China is pushing the US out of the Middle East

China, fresh from the triumph of peace mediation between arch-enemies Iran and Saudi Arabia, is trying to cement its dominant role in the Middle East by hosting a meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Iran in Beijing. Chinese ruler Xi Jinping first unveiled this “unprecedented idea” when he was in Riyadh last December. The meeting will take place sometime this year.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is pressuring the other five GCC member countries to let go of the US and embrace Iran and China, at Beijing’s request. Amazingly, the Biden administration largely condones China’s initiatives.

Analysts are now wondering whether America’s longstanding leadership role in the region is coming to an end.

Unless President Joe Biden changes course, the US will indeed be driven out of the Middle East.

“China has emerged as the main buyer of oil and gas from the Persian Gulf region and the largest trading partner for most regional states, but this should not be seen as China replacing the US as the main regional power,” Afshin Molavi said , Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies news week. “China is the region’s most important trading partner, but the United States remains the Gulf Arab States’ most important strategic partner.”

The Gulf Arab states, as Molavi rightly points out, prefer Washington to Beijing because they are long-standing American friends and partners. The Abraham Accords, the work of then-President Donald Trump, bolstered America’s supporters and isolated the Iranian regime, which had long viewed Israel, most Gulf Arab states and the United States as enemies. US relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were particularly intense during Trump’s presidency.

However, President Biden changed his policy by embracing Iran and snubbing Saudi Arabia. In the process, he predictably angered and angered Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known colloquially as “MBS,” and destroyed a friendship between the two countries that spans nine decades. Ultimately, however, the President had to backtrack. Biden visited the Kingdom last July and sought assistance on various issues. The crown prince flatly and flatly rejected his requests.

“It was very fuzzy watching Biden after he claimed he would avoid MBS for the murder of (Jamal) Khashoggi, go to Saudi on bent knees and be made, as the Chinese say, ‘wear little shoes’ ‘ J Capital Research’s Anne Stevenson-Yang told this publication. “MBS wants to screw Biden now, so here we are.”

The Crown Prince is now paying Biden back the money. Saudi Arabia, says Jonathan Bass of energy consultant InfraGlobal Partners news weekis working with China to lure Bahrain and other GCC countries into its camp.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is not doing much to resist China’s moves, even though those moves are aimed squarely at the United States.


Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) speaks
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) talks with Li Zhanshu (L) of the National People’s Congress (NPC) during the opening of the first session of the 14th National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People March 5, 2023 in Beijing, China.
Lintao Zhang/Getty Image

First, the Biden team has generally favored China’s friend Iran, leading Washington to believe its interests are aligned with Chinese politics in the short term.

Second, Bass believes that Biden punished the Gulf states for their close cooperation with the previous administration.

In any case, Biden’s policy change unsettles US friends. Middle Eastern countries do not plan in four-year increments. Many are working on development programs that span decades, and they need to be sure of American direction over the long term. If Washington is to remain in the region, it must adopt a consistent policy from administration to administration.

Xi Jinping, perhaps ruler for life, has no problem with leadership changes. And now he has a message that pleases leaders in the region. “Beijing is using its economic clout to play a ‘peacemaker’ role,” says Molavi.

Unfortunately, while Beijing talks about peace, it is betting everything on troublemaker Iran. China is paying for a barrage of arms that Tehran is channeling to Hezbollah, Hamas and other destructive actors. Right now, Bass tells me, China is backing the Algerian Polisario Front, which is trying to wrest phosphate-rich land from American ally Morocco.

The US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, is seizing large quantities of weapons, but observers say they are only interdicting 15% to 20% of the total. The US Navy has reduced its presence in the Middle East and does not have the necessary resources to carry out the tasks at hand.

With fewer American ships around, Iran’s ayatollahs feel emboldened. Stevenson-Yang tells news week that China fully agrees with it. Beijing, she says, “is benefiting from the chaos.”

“If Iran, supported by China, is on the rise, the entire region could become ‘Libya,'” says Bass, referring to the destabilized post-Gaddafi state.

So is America’s position in the Middle East irreparable? Not quite.

For one thing, the peace that Beijing has just negotiated between Riyadh and Tehran is fragile and unlikely. The Iranian regime cannot help itself and there will almost certainly be more attacks on the Saudi kingdom. Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni states will therefore be forced to defend themselves against Iran’s Shia clerical regime. China this month, for all its diplomatic successes, failed to end the millennia-old feud between the two main branches of Islam.

In addition, Iran is on the verge of building nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear regulatory body, recently reported that the regime has enriched uranium to a purity of 83.7%, almost what is needed for a nuclear bomb. China has secretly backed Iran’s illegal nuclear program for decades, and the Sunni states are realizing they need a defender of their own.

CNN reported last week that Riyadh hopes to receive security guarantees and assistance in developing a civilian nuclear energy program from the United States.

As Molavi points out, most countries in the region are still looking to the US. After all, hardly anyone in the Arab Gulf states really trusts China.

Gordon G. Chang is the author of The imminent collapse of China. Follow him on Twitter: @GordonGChang.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. China is pushing the US out of the Middle East

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