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 By Abby Liebing  November 19, 2021 at 1:11pm

For the past decade, while the U.S. and other world powers have been embroiled in the Middle East, China has been largely diplomatically neutral and militarily absent.

But this spring, the U.S. learned that China was building a suspected military facility port in the United Arab Emirates, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

The UAE is one of the U.S.’s closest Middle Eastern allies, so when this Chinese action was discovered, the Biden administration warned the Emiratis that this could threaten ties between the UAE and the U.S.

After meetings and visits from U.S. officials, construction was stopped, according to the Wall Street Journal’s sources.

There have been suspicions over the years that China would eventually try to assert power in the Middle Eastern region. Many expected it would happen in the Persian Gulf.

“For the past half-century, the United States has essentially dominated international waters in the Persian Gulf uncontested by any Great Power. As in the South China Sea and in the Bab el-Mandeb, however, [Chinese President] Xi may have ambitions to challenge the United States and assert its military influence over yet another strategic chokepoint,” the American Enterprise Institute said in 2020.

The U.S. has also normally made the assumption that the Gulf Cooperation Council would follow its lead, as America has relied on close alliance of the U.S. and the GCC.

“Too often, the State Department has assumed that where it leads, Gulf Cooperation Council members would follow. Arab Gulf states might be frustrated with Washington, but they understood the threat from Tehran meant they had little choice but to grin and bear American arrogance,” AEI said.

But over the past year few years, tensions have arisen between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, the real powerhouse and leader of the GCC and much of the Arab world.

Should Middle Eastern countries be forging ties with China?

When Biden came into office, he had harsh words for Saudi Arabia, particularly over the crisis in Yemen and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

So at this opportune moment, China appears to be reaching into the region.

Sources told The Wall Street Journal that the Emirati government did not appear to be aware of the military nature of China’s construction activity. But China’s actions are still concerning.

http://Emirates”China’s effort to establish what U.S. officials believe would be a military foothold in the UAE—and the Biden administration’s push to persuade the Emiratis to stop the base from being built—reflect the challenges the administration faces in attempting to compete with Beijing globally,” Wall Street Journal reported.

Many are predicting that this is just one more move in the growing competition between China and the U.S. The Middle East is now the regional stage on which this showdown is taking place.

The halt in the construction in the UAE did seem to put the American-Emirati relationship back in a good place, but Emiratis are worried over the fact that they are getting caught in the middle as tension mounts between the U.S. and China.

“We’re all worried, very much, by a looming Cold War,” Anwar Gargash, a UAE presidential adviser, said at an Oct. 2 conference, according to the Wall Street Journal. “That is bad news for all of us because the idea of choosing is problematic in the international system.”

Abby Liebing is a Hillsdale College graduate with a degree in history. She has written for various outlets and enjoys covering foreign policy issues and culture.

Abby Liebing is a Hillsdale College graduate with a degree in history. She has written for various outlets and enjoys covering foreign policy issues and culture.

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