The United States, the Middle East, and China: An Emerging Paradigm Shift in Regional Affairs

It is argued that despite the complicated dynamics of the Middle East, China has expanded its influence in the region by seeking partnerships based on economic cooperation. China has built strategic partnerships with key countries in the Middle East in the process of promoting the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). I also think China will be able to implement the Belt and Road Initiative in the Middle East under conditions of limited political engagement.

China shouldn’t have any significant obstacles in that respect. It pursues a balanced foreign policy which doesn’t politically discriminate against any regional entities, including rival ones such as Iran and “Israel”. It sincerely desires to expand relations with all parties. Its ties with everyone are excellent and there aren’t any hurdles to expanding them further. China’s approach is to not take sides in regional disputes and to always rely on the UN for resolving such issues. This has earned it the goodwill and trust of every involved party. They’re all eager to take economic ties with it even further.

Some scholars articulate that the last few years have witnessed a paradigm shift in U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East is no longer Washington’s top priority (Pivot to Asia). As this retrenchment has proceeded, analysts, columnists, and elected leaders have warned that China is poised to take the United States’ place in a part of the world where Washington has long been dominant. But in my view, China has no interest in replacing the US’ fading unipolar hegemonic role in any region, whether West Asia (Mideast) or wherever else.

What it wants to do is expand all of its partnerships, particularly in the economic dimension, in order to make them mutually beneficial and therefore reduce the chances of any single party taking disruptive unilateral actions. This is indeed an emerging paradigm shift in regional affairs which contrasts with the US’ unilateral approach which Washington sought to impose upon everyone through aggressive zero-sum means.

The end effect of China’s pragmatic engagement with all parties is to stabilize regional affairs, diversify its trade routes, and ensure that its economy cannot be significantly disrupted by any potential unilateral military moves by the US in the South China Sea through which the majority of its trade with the Eastern Hemisphere (West Asia, Africa, Europe) presently traverses.

As it stands, US and Chinese Middle East interests are radically divergent for the reasons explained. Theoretically, they can converge when it comes to their strategic investments in the GCC and “Israeli” economies, but that’s the furthest extent to which this could happen. Their investments wouldn’t be coordinated, though, and the US will try to pressure its regional partners to curtail and ultimately cut off their ties with China.

It already attempted to do this to “Israel” when it came to China’s investments in its Haifa Port but was unsuccessful. This suggests that the region isn’t receptive to the US’ zero-sum competitive approach. Pertinent parties would prefer for the US to continue investing in their economies without pressuring them to limit their respective ties with China.

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