To what extent does Chinese diplomacy in the Middle East have a geopolitical agenda?

In this article, Egyptian Ahmad Abdul-Rahman argues that Chinese diplomacy in the Middle East does not have a clear geopolitical agenda and interests.

Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Sultanate of Oman, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Turkey and Iran, from 24 to 30 March. He was invited to visit by his counterparts in these countries.

Liu Zhong Min, director of the Institute for Middle Eastern Studies at Shanghai University for International Studies, believes that the view presented to the Western public regarding Wang Yi's visit to the Middle East is based purely on a geopolitical perspective. Min also believes that the visit comes as China and America compete for influence in the Middle East, especially amid speculation about the signing of a plan for comprehensive cooperation between China and Iran.

From a historical perspective, China has never participated in geopolitical battles in the Middle East. In the modern era, China, like countries in the Middle East, suffers from the aggression and domination of colonialism and imperialism. The two sides have similar historical experiences.

After the Cold War, China and countries in the Middle East also developed comprehensive friendly relations, while deepening mutual political trust and economic and trade cooperation. In addition, China has been trying to ensure it has a constructive influence in the Middle East by participating in the political settlement of hot issues, and playing a role in the talks and promoting peace.

China does not bear a historical burden geopolitically in the Middle East, compared to the complex historical legacy left by the colonization of Western powers and imperialism in the region. The reason why Western powers are unable to adhere to a fair position in the affairs of the Middle East is due to the absence of ethics in their foreign policy, and it is closely related to their inability to get rid of the geopolitical burden left by history. The dilemma the US faces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and even Iran is primarily a result of these geopolitical burdens.

There are complex geopolitical games in the Middle East, but I do not believe that China has ever participated in them.

The first game between the world powers, represented by the United States, Europe and Russia, is the struggle for global leadership and dominance in the Middle East. In contrast, China actively maintains leadership of the United Nations and other multilateral mechanisms in the affairs of the Middle East, communicating with relevant authorities, coordinating and consulting, and actively promoting the political settlement of hot issues.

At present, some public opinion in the West claims that Foreign Minister Wang Yi's tour of the Middle East was aimed at using the region as an arena to "challenge the United States." This is clearly a distortion of China's diplomacy in the Middle East. China does not intend to confront the United States at the global level, nor does it intend to challenge it in the Middle East. Rather, China has cooperated extensively with the United States in the past on hot issues such as counterterrorism and maritime security in the Middle East. It has also established a Sino-US consultation mechanism on Middle East affairs. In the future, China would like to maintain contacts and consultations with the United States on the region's affairs.

The second game concerns the regional powers affected by the interference of external powers, such as the US. The main reason for the decline in the ability of the US to dominate the affairs of the Middle East, and the fact that other major powers have a growing influence, is the overlap of multiple contradictions, such as ethnic and religious. 

China and the countries of the region maintain friendly and cooperative relations. The signing of a comprehensive cooperation agreement between China and Iran is aimed at deepening economic and cultural exchanges and cooperation between the two countries. China also has a series of cooperation arrangements under the "Belt and Road" initiative, with countries including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel. It is most likely that China will sign similar cooperation agreements with countries in other regions.

Finally, there is the geopolitical game impacting the internal affairs of Middle Eastern countries, especially the transition and development of countries in the region since the "Arab Spring". However, there are some countries inside and outside the region that are trying to interfere in the transformation and development process of countries in the Middle East.

China has always supported Middle Eastern countries in exploring independent development paths, as well as strengthening exchanges with these countries on governance. China has also provided assistance and support when it can do so, winning it broad recognition from Middle Eastern countries.

China's diplomacy in the Middle East aims to promote regional peace, development, and security.

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Thursday, 17 June 2021