Chinas Middle East Policy has been transformed by Xi Jinping

Over the last few years, China has emerged as the region's greatest trading partner and has become the world's top importer of crude, with about half of it coming from the Middle East

FREMONT, CA: In January, 2022, China hosted foreign ministers from several Persian Gulf countries to discuss measures to improve relations and strengthen security cooperation. Iran's foreign minister arrived in Beijing a few days later to discuss a 400 billion dollars investment and security accord aimed at reducing the economic impact of US sanctions on Iran. According to another report, Beijing has been assisting the Saudis in the development of a new batch of ballistic missiles, which Riyadh is likely to commission to confront Iran's missile fleet.

This flurry of visits and announcements was presented by China as an illustration of its equal distance policy toward the various regional players. But it also reflects how Chinese policy toward the Middle East has shifted radically under President Xi Jinping. Beijing has traditionally avoided becoming involved in an area that has been described as a chaotic and hazardous graveyard burying empires by a Chinese researcher. However, but in 2014, Xi pledged to more than double trade with the region by 2023. Over the last few years, China has emerged as the region's greatest trading partner and has become the world's top importer of crude, with about half of it coming from the Middle East.

Despite its insistence on portraying itself as a development partner in the crisis-ridden area, China has progressively increased its security presence. Beijing unleashed its soft power in mid-January when it announced the construction of tens of thousands of schools, health care centers, and residences that had been devastated in Iraq's recurrent conflicts. Iraq needs 8,000 schools to fill the vacuum in the education sector, according to Iraqi officials, and China has decided to build the majority of them—7,000 schools—to help educate millions of children. It will also construct nearly 90,000 houses in Sadr City, the stronghold of Iraq's most powerful political leader and cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr; improve Baghdad's sewerage; build an airport in Nasiriyah, Iraq; and 1,000 health clinics across the country—all in order to pay for Iraq's oil.