While the US president said he would “continue to lead in the region”, China’s foreign minister said that was beyond his purview.
President Joe Biden told reporters Thursday that the United States “continue to lead” in the Middle East, in order to prevent Russia and China from filling a “empty.” Beijing took a dim view of his words, replying that only the “the people of the Middle East are the masters of the Middle East.”
Biden’s first trip to the Middle East as president began in Israel this week, where he signed a joint statement with Prime Minister Yair Lapid, pledging continued US support and affirming “never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
In a press conference with Lapid after the signing, Biden suggested his trip – which would take him to Saudi Arabia on Friday – marks a resurgence of American influence in the region.
Biden told reporters that the United States under Donald Trump “made the mistake of walking away from our influence in the Middle East”, and that his planned meeting in Jeddah with the heads of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) would give him the opportunity to “Promoting American Interests” with these nine Arab states.
“There are so many issues at stake that I want to make it clear that we can continue to lead in the region and not create a vacuum, a vacuum that is being filled by China and/or Russia, against Israel’s interests. and the United States and many other countries,” he said.
While US diplomacy has recently focused on pushing countries outside the Western world to back its hardline stance on Russia and China, those efforts have had mixed results at best.
The Arab League, which represents 22 Arab states, has not taken a position on the Russian military operation in Ukraine, and Saudi Arabia more than doubled its imports of Russian oil in the second quarter of this year.
Meanwhile, Kingdom leaders have expressed interest in selling oil to China in yuan rather than dollars, and have reportedly appealed for Chinese help to build ballistic missiles.
China has been the biggest foreign investor in the Middle East since 2016, when it spent $29 billion compared to $7 billion for the United States. Beijing has also signed 5G agreements with all GCC states, and has invested more than $123 billion in infrastructure projects in the region since the inauguration of its “Belt and Road Initiative” in 2017, according to the Center. Arab from Washington, DC, a Qatari think tank.
Republicans in the United States are touting the Trump administration’s negotiations on the Abraham Accords – which saw Israel normalize relations with some of its Arab neighbors – as proof that the United States has failed to do so. “to go away” of the region as Trump withdrew from American conflicts in the Middle East.
However, China said on Friday that countries in the region are free to choose who they trade and do diplomacy with.
“People from the Middle East are the masters of the Middle East. The Middle East is no other country’s backyard and there is no “empty” to speak of. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.
“The people of the Middle East aspire more than anything to development and security”, Wang continued. “For a long time, China has always supported the people of the Middle East in independently choosing the path of development and helping Middle Eastern countries solve regional security issues in solidarity and coordination.”