Posted by Annie-Marie Gergi on August 18, 2015 in Blog

us_china_obama_jinping.jpgThe Center for American Progress recently hosted an event titled U.S.-China Cooperation on the Middle East. The distinguished panel included members from the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation along with members from the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

The panel spent 90 minutes laying out some of the mutually shared interests between the U.S. and China and described the potential of partnership between the two world superpowers in terms of providing stability in the region.

Traditionally, the strategies held by U.S. and China have been in stark contrast to one another. The U.S. has been overly involved in the Middle East, while China seems to be largely absent. China subscribes to the idea of non-intervention, focusing its energy on developing economic and financial relations and avoiding areas of conflict.

There may be a new dimension to China’s influence in the Middle East. China’s increasing economic influence through trade, and oil and gas have given it an added political edge. China has now surpassed the United States as the world’s largest oil importer from the region. China’s trade has increased more than 600% within the Middle East in the past decade, reaching more than  $200 billion per year, a massive sum. China is also investing in new plans for the Chinese Silk Road in the Middle East which will connect China to Europe passing through countries such as Iran and Turkey, directly promoting economic growth in the region.

Apart from China’s economic leverage, its lack of political involvement in the Middle East has made it more trustworthy by its Middle Eastern partners. A poll taken by the Pew Research Centre found that public opinion in the Middle East is substantially more favorable to China than to the U.S. Another poll discovered that more than half of the people surveyed in six out of the seven Middle Eastern nations (not including Turkey) believe that China’s economy is actually helping their own. Although China is often criticized for its absence from diplomatic efforts in the region, its nonalignment is proving a bonus.

China’s lack of historical baggage, coupled with its contribution to economic development in the region, makes China a useful ally. China, now more than ever, has a strategic role to play in helping to foster political-diplomatic solutions around the region and one would hope that it should invest more political capital in the region. Historically, China has not taken sides, which may be seen through its economic partnerships with both Iran and Saudi Arabia, two bitter geostrategic rivals.

There are many areas where the United States and China can work together in the Middle East. China’s involvement with the P5+1 negotiations with Iran shows an effective partnership between the U.S. and China. China and the U.S. should further this strategic dialogue and use their influence, economic leverage, and leadership to promote stability and prosperity in the turbulent Middle East.

Annie-Marie Gergi is an intern with the Arab American Institute