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China bids for increasing presence in Middle East

January 18, 2016, 16:07 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
© ITAR-TASS/Vladimir Smirnov

MOSCOW, January 18. /TASS/. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the key countries of the Middle East - Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran - due in late January is a serious bid to expand China’s geopolitical presence in this region, experts polled by TASS said on Monday.

According to the People’s Daily newspaper, "the document announced by the Chinese government on January 13 on China’s policy towards the Arab countries as the first document on this issue represents an ambitious plan for the mutually beneficial cooperation between China and the Arab countries."

During the visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran, the Chinese leader will be accompanied by the economic delegation that will include around 100 heads of state corporations linked to natural resources.

The head of the School of Eastern Studies at the Higher School of Economics, Alexei Maslov said over the past two or three years China has sharply intensified its policy in the Middle East and continues raising the stakes and this is shown by the upcoming Chinese leader’s trip.

"China is a sponsor of a range of major projects in the region’s countries. For example, jointly with Iran it builds the Peace pipeline that will deliver Iran’s gas to Pakistan located between Iran and China (and possibly further to China) and will become an important part of the big economic arc being built by Beijing and along which the new Silk road will pass," Maslov told TASS.

It is notable that Xi Jinping’s trip to Iran will take place shortly after lifting the anti-Iranian sanctions and will be the first state visit of a foreign leader to the country. "Beijing invests solid funds into infrastructure projects of the Middle East countries - in railways, highways and gas pipelines. In Iran, China plans to make important investments in modernizing oil extraction, and training staff for the oil and gas spheres," the expert said.

Amid the falling indexes of oil markets after the announcement that sanctions against Tehran have been lifted and expectations of the growing offer of the Iranian oil, China wants to become a major Middle East player and an alternative to the United States in the region, he said.

"The average value of one-time Chinese investments is $3 billion. It will be difficult both for the US, the EU countries and Russia to compete with China in the Middle East," Maslov said.

"As for Iran, then Moscow and Beijing are the natural rivals in the economic and military and technical cooperation with the country. But now Russia’s interests do not clearly overlap with those of China as we are deal with different projects."

Certain economic rivalry is nothing compared with common geopolitical interests - and the interests of Russia and China in the Iranian direction almost coincide. Iran wants to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as soon as possible to become part of this Eurasian organization where China and Russia play a key role.

"China is positively perceived by the countries of the Middle East, North Africa as Beijing implements mainly economic interests in the region. At the same time, China participated in the talks on the Iranian nuclear program and takes part in the Vienna process on the Syrian settlement, supports the official Damascus although it does not participate in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group," the expert said.

"It is most important that compared with the US and its allies, Beijing has never interfered in domestic policy of the Arab countries, does not demand the regime change and adheres to the norms of the international law and the United Nations decisions. That’s why there is no doubt that China’s cooperation with the Arab countries will be successful," Maslov said.

The Moscow Carnegie Centre’s expert Alexey Malashenko, stressed the political importance of the Chinese leader’s visit to the strategically important region. "If compared with the Great Chinese Cultural Revolution, the trip of the top official in the Chinese establishment to the Middle East countries is a sort of the Great Chinese Political Revolution," Malashenko told TASS.

"Beijing always exactly chooses the time and place of actions to designate its presence in the region of interest. Yes, China always declares that its business is economy rather than politics. But while in Riyadh, Xi Jinping cannot but discuss Tehran’s position and cannot but speak about Saudi Arabia in Iran. So it will play the role of an international mediator without publicizing this. So China as a global power with disguised or adjourned potential openly enters the political stage," the expert said.

Both for Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Chinese mediation is most beneficial as Beijing tells no one who is to be the king and the president, he said.

"If Xi Jinping manages to resolve the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, this will prove that China is becoming a global player with the giant political potential. Not only Russia but also the US, the EU and the Arab states wait for the Chinese to declare their position in the Syrian conflict and the fight against the IS. So the whole world is watching the visit of the Chinese leader to the Middle East," Malashenko said.

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