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China’s influence in the Middle East has grown significantly over the past few years.

According to research, nearly half of Americans say that U.S. influence in the world is declining and China’s is growing. Since the Second World War, the United States has been the dominant outside actor in the Middle East. The recent restoration of Iran-Saudi diplomatic relations, mediated by China, was seen by some as further evidence of America’s diminished role in the Middle East. This China-brokered agreement was reached at a time when the Biden administration was focused on normalizing relations between Riyadh and Jerusalem. The question arises: has China replaced the United States in the Middle East?

The world is currently divided into two blocs, namely the United States and China. The historic deal between long-time Mideast rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia can be viewed one of two ways. First, many Mideast states would prefer to work with Beijing instead of Washington, and second, Riyadh’s entry into the Chinese bloc.

For the past few years, U.S. influence in the world has been diminished. The biggest example of this is the statements made by French President Emmanuel Macron during his state visit to China, in which he distanced himself from U.S. policy on Taiwan and warned Europeans not to follow every dictate from Washington.

U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has its roots in the early 19th century. After the end of the Second World War, U.S. influence in the Middle East increased rapidly, and in a short period of time, it became the most influential foreign power in the region. The U.S. became involved in the Middle East for several objectives, including utilizing the region’s oil and gas reserves, countering the influence of the Soviet Union, and protecting Israel. Up to this point, it could be argued that the U.S. has been successful in achieving its goals in the Middle East.

America’s long presence in the Middle East contains strategic friendships and trade partnerships as well as strategic rivalries. Saudi Arabia and the United States have a longstanding relationship dating back to the 1930s. Relations between the two countries have been tense since the Biden administration assumed office, especially over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and OPEC’s decision to decrease oil production. The Biden administration mishandled both issues, resulting in China getting an opportunity to play a bigger role in the Middle East. China’s Iran-Saudi Arabia mediation shows that Saudi Arabia has inched closer to China.

The United States maintains diplomatic relations with all countries in the Middle East except Iran and Syria. In 1980, the United States suspended diplomatic relations with Iran. During the Iran-Iraq War, the United States fully supported Iraq. Since 1979, Iran has been facing severe sanctions from the United States. The U.S.-Iran rivalry underpins tensions throughout the region.

In 2011, when Syria’s civil war began, the United States provided full support to anti-government groups seeking the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. As a result, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Syria were suspended in 2012.

China’s rising influence in the Middle East is undoubtedly a deep concern for Washington. China has emerged as a major Saudi trading partner. By 2011, China had surpassed the United States for the first time in bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia. China has established strategic partnerships with many states in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Oman, Kuwait, Algeria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Iraq, Morocco, and Egypt.

In the past, China’s role was limited to neighboring countries, but over the past few decades, it has established itself as a global actor. China’s presence can be felt in all corners of the world. The historic Iran-Saudi pact shows that China has emerged as a global dealmaker. It would not be wrong to say that, in terms of trade, China’s role in the Middle East has greatly expanded.

Naeem Ul Hassan is a published book author. He holds a Master's degree in history from the University of Punjab. He has written more than a hundred articles and is working as a contributor for the Voice of Canada. His areas of interest are women's rights, the Middle East, and Global Politics.