While Israel has taken important steps to address American concerns about its diplomatic and economic relations with China, other U.S. allies in the region—especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—have appeared to move even closer to Beijing. Michael Singh argues that differing perspectives are part of the problem, and that Washington’s current policies are likely only to exacerbate it. In his view, both the U.S. and the Gulf states are being shortsighted:
Despite demarche after demarche, even America’s closest partners in the Middle East simply do not see China as a threat to their interests (apart from the friction that their Chinese ties are creating with Washington, perhaps). This is not to say they are blindly trusting of Beijing’s intentions, merely that they do not view its actions as threatening. In fact, they see China’s desire to be more active in the Middle East as an opportunity, whether in terms of attracting trade and investment or balancing their dependence on the United States.
Yet this threat perception is deeply mistaken. For example, if China attempts to take Taiwan by force or other methods, the resulting crisis would likely entail enormous disruptions in global trade that wreak severe economic damage in the Middle East. Even short of that drastic scenario, Beijing could weaponize its economic leverage over the region at any time for political purposes, as it has already attempted to do against Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and others. Chinese cooperation with Iran remains deeply problematic as well—despite Beijing’s efforts to frame it in positive terms (e.g., the recent Iran-Saudi rapprochement), such activity has helped shield Tehran from economic and diplomatic isolation while enhancing the threat it poses to neighbors.
U.S. officials should emphasize these threats rather than rehashing messages about democracy vs. autocracy or risks to the international order, which do not resonate among most U.S. partners in the Middle East. Much like China, the majority of these partners see themselves as rising powers who have not been accorded their fair share of global influence.