage would be scanty. The driving force behind this growing momentum is the Middle East’s unfailing energy reserves which is China’s critical bottleneck. That is why China is steadily trekking and winning the energy rich region.

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