Amidst the rising US-China tensions, the Middle-East nations might face policy choices especially in terms of internal politics, international diplomacy and economic strategies.
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With the ongoing pandemic, US President Donald Trump has threatened to “cut all ties” with China. Beijing and Washington have been in a stalemate position since Trump heightened his tone against China blaming it for the pandemic by calling it ‘Chinese virus’.
“This means that American policy will incentivize American businesses in strategic sectors like health care and technology either to re-home parts of their manufacturing or to relocate them to friendlier countries,” wrote Dnyanesh Kamat, a political analyst who focuses on the Middle East and South Asia.
He further added that this presents as an opportunity for labour-intensive economies like Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco that are on relatively good terms with the US. A steady supply of manufacturing jobs for the high number of unemployed youth in these countries would increase their social and political stability.
With low oil prices, the struggling middle eastern nations have a chance to enter the high-tech industries and diversify their economic programs. The US had put sanctions on the Chinese tech giant Huawei last year. “This will severely affect the plans of several Arab Gulf countries to develop their own indigenous microchip manufacturing capability,” observed Kamat.
According to the author, since Chinese companies are becoming global leaders in sectors ranging from telecoms and engineering to e-commerce and social media, the inability to partner or do business with these companies will be a severe hindrance to companies in the Persian Gulf wanting to diversify their economies.
“China will probably not play a military role but, rather, a more significant commercial role: After the pandemic, China is likely to become the single largest country-to-country source of funding for the region’s many showpiece infrastructure projects that help prop up the legitimacy of many of its ruling elites,” he wrote.
This will result in giving China an upper hand (by financing those government projects) and will help Beijing set the order of other nations as well. Kamat says that the most significant fallout from US-China tensions will be the Middle East’s growing admiration for China’s political model.
“A highly centralized system built around the Communist Party, the ability to place vast populations under lockdown and conduct mass surveillance on its citizens with little or no resistance, tightly controlled media to spread the desired narrative at home and the mounting of a skilled propaganda exercise abroad through the donation of medical equipment – all are now being carefully watched by many Gulf states,” wrote Kamat.
With America’s death rates crossing 110,000 with over 1.91 million positive COVID-19 cases, it has exposed the weak healthcare systems and with 2020 Presidential elections, Trump is more concerned with the upcoming presidential election “than with heeding expert scientific advice”.
China has been a silent observer while the US has been actively involved in the middle east conflicts. “Beijing is not disinterested. Settling regional conflicts means less potential trouble for Beijing’s pet projects, such as the Belt and Road Initiative,” concluded Kamat.
Analysed By Smriti Chaudhary, New Delhi