Interviewed by Viktor Kaspruk
Chris Zambelis is an analyst and researcher specializing in Middle East affairs with Helios Global, Inc., a risk management group based in the Washington, DC area. The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of Helios Global Inc.
– Mr. Zambelis, сan China compete with the United States in the Middle East?
– I believe that China is certainly capable of competing with the United States in the Middle East on some levels, but at this point its ability to challenge the U.S. rests mostly in the economic and energy realms. This is because of demand for oil and natural gas imports in China (and across Asia) will continue to increase.
The economic center of gravity in the world is now centered around China and Asia more broadly, and the Chinese will be keen to attract investment from the region, especially from the energy-rich and cash flush Persian Gulf monarchies. Naturally, these factors will embolden the Chinese (and potentially other actors in Asia, such as India), to be more assertive in defending their national interests in the Middle East, even if that means challenging long established U.S. positions on issues such as the Iranian nuclear program or anything else.
But at the same time, even as we continue to speak of a diminishing and weakening U.S. presence in the broader Middle East, no global power, including China, at this point is prepared to challenge American military dominance. This may change one day, but not in the foreseeable future.
– Whether Beijing will attract more Palestinian factor?
– As for your second question, it is widely known that China has long advocated on the behalf of the Palestinians and their struggle for self-determination in light of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land. Officially, China continues to hold this position (not unlike nearly the entire world). Yet as China has expanded its footprint in the Middle East, it has also dramatically improved its relationship with Israel.
This is important in light of the historic tensions between China and Israel. Stlll, China’s primary interests in the Middle East revolve around shoring up its energy security. I do not believe that China represents an important element in the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic.
Chinese rhetoric and actions toward the Middle East on issues related to Iran and Syria, for example, may depart from the positions held by the United States and Israel, and the same may hold in regards to Palestine. But there is little evidence to indicate that China is prepared to take a harder stance on behalf of the Palestinians. Nevertheless, opponents and critics of U.S. foreign policy often suggest that a greater potential role for outside actors such as China in the Middle East can only help matters. This may certainly be the case, but there are no indications that the Chinese are thinking along these lines.