Stephen Russo – Guest Contributor
06 November 2017
It is highly likely that China’s influence in the Middle East will continue to grow in the next 12-24 months due to China’s implementation of its One Belt One Road initiative. China’s main strategic plan for the Middle East revolves around the One Belt One Road initiative, which means the Chinese government will be putting major resources and investment into Middle East projects. With these projects, the strengthened economic connectivity and job growth in the Middle East will be the major reason for China’s increasing influence in the region. In addition, China seeks to stay out of major Middle Eastern political tussles in order to build up its economic interests in the region.
China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) , is the main strategic plan as part of their foreign policy under President Xi Jinping. This plan works with countries who are accepting Chinese projects and investment, mostly throughout Central Asia, Middle East, and parts of Europe. Even though the BRI is not inherently a political plan, the outcome of many of its projects is likely to be political gain. According to the International Monetary Fund, which put out its Regional Economic Outlook report for the Middle East and Central Asia on October 31st, “[I]nfrastructure, industrial, and utility projects under the BRI, together with financial connectivity efforts and people-to-people exchanges, could help close infrastructure gap, increase regional economic financial integration, and support diversification and employment.” With this type of plan, Middle Eastern countries may start turning to China for support in the Middle East, which helps China, as the Middle East provides more than half of China’s crude oil imports which are key for China. In addition, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman stated, during his visit to Beijing in August 2016, that the BRI is “one of the main pillars of the Saudi Vision 2030 which would seek to make China among the Kingdom’s biggest economic partners.”
During the last few decades, China has not been very involved in Middle East politics. It has stayed out of the fight against ISIS, the conflict in Libya, the diplomatic standoff with Qatar, and the war in Yemen. Yet, as previously described, China is continuing to increase its economic presence in the region. Instead of potentially adding to any political struggle, China has only engaged in the political issues of the Middle East by putting forth peace initiatives for certain issues. For instance, China has set forth multiple peace initiatives for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the last one coming out in July of this year. While it did not present any new ideas, it is the first plan to be put forward since the initiation of the BRI in 2013. As well, China has balanced the fence between Kurdish separatists’ and the Iraqi government’s desires, with China forging relationships with the Iraqis, starting back in 2015, and dealing with Kurdish oil manufacturers.
Analytic confidence for this analysis was moderate. No specific structured analytic method was used. There was strong agreement between sources with little to no conflict among the sources. Most sources were updated or written within the last three months. The analyst’s expertise in Middle East politics is minimal, and the work was done alone. The task complexity was moderately complex.