December 5, 2016
Greater interest and involvement in the Middle East by China are manifestations of growing dependence on energy resources from the region and Chinese efforts to expand its influence into Central Asia and beyond, a new RAND report finds.
China's Middle East strategy is driven primarily by economic interests as well as an attempt to rebalance its domestic, foreign and security policies to be less skewed in favor of eastern China and East Asia, according to the report.
RAND researchers examine China's economic, political and security roles in the Middle East, focusing on China's relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran, and how these developing relationships might impact the U.S. role in the region.
“Beijing is very reluctant to expand its level of security cooperation with the United States or Middle East states because it fears being embroiled in regional tensions and controversies,” said Andrew Scobell, the lead author on the report and a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization. “China fears that greater security involvement would wreck its remarkable status as the one outside power on good terms with every major state in the Middle East.”
The report recommends that Washington should adopt a two-part strategy where China and the Middle East are concerned. The United States should encourage China, along with other Asian powers, to become more involved in efforts to improve stability in the Middle East and also should work to reassure partners of its enduring security commitment to the region.
“Expanded security cooperation between China, Saudi Arabia and Iran—building on robust economic ties, modest but cordial diplomatic relations, and limited military interactions—should not necessarily be cause for U.S. alarm,” said Alireza Nader, co-author of the report and a senior international political analyst at RAND. “Such cooperation may be helpful and contribute toward a more stable regional environment.”
China is unlikely to attempt to dominate the region as they would rather avoid entanglement in any military conflicts. However, there may be opportunities for U.S.-China engagement through joint diplomatic efforts to help resolve regional conflicts.
The report, China in the Middle East: The Wary Dragon, can be found at www.rand.org.
Research for this report was sponsored by the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8, U.S. Army, and conducted within the RAND Arroyo Center's Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources program. RAND Arroyo Center, part of the RAND Corporation, is a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the United States Army.