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How the US Can Counter China’s Middle-East Influence

China is likely to continue relying on diplomatic and economic tools, rather than security cooperation, to expand its influence in the Middle East. The only way US President Joe Biden can counter these efforts is by raising America’s own diplomatic and economic game.

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – When US President Joe Biden visits the Middle East next month, his hosts – in particular, Saudi Arabia – will probably try to persuade him to re-engage with the region. Far from enabling the United States to focus on strengthening its position in the great-power competition with China and Russia, they might argue, strategic disengagement from the Middle East gives China an opening to bolster its own regional influence. But the reality is not that simple.

As a major fossil-fuel producer, the Middle East is clearly important to the US. In fact, it is sky-high energy prices that have forced Biden to try to patch up his relationship with Saudi Arabia. Until recently, Biden was shunning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, over his alleged role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018.

Biden’s about-face highlights the extent of Saudi Arabia’s leverage. And the Kingdom is likely to use that leverage to urge the US to sustain its military engagement in the Middle East. Warnings (which Israel is likely to echo) that China will quickly move to fill any security vacuum left by the US will seem to bolster its case further.