Dost Muhammad Barrech
THE Middle East widely known for the origin f first civilization, rich history, blessed with natural resources and its geostrategic location further makes it epicenter of competition for global and regional players. The Middle East since post-cold war remained under the US ascendency. However, China in the last decade has emerged a significant player in the region. China, unlike the US, orchestrates its economic activities rather than military power.
China’s obsession with ME is attributed for two bona fide reasons, its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and energy demand. China has become the biggest importer of the crude oil, half of its supply is imported from the Middle East. In mankind history, the Middle East remained crossroad for trade routes having significant sea lines connecting Asia to Europe and Africa. Thus, the Middle East would be a crucial region for China’s energy need and its monolithic BRI. Beijing, in the Middle East, intends to avoid direct confrontation with Western intervention rather desires to remain neutral in the region. According to Dr Degang Sun Deputy Director of the Middle East Studies, Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, China articulates that China believes in multiplier order in the Middle East avoiding interference in domestic politics, promoting win-win situation for all stakeholders that would promote stability through “developmental peace” rather than the western notion of “democratic peace”.
China so far has signed 15 partnership agreements with the ME countries participating in maritime security missions and anti-piracy in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Above all, it has conducted considerable operations for the purpose of rescuing its nationals from Yemen in 2015 and Libya in 2011. Meanwhile, China expedited its efforts for mediation in Yemen and Syria. It played a leading role in Iran nuclear deal persuaded Iran to sign the deal. It is a fait accompli, without Iran’s support enhancing foothold in the Middle East would be counterproductive to China.
Fascinatingly, China is not bothered with the US sanction against Iran instead is going to invest $ 400 billion investment in Iran damning the US sanction. China will invest in Iran’s oil and gas sector; out of $ 400 billion it will invest $ 280 billion in Iran’s oil and gas and petrochemical sector, while $ 120 billion will be invested in transport and manufacturing infrastructure. On the other hand, China is unlikely to alienate Iran’s archrival, Saudi Arabia. Keeping both Iran and Saudi Arabia under Chinese influence is increasingly important for the Chinese clout in the region.
China has also signed an economic venture $ 65 billion with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia tends to reduce its dependency on oil and wishes to diversify its economy. To diversify its economy China would be the best destination for it. Apart from the economy, Saudi Arabia’s Air Force has deployed Chinese unmanned drone attacks. Both states in western China have held joint counter-terrorism exercises. China is reluctant to involve militarily in the region, however, its military involvement is likely to increase in near future. Managing of security of the region merely by the US will certainly cause a great deal of damage to the Chinese interest.
Gulf countries waited long ago for the diversification of their economies and are keen to participate in BRI. Naser Al-Tamimi, a Middle East analyst says that “many of these states perceive China as a useful tool in their strategies to diversify not just economically but also politically at a moment of apparent US retrenchment”. Iran’s recent attack in the Gulf has caused consternation for the Gulf States as they anticipated counter-attack against Iran by the US. The US unwillingness to attack Iran stunned and compelled Gulf States to tilt towards China. Al-Tamimi further says that Gulf States are cognizant of China’s limitations as a security provider, thus, unwilling to annoy the US too.
The Middle Eastern states wish to see Chinese presence in the region; they support Chinese doctrine of non-interference castigating western intervention in the region. Beijing is also wary of the US intentions of disrupting oil supply to China and its central role in the protection of shipping lanes. China a great pursuer of win-win situation realizing the US to shun cold war mentality believes that both China and the US need to establish new security order based on burden-sharing and public welfare that will ultimately pave the way for peace and development. For the accomplishment of BRI China intends to cooperate with Russia and EU to reduce conflicts in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Israel-Palestine. In short, the US war-oriented foreign policy, toppling regimes, supporting proxies and its presence in important areas of the region would be an acid test for China in the Middle East.
— The writer works at the Institute of Strategic Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.