As the US pivots its military presence towards the Far East, China is quietly moving into prominence in the Middle-East and Gulf states.
Turkey missile deal shows China's growing Mideast clout
(YnetNews/Reuters) - Expected sale of Chinese FD-2000 missile defense system to Ankara 'a wake up call,' former US official says. Survey shows China viewed more positively than US in every Mideast state except Israel.
China's likely sale of sophisticated missiles to Turkey over the objections of its NATO allies might have angered Washington and other capitals, but it should not have been a surprise. Even as the US has spent billions of dollars and lost hundreds of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, Beijing has been quietly upping its presence in the Middle East.
Militarily, the US - which maintains a permanent aircraft carrier presence near the Gulf as well as dozens of other warships and major bases in Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates - is by far the dominant regional power.
Beijing's economic, political and diplomatic clout, however, is growing fast. China's Ministry of Commerce said last month China-Arab nation trade now reaches $222 billion a year, 12 times its 2002 level. That would outstrip US-Mideast trade, valued at $193 billion in 2011.
China plays vital role in promoting peace
Turkey's choice of a $3.4 billion deal to acquire the Chinese FD-2000 missile defense system rather than rival US or European systems may be a sign of things to come.
"It is a wake-up call," said Christina Lin, a former US official and now fellow at the School for Advanced International Studies who last year briefed the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs on the issue. "China is looking to get a lot more involved in the Middle East and is being increasingly accepted there."
The firm that makes the missile system, China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp (CPMIEC) is under US sanctions for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
Mixing commerce and geopolitics, experts say, is at the heart of Beijing's approach. Chinese officials have become regular visitors to most Mideast states while a range of regional leaders including Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan, Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah have all visited China.
China's soaring energy needs are seen as a major motivator, coming just as the US gets closer to energy independence and budget constraints and public reluctance hit its military presence.
The International Energy Agency expects China's Mideast oil imports to grow from 2.9 million barrels per day in 2011 to 6.7 million in 2035, a projected 54% of total Chinese oil imports. Already, Chinese national oil companies are amongst the biggest players in Iraq and Iran and Beijing is both Saudi Arabia's largest trading partner and the biggest single purchaser of Iran's crude.
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