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China is considering setting up military bases and possibly deploying forces in the Middle East over the next decade as a means of protecting its access to strategic materials, especially oil, and sizeable investments in various Arab countries, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
Middle East expert Patrick Seale said the Chinese influence in the Middle East is rising and its trade with Arab countries, which totaled $132 billion in 2008, will increase.
The growing cooperation between China and Iran in energy and trade is seen as leading to the prospect of increased military cooperation. That would come at a time when the West is considering increased sanctions against Iran, and Israel is threatening open military attack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities.
“For sure, Iran’s willingness to show a greater willingness than hitherto to embrace China’s naval vessels making port calls to Iran is now in the cards, this as a prelude to more extensive agreements up to and including provisions for a small Chinese naval outpost on one of Iran’s Persian Gulf islands,” according to Iranian expert Kaveh L. Afrasiabi.
“Again, such a scenario, sure to raise the serious ire of Washington, depends on a number of intervening variables,” Afrasiabi said. “These include future U.S. moves in the Persian Gulf, for example, whether or not the U.S. military will end up utilizing some of the man-made artificial islands set up by the (United Arab Emirates). If so, thus enhancing the U.S.’s power projection capability with regard to Iran, Tehran may be more inclined to try to offset the U.S.’s leaning so heavy on it by playing the ‘China card.'”
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Until now, the role of China and its influence in the region has received little public attention, even though Beijing’s influence is growing, especially toward Iran.
China, for example, is Iran’s main customer for oil. It plans to invest some $43 billion in Iran’s oil industry, despite the fact that U.S. policymakers are adamantly opposed to this development. In the case of China, however, unilateral U.S. sanctions would be fruitless and would create further tensions between Beijing and Washington.
Policymakers view Tehran’s offer to give China access to its massive oil and natural gas reserves as a way of deflecting the possibility of increased sanctions for its uranium enrichment program. As the U.N. Security Council shortly will consider such sanctions, there are growing indications that neither China nor Russia will support the move.
A good reason for that is China’s heavy reliance on oil shipments from the Middle East, particularly from Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Security experts say the strategy that China is developing for the Middle East is referred to as the “string of pearls.” The strategy is designed to protect sea lanes from the oil-rich area of the Middle East to China. In addition to military, the strategy includes diplomatic and economic activities.
As part of the “string of pearls” strategy, China is to develop commercial seaports that also can handle Chinese warships and provide support for alliances from Gwadar in Pakistan through the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia.