Is China the new custodian of the Middle East?

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Russia is calling all the shots in the Middle East. No, it’s the United States. Oh hang on; it’s the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries that pull the strings. Israel is the dominant player. You just can’t rule out Egypt. ISIL, perhaps? The list goes on. There’s lot more you’re going to hear about the Middle East in the days to come.

Israel, infuriated after the UNSC verdict, might be contemplating upping the ante. After all, the MidEast Peace Conference in Paris due January 15, 2017 is, in all its likelihood, going to uphold the two-state solution.

Media will provide you with all the varied opinions, thoughts and predictions for 2017. Barring aside few of the stories, majority of these are going to be all but hogwash. Don’t buy into every news story you’re pitched with.

China is on the verge of being the sole powerhouse and the ultimate decision-maker in the Middle East. And, it is not boasting about it either. It is playing safe and smart. Along with Russia, China also has funded the region massively, both in terms of military and economic resources.

China has the ability to bind the region together. It wouldn’t want Iran to engage in any misadventure against Israel. Also, it would make sure to prevent any aggression towards Iran by Israel. Why? Any love lost? No. Strategic interests? You’ve guessed it right.

Iran holds the key for OBOR. Also, the significance of Israel’s trade routes can’t be ignored. Both of these are strategic assets for Beijing. One may not be surprised if Chinese investment across Israel’s maritime corridors increases.

It would facilitate Jordan and Egypt to become part of the economic hub. However, Jordan’s Aqaba Port and the Suez Canal would then need to complement each other. In addition, to reap maximum benefits, the Chinese would have to make Ashdod and Eilat, the two strategically placed ports in Israel, part of the plan as well. If China is eyeing tapping into the Red Sea for its Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC), then Eilat Port, Israel’s only port located on the Red Sea, might have to enter the fray with a bang.

I’ve highlighted the above just to provide you with a glimpse into the future. Iran, Egypt and Israel are integral to OBOR’s success in the Middle East. The southern trade route is linked with the aforementioned regional powers. If anything goes haywire, then it may ruin the Chinese vision for the region. It has to work. It has to assimilate well enough. China, nonetheless, will ensure it does. The stakes are too high.

The recently conducted joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean by China and Egypt provide a realistic insight about the things to come. Be prepared for more. Be prepared for further strengthening of the military ties between China and Egypt. And, don’t forget the US$45 billion worth of Chinese investment in Egypt. It’s for the new capital Egypt has envisaged recently.

China has plans for Iran as well. The US$600 billion trade deal between China and Iran is something to look forward to. It’s intriguing, and somewhat astonishing, to see how China is, slowly but gradually, taking over the Middle East. It has successfully been able to layout a framework to draw Egypt, Iran and Israel in for the OBOR.

China has the ability to cater to the major interest groups in the region. Economic progress linked with OBOR can be a game changer for the Middle Eastern region.

It’ll be interesting to see what measures China comes up with in regards to surmounting and subduing the conflicts in the Middle East. After all, China wouldn’t let its economic prospects languish that much easily.

So, yes. Get ready to embrace the Chinese Middle East.

Shazar Shafqat
Shazar Shafqat is a counterterrorism and security analyst. His research focuses on Pakistan-Afghanistan security environment, Middle East politics and security issues, counter-terrorism strategies and military-related affairs. In addition to being a contributor at Asia Times, his work features regularly in various media outlets including The Diplomat, Middle East Eye, World Policy Journal, Dawn, The News International, The Nation, Daily Times, and more.
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