China Pokes its Nose Into the Middle East
Beijing wants a part of the world’s most volatile region
By: Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat, M. Habib Pashya and Gufron Gozali
In late March, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarked on a six-country tour of the Middle East to announce China’s five-point plan for the region, which included “mutual respect, equity and justice, non-proliferation, collective security and development cooperation,” a major foray into one of the world’s most volatile regions and a gambit to expand its influence at the expense of western powers, particularly the United States, whose sway has begun to diminish.
Beijing has major national interests with both Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran for its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative to fulfill its domestic goals The two are among the most important countries for Chinese commercial activity in the Middle East. In addition to the oil trade and investment, they are the largest and third largest recipients of Chinese capital in the region.
In 2016, China signed economic and political interactions with both Tehran and Riyadh, in a move to copper its bets with the global capitals of both Shia and Sunni Islam as a hedge against its own domestic problems with Islamic extremism, which is a problem in Xinjiang and could be one in Afghanistan as China expands its presence into the vacuum left by the departure of the US.
The US could be seen as playing into the hands of other state actors in the Middle East. The Trump administration, with its unilateral voiding of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the western anti-nuclear treaty negotiated by Trump’s predecessor – set back relations with Tehran dramatically. The incoming Biden administration is now attempting to revive the treaty in the face of hostility by Iran’s incoming president, the conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who last week said he had no attention to meet with Biden despite US outreach…