Since the Obama administration, those concerned by the rise of China have urged the United States to “pivot to Asia,” arguing implicitly or explicitly that American foreign policy is too focused on Europe or the Middle East. But, as Louis Dugit-Gros writes, such a claim entirely misunderstands Beijing’s ambitions:
In reality, the Chinese strategy is global, and the methods it applies in the Indo-Pacific are being used in similar fashion elsewhere, including the [Persian] Gulf. . . . In recent years, Beijing has increasingly set its sights on three key waterways surrounding the Arabian Peninsula: the Suez Canal, the Bab al-Mandab Strait [which separates Yemen from Africa, and controls access to the Suez Canal and the Israeli port of Eilat], and the Strait of Hormuz, [which separates the Gulf from the Indian Ocean]. China could replicate its existing infiltration model there more directly than one might imagine.
The case of the United Arab Emirates is particularly revealing. In addition to reaching trade agreements with Beijing and hiring the Chinese telecom company Huawei to provide domestic network services, Abu Dhabi has acquired Chinese-made military drones and Hongdu L-15 training aircraft. Joint Chinese and Emirati efforts are slowly turning the UAE into a hub for artificial-intelligence advances. This substantial cooperation is cause for concern even if one leaves aside reports that Beijing is secretly building a naval facility north of Abu Dhabi. Emirati authorities have denied any agreement to host such a base and stated they did not believe the facility was meant for military purposes.
Despite Gulf leaders’ preference for multipolarity, the growing pace and scope of China’s influence in the region still call for significant action to keep these countries anchored in the West. . . . Given the significant European interests at stake in the region, the EU could be a significant partner in formulating and implementing this response.