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China's Growing Influence in the Middle East Amid Rising Geopolitical Tensions
Ajay Mohan
2023-10-16
Region : China, Middle East-North Africa,
Issue : ,
The world is currently standing on the brink of a potential new conflict, and China is closely monitoring the evolving situation. Numerous volatile elements contribute to this precarious scenario, including the ongoing Iran-Israel tension, the Saudi Arabia-Turkey rivalry and the persistent instability in Afghanistan and Iraq. These factors have the potential to escalate into either a regional or a global conflict. In this turbulent environment it is essential to explore China's role and interests in this complex web of international relations.
China's footprint and sway in the Middle East have steadily expanded, with a significant focus on energy, trade, and infrastructure development. China is the world’s largest importer of oil from the region, with approximately 4.58 million barrels per day of crude oil imported from the Middle East in 2021, constituting 47% of its total crude oil imports. Despite China's efforts to diversify its oil sources, its reliance on the Middle East for crude oil remains substantial.
Furthermore, China has established strategic partnerships with pivotal regional players, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Notably, in 2020 China and Iran elevated their partnership to a 25-year strategic pact aimed at deepening and broadening their bilateral ties. In 2017, China and Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum of understanding pertaining to the Belt and Road Initiative. China also pledged investments in Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, a comprehensive plan to diversify the kingdom's economy and reduce its oil dependence.
China also plays a central role in the Belt and Road Initiative, a comprehensive project designed to enhance connectivity across Asia, Europe, and Africa via an extensive network of roads, railways, ports, and pipelines.
China's principal objective in the Middle East is to safeguard its economic interests and ensure regional stability. A conflict in the region would jeopardize China's oil supply, imperil its investments and place its citizens at risk. Additionally, China aims to avoid entanglement in a conflict that could strain its relations with other major global powers, including the United States, Russia, and India.
It is essential to consider that a regional conflict could offer potential advantages to China. This type of turmoil has the potential to erode U.S. influence and credibility in the Middle East, thereby opening doors for China to strengthen its presence and occupy the subsequent power vacuum. Additionally, such a regional conflict might redirect U.S. focus and resources away from other competitive arenas with China, like the Indo-Pacific and Africa. This scenario could position China to meet the rising demand for its arms and equipment while also providing opportunities for mediation and diplomatic engagement.
Given these complexities, China encounters a nuanced challenge as it seeks to reconcile its interests with the inherent uncertainties of a volatile region. It is expected that China's approach will be marked by caution and pragmatism. The country is unlikely to align itself with any particular faction or engage directly in military confrontations. Instead, China will make efforts to cultivate positive relationships with all pertinent stakeholders and contribute to the promotion of dialogue and cooperation. Additionally, safeguarding its assets and citizens in the region will be a top priority for China, and it will make necessary preparations for potential contingencies.
China's position can be characterized as one of preparedness rather than anticipation when it comes to the prospect of a Middle East war. While China recognizes that a conflict might offer certain advantages, such as diminishing U.S. influence, it is acutely aware that the turmoil and suffering associated with war far outweigh any potential benefits. China's steadfast hope remains fixed on peace and stability in the region, even as it stands ready to adapt to any unforeseen developments.
Author---Ajay Mohan is Director- Foreign Observer Research India (FORE INDIA), New Delhi.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s)

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