Washington, DC – China continues to make fast inroads in West Asia and North Africa (WANA) to deepen its regional engagement. It has leveraged its technical expertise to establish itself as a key provider of technological know-how in several countries of the region. WANA nations are keen to collaborate with China in infrastructure, weapons procurement, oil exploration, space research, and sustainable development. Notably, the popularity of Chinese language studies also appeared to have increased in WANA countries. Some of the latest developments that suggest enhanced cooperation between China and WANA countries are listed below:
Foreign Ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, in a meeting (September 19) with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in New York on the sidelines of the 77th UN General Assembly, unanimously underscored their support for ‘One China Policy.’ Wang appreciated GCC’s support on Taiwan, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong.
Bilateral cooperation between Riyadh and Beijing appears to be on the upswing. Saudi Arabia is set to host the first China-Arab Summit in December 2022. Power Construction Corporation of China (Power China), China Power International Holdings Company, and Shanghai Electric are in line to bid for the Amiral Cogeneration Power Project in Jubail. Meanwhile, Saudi Centre for Research and Knowledge Communication and China’s Tianda Lingxian Centre, in a virtual seminar (September 4), discussed implementing a systematic plan to teach the Chinese language to Saudi learners. Beijing is offering similar courses and workshops in Chinese language, culture, and traditional Chinese medicine through Talal Abu Ghazaleh Confucius Institute in Jordan.
In another GCC country Qatar, Chinese state-owned military equipment import and export company M/s China Vanguard Industry Corporation (CVIC) is assisting Qatar Armed Forces in the implementation of ‘Project 1401.’ Under this project, it would supply Qatar with missiles, auxiliary equipment, spare parts, and technical training at the cost of about $700 million.
Likewise, for Kuwait, CVIC has expressed willingness to participate in the bidding for missile installation on Kuwait Navy’s under-construction missile boats. Meanwhile, Kuwait has evinced interest in exchanging knowledge and capabilities with the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA). The UAE’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and CNSA have signed an MoU to collaborate on future Moon missions.
With an eye on energy security, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), a company designated by the US Defense Department as a fully owned/controlled enterprise of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), is reportedly signing an agreement with Iraq to explore oil in Iraq’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf. It is noteworthy that this enterprise has been banned from receiving US investment.
However, not all developments related to China in GCC countries have been positive. The Kuwaiti government rejected a Chinese company, Beijing Enterprises Water Group’s bid to set up a wastewater plant because of the company’s corrupt credentials. Chinese firms in Kuwait have gained a reputation for acquiring public work contracts through dubious means. As part of damage control of its reputation, Beijing has taken several steps to project itself in a positive light in the Kuwaiti media. It has reportedly approached editors of notable newspapers with stories casting China in a positive light. Similarly, Oman has put on hold an MoU on military cooperation proposed by the Chinese Minister of National Defense, General Wei Fenghe, during his visit in April 2022.
The countries in the WANA region need to be aware that Chinese lending contracts, which are ostensibly commercial in nature, also have political clauses. As is evident from the cases of Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Beijing pursues the policy of gradually laying down the debt trap, which eventually targets and turns financially weak countries into Chinese economic colonies.