China Set To Benefit Most From Declining US Interest In The MENA Region

A new report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) examines how geopolitical risk and international tensions will change in the Middle East as long-term US interests in the region decline.

  • As US leadership gradually fades, China’s neutrality in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and economic power make it the best-positioned external power to benefit
  • Traditional US allies—mainly the UAE, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt—will undergo some modest diversification of their relations with other major powers and try to resolve some regional conflicts without the US
  • However, those same US allies will also compete for influence with two other blocs with different ideological visions for the region
  • This will lead to shifting diplomacy between blocs, as well as the emergence of new pockets of instability

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan offers the starkest example yet of its slow long-term disengagement from the region. It is likely to accelerate two trends. First, it offers more space for other major powers to operate. Russia could benefit as US allies look to diversify their arms purchases. However, China is the most likely power to benefit owing to its politically neutral stance, and to the fact that in the post-coronavirus recovery phase, the economic benefits it can offer through infrastructure investment, financing and trade are more significant than other competitors.

Second, US allies—such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, and Egypt—see the US as a less dependable security guarantor, meaning they must be more independent in pursuing their own security interests. As a result, there is more scope for intra-regional dialogue to solve ongoing conflicts. Yet, at the same time, three competing ideologies—a loose set of US allies in favour of the status quo, an Iran-led bloc, and an Islamist-supporting bloc—continue to have very different visions for the future of the region.

Nicholas Fitzroy, Senior Analyst for the Middle East and North Africa, says:

“The chaos of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan reinforces the view for the US’s regional allies that they must now act more independently to pursue their own security interests. It opens space for a deepening of economic ties with China, and potentially Russia. It also ensures new pockets of instability will be exacerbated and prolonged, with Lebanon, Iraq, and potentially Tunisia, countries at particular risk of deteriorating.”

Graphic Illustration Of Competing Blocs In MENA

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