Why is China Improving Ties with the Arab world?

For a long time, Western propagandists insisted that Chinese diplomacy was successful only in Central and Southeast Asia. As for the Middle East, Beijing allegedly had no experience in this region and no prospects for developing ties with the Arab world.

However, the visit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping to the Middle East and his meetings with the leadership of Saudi Arabia, which is the undisputed regional leader, settles the debate of power and external authority here once and for all. The arrival of the President of the People’s Republic of China to Riyadh to participate in the First China-Arab States Summit and the China-Gulf Cooperation Council Forum, at the invitation of the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, inadvertently summed up the competitive struggle for expansion and influence in the wealthy Arab world. And not only in this very important region, which for many decades has been the center of disputes and armed conflicts, especially for “black gold.”

Some reputable historians have long pointed out that one of the key reasons for the outbreak of World War II had been the struggle for possession of crude oil. Even the massive attack by Japanese aircraft on December 7, 1941 of the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, which marked the beginning of the war in the Pacific Ocean, is linked by them to the oil factor, i.e. Japan’s desire to seize the oil-rich islands of the Indonesian archipelago, and, at the same time, enter into direct confrontation with the US, the UK and other European countries. Nazi Germany, in its treacherous aspirations to the East, also attempted to solve its “oil issue” by all available means.

Therefore, it is not surprising that after the Second World War the United States tried to base its expansion in the Middle East on the assumption that oil was at that time the main engine of economic growth for any country. And the United States itself did not have enough of this precious resource, and until the mid-2010s it had to buy about 60% of its oil on the foreign market.

The shale revolution in the US oil and gas industry has made serious adjustments to this issue, especially after the US itself became the largest supplier of oil to world markets. Following this decrease in US dependence on energy from the Persian Gulf, President Trump began to reduce US military presence in the Middle East and, in general, political and economic support for the countries of this region.  As a result, gradually, first in the era of Donald Trump, and then under Joe Biden, US relations with the countries of the Persian Gulf began to decline.

The Chinese authorities skillfully took advantage of this situation. This, in particular, is evidenced by the voluminous report “China-Arab Cooperation in the New Era” published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry in early December. In particular, it emphasizes that China and the Arab states have already created an atmosphere of de facto strategic mutual trust based on similar positions on respect for the principles of sovereignty, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, and the prevention of power politics and hegemonism. It should be mentioned that, for quite a long time in China, the concept of hegemonism has been steadily used, primarily in relation to US policy. And therefore, Beijing’s special emphasis on countering American hegemony together with the Arab states reflects one of the main goals of China in strengthening its ties with the Arab world. Especially in the context of the recent intensified attacks on China by the United States and the open rejection by many in the Middle East of Washington’s dictates against Arab countries.

Under these conditions, the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Middle East and the latest Sino-Arab contacts clearly show that China has come to the region for a long time. The joint projects proposed by Beijing for implementation imply not only financial and trade cooperation, but also a long-term technological partnership. For example, Saudi Arabia is opening up its market to several large Chinese high-tech companies, most notably Huawei, which has recently been restricted once again in the US. And such openness on the part of Saudi Arabia is an evidence for a high level of trust between Beijing and the countries of the Persian Gulf, in particular, Riyadh.

Also noteworthy is the joint discussion by China and Saudi Arabia of security issues, which for a long time were the prerogative of interaction between Riyadh and Washington, when the United States guaranteed security to the Saudi Kingdom. However, Beijing has shown its willingness to participate in the discussion of such issues in the Middle East, for the first time providing such guarantees far beyond its borders.

In addition to Saudi Arabia, Iraq demonstrated its interest and readiness to improve relations with China. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Riyadh on the sidelines of the First China-Arab States Summit. During the talks, the leaders of both states not only discussed bilateral relations, but also ways to bring them to a closer level of strategic cooperation and sustainable partnership in various fields.

During the First China-Arab Summit held in Riyadh, local officials asked China for help in increasing the volume of economic and humanitarian assistance to end the civil war in Yemen and the troubles of its people. This clearly demonstrates not only the recognition of Beijing’s regional authority, but also willingness to improve and advance relations with China.

Although in Washington, in a very frank statement by the Coordinator for Strategic Communications of the National Security Council, John Kirby, rejection of the intensification of Beijing’s Middle East policy was expressed, nevertheless, the direction of the discussions in the summits held in Riyadh showed an unconditional increase in the authority and influence of Beijing in the Arab world. Not only China, but also the Arab states of the Persian Gulf have recently confidently taken a course towards intensifying their actions for mutual rapprochement, searching for new partners for cooperation. This was especially evident in the actions of the Arab countries after the United States had intensified confrontations with China not only economically, but also politically and militarily, trying to involve the countries of the Arab world in this struggle. Including through the creation of the so-called “Arab NATO.” And in this regard, Washington itself is forcing the states of the Persian Gulf to realize that sooner or later they will have to pursue an independent policy, without a unilateral stance towards the United States, developing cooperation that is beneficial for them both with China and with Russia, contrary to the dictates of the White House.

Indeed, today, more than ever, Arab countries need access to stable markets on a long-term basis, and they need to develop their infrastructure and transportation routes. And China is known today for such a stable and truly limitless market, which has already positively proven itself to the whole world in creating modern infrastructure, including through the Belt and Road Initiative. And this contributes not only to the strengthening of Beijing’s cooperation with the Arab world, but also to the gradual ousting of the United States from the region. Trade between China and the Arab world has already increased almost tenfold over the past 17 years, according to the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization.  Undoubtedly, this cooperation will continue to develop and expand further.

By Valery Kulikov
Source: New Eastern Outlook

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