In the past several years, China has gradually sought to expand its influence in East Asia and the Pacific and undermine the American-led order in the region. But, writes Joel Sonkin, it is also turning its attentions farther afield:
Indeed, Beijing has been busy actively pursuing its much-discussed “Belt and Road” initiative to invest in infrastructure linking China by both land and sea to markets in Asia and Europe. As part of these efforts, President Xi Jinping made a visit in July to the United Arab Emirates to sign a host of financial and trade agreements. . . .
Just across the Arabian Peninsula, in what would be a key component of China’s sea route, Beijing established in 2017 its first overseas military base in Djibouti. This small African country sits at one of the most important maritime locations in the world: the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, the key chokepoint connecting Asia and Europe. Ships bound for Europe pass through the narrow waterway between Djibouti and the southern tip of Yemen into the Red Sea and continue through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean. In short, Djibouti is poised to serve as a launchpad for China to project its power between Europe and Asia, i.e. the Middle East and North Africa. . . .
Finally, in what would be perhaps Beijing’s most audacious move yet, it was reported this past week that the Chinese ambassador to Syria offered his country’s assistance to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The ambassador said that China is willing to participate “in some way alongside the Syrian army,” as it looks to finish off the Sunni opposition. . . .
The situation [in Syria] was made drastically more difficult when the U.S. allowed one of its fiercest competitors, Russia, to intervene on behalf of the Assad regime. But the [effect of the] potential entrance of America’s other ostensible global competitor into the Syrian arena is hard to fathom. A Chinese presence in the region . . . is unprecedented, and would bring the U.S. and its Middle Eastern allies into uncharted waters. . . . [I]t is not too soon for the Trump administration to pursue vigorously a policy of preventing China from gaining a foothold in the Middle East.