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China's strategic moves in Middle East may blindside west

London: The recent visit of US Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan and subsequent support shown by many Middle East countries to China, reflects the changing political alignment in the region, according to Europe Asia Foundation.
The London-based forum contended that China's fast-growing influence started with economic engagement such as trade and investment in the region which should be a cause for concern for western countries including the United States. With the aim to increase its clout, China has quietly engaged with countries in building infrastructure through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). What has helped Beijing in this endeavour is the perceived disengagement of the US from West Asia, which has enabled China to deepen its engagement in the region.
"China's interest in the Middle East has primarily been economic - as well as to secure energy supplies - but it is now turning to a more strategic focus," according to the London-based forum.
China invested 330 billion USD in 2021 and continues to diversify its trade activities in the region with the aim to achieve unrivalled regional trade dominance. 2022 was no different.
Representatives from a number of Gulf countries including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman visited China's coastal province of Jiangsu for a series of meetings with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Participation of Gulf countries in the Beijing Winter Olympics, despite US resistance, also showcased China's diplomatic prowess.
"Trade imbalance has seen a surge as Chinese products enter the Middle East in recent years. Analysts point out that people in the region are becoming accustomed to Chinese products and developing their familiarity with them," the Europe Asia Foundation report said.
China is offering new opportunities for Middle Eastern businesses, thereby deepening ties with countries in the region.
"To facilitate business activity and investment, China has signed a range of tax agreements and bilateral investment treaties that offer fair treatment and protection for foreign investors with many countries in the region. At the same time, Beijing is in the process of negotiating free trade agreements," the forum said.
Besides trade activities, China is trying to control its narrative in the Gulf region.
"Mass opinion polls in the Arab States highlight China's popularity while favourable coverage in Arab media is constant. Beijing's narrative is being pushed. It was demonstrated by recent responses in regional newspapers to Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan," the Europe Asia Foundation report said.
According to the London-based forum, the sympathetic coverage is shaped by the broad support for the 'One China policy amongst Arab governments, backed by Beijing's economic incentives.
Another worrying sign for the US is the Islamic world's silence on China's crackdowns in Xinjiang. This gives Beijing the upper hand in approaching its diplomacy from a transactional framework in the region.
The Middle East countries' silence on the repression and incarceration of Muslims in Xinjiang is seen as a double standard, given their harsh criticism of several countries on much lesser issues. (ANI)

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