What the Red Sea Crisis Reveals about China’s Middle East Strategy

This commentary was originally published in Foreign Policy on March 8, 2023.

Last March, it was hard to miss the sense of satisfaction on the face of Wang Yi. Having just brokered a peace agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the former Chinese foreign minister gently nudged his two counterparts together. He stood between them and was in firm control.

There was every reason for Wang to feel satisfied. China had not only done what many considered impossible, but it was also the only country that possibly could—or so the argument went. The two countries were enemies, but each trusted China. The United States was focused on Middle East security, but China was actually providing it. Wang’s improbable success was yet another sign of China’s rising role in the Middle East.

And yet, for the past four months, the confident Chinese diplomacy of last March has been absent. As the Middle East has slid into violence, there has been no sign of Chinese mediation and little sign of actual Chinese diplomacy—despite more than a half-century of support for Palestinians, more than a decade of close ties with Israel, and tens of billions of dollars of investment in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and beyond.

Read the full article in Foreign Policy


Jon B. Alterman
Senior Vice President, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and Director, Middle East Program