When you consider our posture and our long-standing relationships, it is somewhat short-sighted to compare what the United States and China do in the region, according to Mara Karlin, assistant secretary of defence for strategies, plans, and capabilities.
At a Washington, DC, event hosted by the Middle East Institute, Karlin continued, “It’s quite a different ball game.
China has made recent geopolitical strides in the Middle East and is signalling the region as a priority at a time when traditional US allies are concerned over Washington’s commitment to their security.
President Xi Jinping received a red carpet welcome in Saudi Arabia during a landmark visit in December. China imports more than a quarter of the kingdom’s total crude exports and has sold 5G and Huwaei technology to Riyadh to the chagrin of Washington.
Relations between Beijing and Abu Dhabi and Riyadh have shown to be a hindrance to security coordination with Washington.
The sale of F-35 fighter fighters to the UAE was put on hold after Abu Dhabi voiced opposition to the limits Washington wanted to impose. The Biden administration said that the UAE’s adoption of Chinese 5G technology put vital defence data at risk of being leaked to Beijing.
However, China’s most well-known diplomatic intervention occurred in March when it helped Saudi Arabia and Iran resume diplomatic relations. Washington claims that Saudi Arabia kept it informed of the negotiations, but it has been previously reported that the transaction surprised US decision-makers.
US officials have increasingly taken a harsh stance on China throughout the area as the rivalry between Washington and Beijing intensifies.
China was “getting away with murder,” according to Barbara Leaf, the senior State Department Middle East officer, when she told legislators that country was supplying drone technology to Tehran while also forging tighter ties with Gulf governments.
However, observers claim that China is in a unique position to bridge gaps that the US is unable to, particularly amid a tide of regional rapprochement, thanks to its solid relations with both Iran and the Gulf monarchies.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia have both taken steps to welcome Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a crucial Iranian ally, back into the Arab fold. They most recently hosted him at an Arab summit.
Yet the US remains the region’s premier military power. Even as China brokers talks between Riyadh and Tehran, Washington continues to safeguard energy flows from the Gulf. On Monday, the US commissioned a new US-led maritime task force for the Middle East at its 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain.
“China doesn’t have a blue water navy,” Douglas Silliman, a former US ambassador to Kuwait and Iraq previously told MEE, referring to a maritime force that can operate far from home. “It doesn’t have US readiness posture or prepositioned troops. The US Navy still oversees the security of China’s oil flows.”