How China is winning the Middle East

How China is winning the Middle East

How China is winning the Middle East. China is working to present itself as a responsible alternative to the U.S. in the Middle East, just as many are questioning Washington’s long-term commitment to the region.

Amid the recent catastrophes in the Middle East—the renewed Israel-Hamas war; widening violence in Lebanon, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and the Red Sea—one player counts the past year a success: China. 

Beijing stacked up strategic win after win, not just expanding its economic presence, but convening leadership summits, brokering peace deals, and even holding a joint military training exercise with one of the U.S.’s most important allies in the region. While shifts in power and influence often become evident only after the fact, history could one day look back on 2023 as the year that China truly began to win the Middle East. 

How China is winning the Middle East

It is easy to see why states in the Middle East have sought closer ties with China. Collaborating with a military powerhouse that is not Washington helps them shed U.S. dependency—a goal that even close allies like the UAE have expressed repeatedly in the past decade. 

But what are China’s goals? A look at Chinese sources reveals efforts in the political, economic, diplomatic, and military realms. 

Build economic ties

Chinese sources frequently talk up the centuries-old links between China and the Middle East; they note, for example, the UAE has historically been home to over 100,000 ethnic Chinese. But as with its other global initiatives, the original linchpin of Beijing’s efforts are economic. China sees great economic opportunity in the Middle East, especially with the energy-rich Gulf states, whose ties with China have steadily grown over the last decade. 

“Belt and Road Initiative” partner countries have increased their imports of Chinese products by 8.9% in the past decade alone, while in 2021, bilateral trade between the Persian Gulf countries and China grew at a record 44.3%. When the global economy slowed in 2022, trade between the Gulf countries and China still grew 27.1%, a stark contrast to the falling trade between China and both Japan and the United States. 



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