How to Assess China’s Power in the Middle East?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

By Middle East Policy

The quarterly journal provides incisive analysis about whether and how the East Asian giant can challenge US hegemony. 

From a maritime alliance to the potential coordination of economic policies through an association of ascendant developing countries, Iran and Saudi Arabia have been moving closer together since their China-brokered rapprochement earlier this year. The quarterly journal Middle East Policy has been providing in-depth coverage of China’s moves in the region, giving readers the information they need to understand power dynamics that are shifting rapidly—and those that may not be. 

Over the weekend, officials in Iran announced that Tehran and Riyadh would cooperate in a naval coalition with India and Pakistan, as well as Gulf states including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Iraq. This came just a few days after ministers attending a meeting of BRICS countries—that is, the bloc of major developing economies composed of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—indicated that Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as the UAE, are being considered for membership

Middle East Policy has long examined China’s role in the region, whether it can challenge US hegemony, and how it can spur some of the regional powers to look East instead of West. Here are some of the most recent and incisive studies we have published: 

  • Symposium: The Future of Security in the Middle East, by Douglas A. Silliman, Mary Beth Long, David B. Des Roches, Asha Castleberry-Hernandez, and Bassima Alghussein 

    • These former officials and foreign-policy experts analyze the new multipolar order emerging in the Middle East, featuring a newly assertive China as well as confident regional powers like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

    • Panelists meeting at a Capitol Hill conference organized by the Middle East Policy Council and the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington urged American officials to come to grips with the fact that the United States is no longer the undisputed hegemon in the region. However, they also cautioned analysts not to overestimate China’s influence. 

    • You can also read our coverage of this event at 

  • Iran and the SCO: The Quest for Legitimacy and Regime Preservation, by Nicole Bayat Grajewski 

    • The article shows that Iran sees Eastern organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, led by China and Russia, as a means of bolstering external legitimacy, fostering security-oriented regionalism, and promoting the transition toward the so-called multipolar world order. 

    • Tehran’s commitment to the normative order, sustained by China and the SCO’s discourse of noninterference, sovereignty, and countering the “three evils”—terrorism, extremism, and separatism—has galvanized the organization’s role as a common front against the imposition of liberal norms and challenges to regime security. 

  • A Post-American Middle East? US Realities Vs. Chinese and Russian Alternatives, by Christopher K. Colley 

    • This article asks the key question—is Washington really engaging in a systematic pullout from the Middle East?—and asserts that, contrary to common perceptions, China does not have the capacity or willingness to replace the US role in the region. 

    • Based on publicly available evidence, the author contends that the American military is actually increasing its forward presence in the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf region, and it leads China and Russia in arms sales. 

  • The Rise of China in the Middle East, by Camille Lons, Jon Alterman, Chas W. Freeman Jr., and Jim Moran 

    • Participants in this Capitol Hill Conference hosted by the Middle East Policy Council analyze the relative decline of the United States in the region and the potential for China to assert itself. They argue that China’s ascendancy is based both on its economic initiatives as well as the failed American wars over the last two decades. 

    • But there are many reasons to be skeptical of China’s rise in the region: its focus on vital interests in the Asia-Pacific region; its tradition of rule breaking; and the continued US military strength.  

  • China’s Approach to the Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry, by Mohmad Waseem Malla 

    • The article contends that China’s lack of historical baggage in the region has been key in developing working relationships with the two Gulf powers. 

    • More than a year before the March 2023 agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the study asserted that China’s increased engagement in the region—largely due to its need for energy resources and its investments in the Belt and Road Initiative—would require it to get off the sidelines and engage in direct diplomacy. 

    • You can also check out our exclusive interview with the author of this study, who anticipated China’s diplomatic assertiveness years before the March 2023 deal with Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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