Home PodcastJulie Alli China’s Increasing Influence in the Middle East

China’s Increasing Influence in the Middle East

by Thaabit Kamaar

Photo by [Middle East Monitor]

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Saudi Arabia last Wednesday on a three-day visit. The Chinese President attended three summits between Arab states, Saudi Arabia and leaders of the GCC.

The meeting between the nations aimed to deepen political and economic ties, as King Salman and President Xi signed a series of strategic deals and partnership agreements.

Including a deal with China’s tech giant Huawei, whose presence in building 5G infrastructure in the Gulf regions raised United States security concerns.

The arrival of President Xi comes when Saudi Arabia seeks to form new mutually beneficial and global partnerships beyond its deteriorating relationship with the US.

Chitanga said, “For the Saudi, I think it’s more of consolidating new relationships, viewing China as … A prospective market for diversification. And China is increasingly interested in building these partnerships which are economically and mutually beneficial.”

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What the Partnership means for the US

Recently the US criticised Saudi Arabia for their human rights record, specifically the killing of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The criticism resulted in a weakened and strained relationship between the nations.

And unlike the US, China is not concerned with Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs and vice versa. In a joint statement, Saudi and China have agreed to take the stance of non-interference.

Gideon Chitanger, an Associate Researcher at the African Centre for the study of the United States at Wits, said both countries believe they can address these internal contradictions and human rights issues within their own political and juridical framework.

Many countries have an issue with the duplicity in which the US engages politically and polices countries they have an interest in.

Chitanga said, “Human Rights has been exclusively used by the US to monitor other countries and hold them accountable … Human Rights are used opportunistically to undermine the sovereignty and self-determination of other countries.”

He continues to state the political and economic concerns of the US supersede their worries about human rights in certain circumstances.

The Huawei Deal

According to Chitanga, comparatively, Huawei is one of the globe’s cheapest technology brands and is a competitor in building 5G infrastructure in the Middle East.

During the Trump administration, Huawei was immensely criticised by the former President, resulting in restrictions placed on its access in the US.

The unease between Saudi and the US and the agreement with Huawei can be perceived as another divisive act. As China’s ever-growing influence extends even more over the Middle East.

However, Chitanga said it is no surprise as the west has always raised suspicion and security concerns over the technology giant.

In his opinion, the concerns are more business-related than security-related ones. The technology developed by Huawei makes it ideal for penetrating different global markets.

“This is a company that has been able to compete with much better and affordable technology in different parts of the world, [compared to] technology companies from the west.”

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