A The Chinese military base in the Gulf has long been a nightmare scenario for many US officials who for years have watched with suspicion the growing ties between China and their Gulf allies.
Now their suspicions about China’s ambitions to establish a military footprint in the oil-rich region appear to have come close to reality.
Satellite images emerged last week, suggesting that China was building a multi-story military installation in the UAE port of Khalifa. The UAE government did not appear to be aware of the terminal building which was built and operated by Chinese shipping company Cosco. Construction work is now apparently halted, following a warning from the United States.
The United Arab Emirates is one of the United States’ most trusted strategic allies in the Middle East. It houses an American air base in al-Dhafra, Abu Dhabi. Emirati soldiers fought alongside US forces in Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, and the government bought US weapons for billions of dollars.
On the other hand, the United Arab Emirates is one of the main importers of oil in China. Oil accounts for about 20 percent of China’s energy consumption, and the Gulf is China’s largest source.
The United Arab Emirates is a regional hub for Chinese investments under the Belt and Road Initiative. It is the Arab world’s most important trading partner and is responsible for 28% of China’s non-oil trade with the Middle East. And, more than 200,000 Chinese citizens live and invest in the Gulf country.
Limiting its ties strictly to economic cooperation and investing in growing commercial markets has traditionally allowed China to hedge its bets and avoid sinking into latent geopolitical entanglements between regional rivals. Beijing “has traditionally viewed direct military engagement abroad as a last resort,” said Sophie Zinser, Asia-Pacific and Middle East North Africa program member at Chatham House.
But information on the alleged military base in the United Arab Emirates could indicate that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) may be ready to consult with the US military in the Gulf.
“As China becomes more and more confident and ambitious in realizing the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation, it believes that it must naturally continue its global power and its global influence to accompany its growing economic presence in the world”, said Tong Zhao, senior researcher. at the Carnegie Institute in Beijing.
The reality of what is suspected to be a Chinese military installation in the UAE could drag China into the region’s conflict and end its “free-riding” at the expense of US security commitments, a position that the Chinese leaders seem to want to avoid.
Analysts also suggest that such a build would still illustrate China’s projection of soft power overseas – a similar perception of Beijing’s logistics supply base to Djibouti. Any plan for China’s strategic deployment of troops to a Gulf base would be simply futile as it would be surrounded by a complex web of larger and more sophisticated US military bases on all fronts.
But the biggest dilemma Chinese policymakers face is domestic – resulting from the surge in nationalism at home, as China’s interests grow exponentially abroad.
Internet users on social media questioned China’s nonchalant policy of avoiding military intervention abroad to protect Chinese citizens in the event of an attack.
In August, an explosion hit a bus, killing 13 Chinese nationals working on a dam project in Pakistan. Over the weekend, gunmen kidnapped five Chinese citizens near a mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Rather than targeting the regional US-led status quo, the alleged Chinese military installation would be a message designed to appease domestic criticism as President Xi Jinping prepares for a third term as Communist Party leader.
“China was probably thinking, ‘America has one, America is strong, we want to look strong, so we should have one too,’ rather than ‘Let’s destroy America,'” Zinser says.
Nonetheless, reports of any Chinese military traces in the region would shake the US administration as it quietly fights to convince its Gulf allies to drop multibillion-dollar contracts with telecoms giant Huawei for their sake. provide 5G mobile networks.
US officials believe that the use of Chinese company equipment in the Gulf poses an immediate security risk to US military and intelligence resources in the region.
Growing ties between the Emiratis and China have even threatened to put on hold the UAE’s remarkable $ 23 billion deal to purchase 50 F-35 stealth fighter jets, the crown jewel of the United Arab Emirates. air force, and Reaper drones.
The United States, under President Donald Trump, agreed to sell the warplanes after the United Arab Emirates established ties with Israel last year under the “Abrahamic Accords.” But the Trump and Biden administrations were concerned about Abu Dhabi’s ties to Beijing and their security implications.
Last week, however, a US official announced that Washington intends to move forward with the sale, but stressed that there must be a clear understanding of what he called “bonds.” of the Emirates ”.
Despite the bipartisan consensus on the urgency of blocking China’s security ambitions in the region, U.S. officials understand that not proceeding with the sale could have significant consequences for Washington’s long-standing alliance with Abu Dhabi.
“The Biden administration, much like the Trump administration that preceded it, made a calculated decision that not selling an F-35 would only accelerate the UAE’s tilt towards Russia and China. , undermine the Abrahamic accords and lead to significant loss of income, ”says Samuel Ramani, associate researcher at the Royal United Services Institute.
“While there are technology-sharing risks associated with the sale of the F-35 to the UAE, the geopolitical risks associated with the repeal of the agreement are viewed in the United States as even greater. This is why sales of F-35s are bearing fruit, ”he adds.
The sale could also help restore shaken confidence among Gulf allies in the United States’ commitment to regional security, which has been exacerbated by Washington’s biggest concerns in Asia and the disorderly military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The perception of the US disengagement from the Middle East has prompted many allies, including the United Arab Emirates, to diversify their trade and security partnerships, seeking closer ties with China, Russia, India and the United Arab Emirates. EU.
The alleged Chinese military installation recently discovered in the United Arab Emirates “is only a reflection of its increasingly multipolar foreign and security policy,” suggests Ramani.
But with China, the UAE is looking for more than a trading partner. The two countries have many parallels in their national development strategies, including the long-term vision of their place in the world.
“China and the UAE have symbiotic national policy goals, including export diversification, upgrading their domestic workforce in the white-collar industry, and an urge to become increasingly prominent on the market. international scene, ”Zinser said.
This rapid, multi-faceted cooperation will make future synchronization in the field of security inevitable.
“It makes sense that the next foray is in the security realm, even if a base of this nature is a rather cheeky and unexpected move,” Ramani said.
The Independent Gt