Due to its need for oil, its trade with Middle Eastern countries, and its massive infrastructure plans, Beijing has, on the one hand, an abiding interest in regional stability. On the other hand, it seeks to reduce American influence in the Middle East. China thus could see both advantages and disadvantages in the recent normalization agreements between Israel and three Arab states. Examining the writings of Chinese analysts—who don’t have much latitude to deviate from their government’s views—Tuvia Gering tries to assess what the Communist country thinks of recent developments:
China needs a U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East more broadly, to ensure that shipping lanes remain open, especially for oil exiting the Gulf. In addition, Sun Chengchao of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations argues that China prefers that U.S. naval forces be busy in the Mideast, which makes it more difficult for Washington to divert forces to the Pacific theater.
[Yet] Chinese support for normalization may be ill-received by Iran, Turkey, and the Palestinians. [All three] are important to China for balancing American hegemony in the Middle East. Turkey and Iran back Beijing in the international arena on topics such as the Uighur concentration camps in Xinjiang. This is especially true of Iran, which is a cheap source of energy. Iran’s relatively large and educated population and its location in the Persian Gulf—and at the junction between Europe and Central Asia—could make it an important geostrategic junction for the Belt and Road Initiative, [China’s massive trans-Asian infrastructure project], and make it a lucrative investment arena.
In other words, the “Abraham Accords” are a catch-22 for the Chinese. If China chooses to embrace the American vision it could damage its geopolitical interests, and if it rejects it, it could jeopardize the stability it needs for economic growth. China is trying to grab the rope at both ends. It strives to remain friendly with all countries to sustain economic development and wants to project to its citizens and the international community an image of a proactive great power. Consequently, China will continue to challenge the U.S. on international issues, such as the Palestinian question.