Is China Pivoting to the Middle East?

While the U.S. is set to withdraw 34,000 troops from Afghanistan by next year, some Chinese foreign policy wonks have been pushing for China to “march west” to fill the void that the U.S.’s “pivot to Asia” could leave in the Middle East. The Atlantic outlines the cultural, business and security interactions between China and Middle Eastern countries, noting that even if government policy isn’t yet doing its best to reinforce ties to the region, Chinese workers and businesses certainly are:

Regardless of the future government policy, Chinese citizens and their employers continue to seek out westward connections on their own. Song Jian, a 25-year-old from Henan province in central China, is one of thousands of Chinese engineers who work in the Gulf countries. He helps companies gain access to facilities built by the major Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei, and his clients, he said, include not only local companies but also American businesses and even a U.S. military base.

In 2011, Huawei’s sales across the rose 20 percent to $3.22 billion, beating the $2.27 billion generated by Ericsson, the world’s largest maker of telecommunications services by revenue. The Middle East, according to Huawei’s website, is one of the company’s fastest growing markets.

Thanks to the expansion of Chinese companies like Huawei, Song said his firm ranks among the most profitable telecom service companies in Saudi Arabia. His quality of life seems to confirm that; he makes $2,000 a month, a much higher salary than his friends at home, and enjoys the use of a company-rented villa in Dammam where he and a colleague fish on the weekends.

[…]Chinese workers, like the companies they serve, found the opportunities they sought in moving west. But it is still uncertain if they have inspired their government to follow.

For more on Chinese influence in the Middle East, see “Can China Win in Afghanistan,” or “China Faces Shifting Dynamic in the Middle East,” via CDT.

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