China’s Influence in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (MENAT):

The PRC imports half of its oil from the Middle East and is the top oil customer of Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Middle East and North Africa region represents the cornerstone of the PRC’s Belt and Road Initiate (BRI), accounting for 28.5% of its investments in 2021.

The PRC has comprehensive strategic partnerships with five MENAT states (Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and UAE) and strategic partnerships with seven (Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Turkey).

Huawei has 12 5G contracts in the Middle East.


China’s Foreign Investment in MENAT:

From 2005 to 2022 PRC investments and contracts in the MENAT totaled $273 billion.

In 2021, Chinese investment in the region increased by an estimated 360%, while construction rose by 116% relative to 2020.

In 2018, the PRC announced plans to link industrial parks developed by PRC consortia with ports with a strong PRC presence, which it has sought to do in four MENAT countries: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, and Egypt. 

The MENAT countries most exposed to PRC (in debt and equity) are Jordan, Oman, and Iraq.


China and the Energy Sector in MENAT:

From 2005 and 2022, the PRC invested over $126 billion in the MENAT energy sector.

Energy accounts for 46% of PRC investment in the region.

Iraq represents the PRC’s third most important energy partner globally. China and Iraq are cooperating on the $5 billion joint development of the Al-Khairat heavy oil power plant in Karbala, as well as the Mansuriya gas field along the border with Iran.

China is seeking to deepen energy cooperation with Qatar, including through the  $30 billion North Field natural gas expansion project.

Saudi Aramco and Sinopec have a refinery in Yanbu. 


Security and Research Partnerships between China and MENAT:

China has reportedly transferred sensitive ballistic missile technology to Saudi Arabia to help support its domestic production capabilities.

In 2019, Egypt hosted the PLA Navy and Russian Navy in a counter piracy training exercise.

The PLA Navy has conducted port calls in every GCC country, Israel, Egypt, and Iran.

In 2019, China North Industries Group Corporation announced a partnership with a UAE defense company to open a defense research center in Abu Dhabi, where PRC and Emirati engineers and universities will develop defense technology in cooperation with the UAE armed forces.


China’s Weapons Sales in MENAT:

From 2005-2021, the PRC exported $307.7 billion worth of arms to 12 countries in MENAT.  The top five recipients are:

  • Algeria ($1 billion)
  • Morocco ($478 million)
  • Saudi Arabia ($318 million)
  • Turkey ($252 million)
  • Egypt ($221 million)

Through 2018, the top three purchasers of PRC drones were all in the Middle East: UAE (22.1%), Saudi Arabia (19.3%), and Egypt (15.5%).


China’s Diplomacy in MENAT:

Established in 2004, the China–Arab States Cooperation Forum hosts biennial meetings between China and 22 Arab League members. The 2020 CASCF Ministerial was held virtually in July 2020 and co-chaired by the PRC and Jordan.

The PRC has used its ties in the Middle East to advance its interests on issues unrelated to Middle East policy, such as its stance on the South China Sea, isolating Taiwan, and limiting international response to its abuses of the Muslim Uighur minority (Singh 2020).  

Since 2011, eleven of the sixteen UN Security Council vetoes the PRC has exercised have been on Syria. Before 2011, the PRC had never vetoed a resolution on the Middle East.


China’s Soft Power in MENAT:

Increased tourism from the PRC in the Middle East has given the PRC a new tool for influence and new importance to Middle East economies (Singh 2020).

The PRC has established 22 Confucius Institutes in 12 MENAT countries. 

In 2019, the PRC hosted the fourth China-Arab States Expo to bolster economic and trade ties. 

Huawei organized GITEX Technology Week, the only in-person global technology show held at the Dubai World Trade Center in 2020.


China’s Broadcasts and Media Cooperation in MENAT:

China Intercontinental Communication Center collaborated with Image Nation in UAE to make PRC-centered documentaries on Image Nation’s Quest Arabia station, which broadcasts to 45 million households in 22 MENAT countries.

China Today publishes an Arabic version in the Middle East.

CGTN’s Arabic language Facebook account has 14.4 million followers.

Xinhua has signed an exchange agreement with Daily News Egypt, an Egyptian newspaper.


*Last updated: 10/25/2022