Features of US-Chinese competition in the Middle East through the Syrian and Iranian portal

China has begun to adopt the approach of “increasing presence in the Middle East issues” with the transformation of its policy to be a “central player” in the affairs of the region, which represents a challenge to US influence. Here, we find that (the alliance between China, Russia and Iran in the face of the United States is getting stronger and more solid” on the impact of a “new cold war” between the West and China or the West and the East). This is what Chinese Foreign Minister “Wang Yi” indicated by giving clear indications of the intend of his country to play a pivotal role in the affairs of the region, and here we can understand and analyze the most important features of the competition between the United States of America and China, as follows:

There is a shift in China’s policy from “avoiding direct collision with American policies or even European policies in general” by managing its relations with the region from collective levels to “managing relations at bilateral levels with individual countries, regardless of their inter-conflicts, or the nature of its ties to American politics”.

There is a Chinese conviction, that (Iran is the only Asian power militarily and geographically suitable to help China find a balance with the United States in the Middle East, and to play the role of security guarantor of China’s economic and vital interests). On the other hand, fears are concentrated that (China’s granting of modern civil and military technology to Tehran may constitute an opportunity to make Iran a superior regional power that is difficult to swallow or subjugate in the future).

It is expected that the United States of America will gradually withdraw from the Middle East, which may prompt countries such as Saudi Arabia to “reconsider their relations with Iran and develop them to the level of partnership with mainly Chinese encouragement”, which is what the Saudi Foreign Minister (Prince Faisal Bin Farhan), stated with his frank talk about (the chances of launching a dialogue between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the possibility of developing relations between them to the level of partnership). The Saudi Foreign Minister demanded that the Iranian side:

  “The Iranian side should reduce its country’s regional concerns, which opens the doors not only for rapprochement, but even for partnership between Riyadh and Tehran”

The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between China and Iran in March 2021 is expected to contribute to (expand the areas of influence and extensions of the Belt and Road Initiative to include the Gulf region, Iraq and Syria), through which work will be done on (transforming Damascus into a major trade center between Iran, Turkey and Iraq, and that is within a future partnership between them), which the United States of America sees as a “threat to its interests and influence in the region of strategic security and economic importance”.

China has built a relationship with Russia that has become (based on the intersection of real interests for it), and therefore (the Sino-Russian alliance with Iran succeeded in prolonging the Syrian crisis by supporting the steadfastness of the Syrian regime for President Bashar al-Assad, and imposing Iran as part of this solution after  excluded for several years), in order to gain influential power in front of the international community.

China has stood with the Syrian regime by using the (veto tlright for the three times to block any UN resolution in the Syrian issue against the Syrian regime and its allies), besides, China has also been working on defending the Syrian regime with its military support, in its desire to (weaken the  extremist Islamic movements and challenging the terrorist organizations, such as: The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS), as well as a challenge to the West and Washington”.

China’s new activity in the Middle East was not limited to economic hegemony, as (Beijing realized that the Middle East as a region rife with political risks it necessitates approaching it, with the presence of strategic caution, which is a hallmark of China’s approach to the Middle East). China has worked hard to rearrange its political cards, and sought to highlight its activities in the Middle East and took (steps to mediate in Middle Eastern conflicts), after realizing that these conflicts affect its interests, especially that Chinese policy makers are afraid of the spread of what they call “Islamist ideology or the danger of extremism, terrorism, religious extremism and the growth of Islamic political currents, on top of which is the “terrorist organization ISIS” and its recruitment of almost five thousand of Uyghur’s Chinese fighters from “Xinjiang” Muslims in Syria and Iraq”. Therefore, “China began to carry out and prepare for counter-terrorism operations in a more expansive way outside the borders of its state for the first time in  its strategy and policy”.

The Chinese policy is characterized by (flexibility and pragmatism in managing its relations with the countries of the Middle East), so it turned more towards the “diplomatic front”, establishing relations with multilateral institutions, such as: (the League of Arab States and the China-Gulf Forum), and it also played a security role in  The Middle East, so Chinese forces participated in the deployment (peacekeeping forces in southern Sudan, and China built its first naval base overseas, in the country of Djibouti).

The nature of Chinese policies in general and in the Middle East has turned into (a more daring policy in defiance of Washington), especially after decades of Chinese reluctance to announce this, and China’s previous acquiescence to the US threat to impose sanctions and withdraw its companies from Iran.

We have begun to witness a shift in the “policy of Chinese approaching the Palestinian issue”. It is clear that China is launching a “diplomatic counterattack”, which is not only infiltrating the ranks of the countries allied to the United States, but also seeks to “entice the conflicting countries with Washington” in this or that issue, in addition to the formation of a kind of (bipolarity with Russia in the face of the United States of America in the countries of the region).

China seeks to the (policy of combining contradictions in managing its relations with the countries of the region), such as the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister “Wang Yi” to both Riyadh and Tehran together in March 2021, or to continue (supporting the regime of Bashar Al-Assad), or to establish relations with countries that have different approaches and policies to each other.

The (global balance of power) indicates that the counter-alliance between China, Russia and Iran in the face of US pressure is getting stronger and more solid.

We can conclude (Iran, under pressure from China and Russia, played an important role in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, to achieve a balance against Turkish influence). Russia, backed by China, will lead direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which will reinforce the decline and decline in indicators of American influence in the region.

There has become an increasing conviction in the region that (China will control the United States of America, and that the world will find itself forced to deal with these changes). There are several manifestations that show the weakness of the West, which “China can exploit to its advantage, including the deterioration of US-European relations since “Trump” assumed the presidency of the United States of America, and Washington abandoned France by adopting the new Aukus defense agreement deal with Britain and Australia). This weakens the idea of ​​a united West, in addition to the state of disintegration in the European Union after Britain’s exit.

The (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Beijing Social Sciences Reference Publishing House) has issued a book about: (The Yellow Book of the Middle East), in which Chinese experts believe that:

    “The Middle East region has entered the cusp of the “post-American era”, where the decline of the American role in the Middle East provided the opportunity for the eastern powers, especially Russia and China, to enhance their influence in this important region, and at the same time the confidence of the countries of the region increased in following their own development methods.  The Chinese and Russian model has become the most attractive to the countries of the region”

Another book issued by (The Research Institute of West Asia and Africa at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing) indicates that: “The balance of power in the Middle East has evolved from unipolarity to bipolarity, and then from bipolarity to multipolarity”. With the countries of the Middle East heading towards a “policy of looking towards the East”, towards the Asian countries, on their part, took the initiative to “open up to the West” and to develop strategic partnership relations with the countries of the Middle East.

Analyses of Chinese think tanks indicate that if the United States of America wants to restore its hegemony over the Middle East, it must (deter Russian and Chinese actions that challenge American interests in the region, and establish a multilateral regional force that works to deter any external behavior or interference), or at least to (create an opportunity for Moscow and Beijing to participate in the Middle East in a way that guarantees their interests).

   Through our referred analysis, China has its increased its  (economic, political and military influence in the Middle East). China’s economic hegemony policy has succeeded in order to enhance its access to energy sources in the region, especially with the (growing ambition of Beijing to become a great power that affects the international political system), whether this is achieved through political alliances with Middle Eastern countries or international powers or even through the diplomatic force to dislodge the United States America as a major external power in the Middle East.

Dr.Nadia Helmy
Dr.Nadia Helmy
Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit