China will expand energy, economic partnerships — not security — in Middle East


Al-Monitor Pro Members


Howard J. Shatz 

Senior Economist, RAND Corporation 


June 30, 2022

Bottom Line:

China has focused on economic engagement in the Middle East, attempting to maintain good relations with every country in the region. Although it has established a special focus on Iran, at least on paper, it has declined to become embroiled in the region’s many interstate disputes. 

With the United States focused on security issues in Asia and Russia embroiled in its war on Ukraine, China may have the opportunity to create stronger security relationships. It may engage in more arms sales, exercises and other military interactions, but China’s main security interests focus on its immediate neighborhood.   

China’s most serious challenge is the reform of its economy — something at which it has so far not succeeded. Despite the many messages about the Belt and Road Initiative, one of its main motivations, if not the main motivation, has been to strengthen China’s own economy. Rather than an investment effort, as often portrayed, it is largely a lending and contracting effort meant to stimulate China’s industrial base and employ Chinese labor. This focus on lending and construction can be seen clearly in the Middle East. 

It also needs to maintain the ability to import hydrocarbons, with about 90% of its oil consumption in 2020 imported and Saudi Arabia and Russia the leading source countries. 

Rather than losing focus by increasing security activities — and potentially alienating some of the countries with which it does business, China is likely to continue to maintain an emphasis on economic activities in the region and avoid becoming embroiled in regional disputes. 

Data in this executive brief are from the Fall 2021 version of the American Enterprise Institute – Heritage Foundation China Global Investment Tracker, dated Feb. 21, 2022, which includes transaction-level investment and contracting data for BRI activity from 2013 through 2021. 

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.