China’s involvement in the Middle East has reshaped the region’s landscape, expanding beyond traditional energy sources to encompass economic, geopolitical, and strategic considerations. China’s interests in the region extend beyond traditional energy sources and encompass economic, geopolitical, and strategic considerations. China has signed strategic partnerships and memoranda of understanding for its economic activities with most Middle Eastern countries. In fact, China has become a significant player in the Middle East in the past decade at a time when the U.S.’ long-standing dominance over the region is gradually declining.
China’s increasing engagement poses a threat to US interests in the region and its relationships with traditional allies. The increasing involvement of China in the Middle East is a significant factor shaping the region’s geopolitical landscape and has substantial implications for global politics. China’s role in the region should not be overstated. It will continue to be a facilitator for de-escalation of regional tensions and will continue to persuade and push for the parties to narrow their differences.
In the economic domain, China increased its trade with the region and, in 2020, replaced the European Union as the GCC’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade. Additionally, China is now Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s largest non-oil trading partner globally, and the UAE remained China’s second-largest trading partner. At the same time, a free trade agreement (FTA) with GCC members has been high on the list of China’s diplomatic agenda. In addition, Beijing has also expanded its investment ventures in the Middle East through its poster child, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has become a vital tool of Chinese foreign policy.
China’s involvement in the Middle East is not limited to economic activities. In fact, China has been actively involved in regional security dynamics through increased involvement. Recent diplomatic initiatives by China demonstrate Beijing’s deep investment in continuing to develop relations with countries in the Middle East. In 2022, China held its first China-Arab States Summit and its first China-GCC Summit, showcasing its commitment to fostering strategic partnerships in the region and promoting economic development beyond its traditional energy interests.
China’s non-interventionist approach is appealing to Middle Eastern states, which view their growing ties with Beijing as a means of diversification. However, it is important to note that while China has been successful in expanding its influence in the Middle East, it still faces significant challenges. For example, it must navigate complex regional dynamics that are often shaped by sectarianism and proxy conflicts.
In conclusion, China’s increasing role in the Middle East is an important development that has significant implications for regional and international dynamics. While it poses a threat to US interests in the region and its relationships with traditional allies, it also provides opportunities for regional states to diversify their economic ties. As such, it is important for policymakers to pay close attention to this trend and develop strategies that can help manage this new reality.