BEIRUT, Lebanon – In January alone, five senior officials from the oil-rich Arab countries visited China to discuss cooperation on energy and infrastructure. Turkey’s top diplomat vows to stamp out “media reports targeting China“In the Turkish news media, and the Iranian foreign minister pushed for the process $400 billion investment that China has promised its country.
As the United States, tired of decades of war and upheaval in the Middle East, seeks to limit its involvement there, China is deepening its relationship with both Washington’s friend and foe. in the area.
China cannot match the vast involvement of the United States in the Middle East. But countries are increasingly looking to China not just to buy their oil but to invest in their infrastructure and to cooperate on technology and security, a trend that could accelerate as the United States pulls out. retreat.
For Beijing, the recent turmoil in neighboring countries such as Afghanistan and Kazakhstan has reinforced its desire to cultivate stable relations in the region. The approach after the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, as well as officials finish its combat mission within Iraq. That, coupled with the Biden administration frequently talking about China like its top national security priorityhas led many of its partners in the Middle East to believe that Washington’s attention lies elsewhere.
Beijing has welcomed the opportunity to expand its influence, and Arab leaders appreciate that China – which honors the virtue of “non-interference” in the affairs of other countries – will not interfere. their domestic politics or send their own troops to overthrow unfriendly dictators. And each side can count on the other to downplay its own human rights abuses.
“There is a feeling in the region that the US is actively finding its way out, and that is an opportunity for China,” said Gedaliah Aftermanhead of the Asia Policy Program at the Abba Eban Institute of International Diplomacy at Reichman University in Israel.
China’s interest in the Middle East has long been rooted in its oil needs. They buy almost half of their crude oil from Arab countries, with Saudi Arabia at the top of the list and they will no doubt need more as the world’s second-largest economy continues to grow. .
But in recent years, China has also been investing in critical infrastructure in the region and making deals to provide countries there with telecommunications and military technology.
Chinese state-backed companies are eyeing investments in a maritime port in Chabahar, Iran. They helped finance an industrial park in the port of Duqm, Oman, and built and operated a container terminal in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, as well as two new ports in Israel.
Such moves reflect Beijing’s stance on the Middle East that is crucial to the Belt and Road Initiative, a far-reaching plan to build international infrastructure to facilitate trade. Chinese trade.
China hopes to link markets and supply chains from the Indian Ocean to Eurasia, turning the Persian Gulf region into a new one, said Jonathan Fulton, a non-resident senior fellow with Middle East programs. become “a really important center”. Atlantic Council.
In business-focused deals in the region, China is not directly confronting the United States. But it often promotes itself as an alternative partner to countries that question Washington’s development model or Washington’s history of political and military intervention.
“At a time when the United States is facing ups and downs in its domestic and foreign policies, these countries feel that China is not only the most stable but also the most reliable. “. Li Guofua researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, which is overseen by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
China’s main interests in the region are economic, but growing ties are also politically beneficial for the country. Middle Eastern countries have faced problems like Beijing destroy political freedoms in Hong Kong and it threatened to move towards Taiwan.
Perhaps more surprisingly, given their Muslim-majority population, almost no one openly criticizes China’s forced internment and teaching. Uighur Muslim minoritywhich the United States has considered genocide. Some Arab countries have even deported Uighurs to China, ignoring concerns that they could be tortured or killed.
Abduweli Ayup, an Uyghur activist in Norway, said two Chinese nationals had been detained in Saudi Arabia after one called for a violent protest against China’s repression. Mr. Ayup said the two will be returned to China. Their current whereabouts are unknown.
Mr. Ayup said he knows about Uighurs who have been expelled from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries. He said five were sent to China from Saudi Arabia, which has historically positioned itself as a defender of Muslims worldwide.
“They are not servants of two holy places,” said Mr Ayup, referring to the Saudi king’s official title as custodian of Islam’s holiest sites. “They are servants of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Of China’s recent diplomatic visitors from the region, only the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, raised the issue of the Uyghurs, according to official accounts of the meetings.
For the Middle Eastern countries, the benefits of the relationship are clear: China promises to be a long-term buyer of oil and gas and a potential source of investment, without the political complications of doing business. with the United States.
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Beijing deals with governments snubbed by Washington. Syria, whose leaders are under heavy sanctions for atrocities committed during the civil war, has just joined the Belt and Road Initiative. And Iran has become heavily dependent on China since the United States pulled out of an international agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program and re-imposed sanctions that have crippled its economy. .
But China’s deepest regional ties are with the Gulf Arab oil giants, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
China is the largest trading partner of many countries in the region and they expect it to buy more of their oil and gas as the United States, the country under the Biden administration, has sought to move away from fuel. fossil, buy less. Last year, trade between China and Gulf states exceeded $200 billion for the first time, and cooperation has expanded into new areas.
Bahrain and Emirates were the first countries to approve Chinese-made coronavirus vaccines, and Emirates has partnered with Chinese companies to produce them.
In China’s official summaries of the January meetings, the warmest praise was given to Saudi Arabia, which China called a “good friend”, a “good partner” and “a good partner”. good brother”. On Wednesday, top defense officials from China and Saudi Arabia hold a virtual meeting discuss ways to deepen the countries’ military relationships.
Emirates, which wants to strengthen its position as a technology and financial hub, is particularly interested in Chinese companies. “There are a lot of Chinese tech companies that are at the forefront right now trying to go global and they can’t get into the US or Europe because of the regulations,” he said. Eyck Freymanna PhD candidate in China studying at the University of Oxford.
He gives the example of SenseTime, a Chinese company that has been criticized by rights groups and blacklisted by the US to provide Beijing with the technology used to profile the Uyghurs. That hasn’t deterred Arab clients: In 2019, SenseTime opened a regional headquarters in Abu Dhabi.
“In every country in the Middle East, their public security agency wants that and the Chinese are providing that product,” Mr. Freymann said.
The United States has been trying to block some Chinese moves into the region, especially telecom giant Huawei’s infrastructure upgrade, which Washington warns could facilitate espionage. of China. Anyway, some Arab countries have signed contracts with Huawei.
Over time, analysts say, China’s aversion to regional politics and conflict could impede its access to the Middle East, as rife as wars, rising wake up and sectarian tensions. China has made no effort to imitate the US security presence there, and America’s Arab partners have tried to engage with China in ways that do not alienate Washington.
Elham Fakhro, a visiting scholar at the Center for Gulf Studies at the University of Exeter, said: “Gulf states have carefully balanced their approach to ensure that their growing relationship with China does not offend its main security guarantor, the United States.
Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, Lebanon, and Amy Qin from Taipei, Taiwan. Asmaa al-Omar contributed reporting from Beirut and Amy Chang Chien from Taipei, Taiwan.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/01/world/middleeast/china-middle-east.html When the US withdrew, China invaded