China-Middle East Deepening Interdependencies and the US Regional Policy
Analyses situating the Middle East’s current dynamics within and as internal to the multifaceted global capitalist crisis are scarce. Among the defining features of our time is an acute economic crisis concomitated with a shift of the center of economic gravity from the West to the East. China rose to the position of the world’s largest economy and trading partner, and one of the largest capital exporters. Besides other southern countries, Beijing has not only obstructed the advance of the US-led “international liberal order”, but it has also created relatively alternative global and regional institutions. China’s economic rise and the nature of its international role are seen as existential threats in the US whose own reproduction as a socio-political entity is extremely dependent on its overstretched imperialist position within the international system. Indeed, the nature of US policy towards China and the latter’s response are determinant for the global system fate as well as to the regional trajectories where different and contradictory strategies are at play.
These global trends are amply reflected in the Middle East. First, the explosion of social contradictions of the (neo)liberal model marked that the US dominant regional position came to an end, in a context where its regional strategy is contested by other powers. Second, while the US is restructuring its global strategic priorities moving its center of strategic gravity from the Middle East to Asia Pacific, China’s marching-west has positioned it as the first trade and investment partner of the region. Third, in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, that would create the material conditions for Eurasia’s integration, the Middle East is one of the major continental bridges at both levels of physical infrastructures and of financial and trade flows. Thus, Washington is caught in a contradiction between, on the one hand, the region’s critical importance for the international political economy and as a connector of the Eurasian integration, and, on the other hand, the necessity to redirect its increasingly constrained geopolitical resources away from the Middle East, risking that opponent forces fill the regional “power vacuum”.
Indeed, the control of Eurasia’s vast resources, markets and powers’ potential has been a constant priority of the US global geostrategy with the aim of preventing the rise of regional power therein through Washington’s proactive “power-balancing” within it. Consequently, US policy in the Middle East should be analyzed in articulation with its global strategy, where feeding and managing tensions among regional states, direct and proxy wars, and attempts to forge new alliances etc., are some manifestations of power-balancing inside Eurasia. This policy seeks to prevent any endeavor that may shape the region against the US interests, and to deplete a challenger’s resources. This does not apply only to the emerging popular movements with its revolutionary potential, or to China, Russia, and Iran at the state level, but also to its historical allies whose reliability is doubtful in the mid and long-term giving that their deepening interdependencies with China is restructuring the web of transnational class interests which is the material foundation of political alliances.
Salam Alshareef is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Grenoble Management School. His research analyzes the effects of China’s rise on global economic governance, including through its deepening economic ties with the Middle East.