Trump’s outreach to the Middle East cannot be divorced from China’s own plans for the Middle East.
As U.S. President Donald Trump concluded his visit to the Middle East, speculation has been growing that his calls for a united front with the leadership of Arab states in combating extremism in the region is an indirect reference to Iran’s sponsoring of militancy in the region.
Trump’s speech in Riyadh specifically mentioned Hezbollah, Hamas, and ISIS, of which the former can be construed as a reference to Iran promoting instability in the region. This policy of promoting unity between the members of the GCC coalition, the United States, and countries with predominantly Sunni populations does send ominous signs that cannot be limited to Iran and curbing its influence alone.
This pivot in Washington to the Arab states of the Middle East and its focus on combating terrorism and promoting economic cooperation came shortly after the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. There have been repeated calls by China to integrate east and west Asia — calls which were met with great applause and hope. Of those invited from the region, India, which shares a strong bilateral relationship with the United States, was notably absent. (Washington sent a delegation.) This said, the initiative was hailed by Moscow, Beijing, and Islamabad as a shift of momentum from the west to the east, where economic connectivity runs parallel with China’s economic rise and poses a potent challenge to the Trump administration.
There are various strategic rationales that explain China’s OBOR initiative. For example, hardcore realists would argue that corridors such as CPEC would allow China to gain access to the oil rich Gulf region. Geographically, the port of Gwadar in Pakistan is an ideal conduit to realize this objective. It is also noteworthy that China…