Top US diplomat for Middle East says China providing Iranian proxies with drones
“We’re certainly not going to leave a vacuum in the Middle East for Russia or China or Iran, for that matter, to fill,” Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf said.
The top US diplomat for the Middle East warned Thursday against China’s growing influence in the Middle East, calling out Beijing for not doing enough to stop the flow of drones reaching Iranian proxies.
“Now, they're not provided by the state, but the state does not attempt to curtail that flow” of drones used to attack Gulf countries, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf said.
Speaking at a subcommittee Senate hearing on China’s role in the Middle East, Leaf said the US retains a “clear advantage” that China is unable to challenge.
“We must be careful to discern signal from noise within this growing volume of economic activity, but we must also remain attuned to trends that may more directly impinge upon US interests,” she said.
A/S Leaf at today’s SFRC hearing: President Biden made clear in engaging with regional leaders in July that we have an affirmative agenda for the region - “we are not going anywhere. And we are not going to leave a vacuum in the Middle East for Russia or China or Iran to fill.” pic.twitter.com/kQhQwdauBg— U.S. State Dept - Near Eastern Affairs (@StateDept_NEA) August 4, 2022
Tensions between Washington and Beijing have soared in recent years, with the US accusing China of genocide and illegal trade practices. On the other hand, China has criticized the US for its interference in other countries, specifically in Taiwan, which it considers its own, and for tariffs on Chinese products.
Leaf pointed out that China’s trade with Middle East and North African countries increased from $15.2 billion in 2000 to $284.3 billion in 2021.
On the other hand, the US trade with the regional countries rose from $63.4 billion to $98.4 billion during the same period, Leaf said.
China absent in fight against ISIS, Iran
Leaf accused China of aiding Iran and acting against the region’s interest. “Last year, the PRC finalized a 25-year strategic partnership agreement with Tehran, with the promise of billions of dollars in potential future investment in Iran,” Leaf said.
She added that more than 70 Chinese nationals and entities had been sanctioned for supporting the Iranian regime and said China had been the top destination for Iranian oil - “both legitimate exports and trade that circumvents sanctions.”
The US diplomat said China has been “notably absent” from the fight against ISIS and made negligible efforts in Yemen and Syria.
Echoing US President Joe Biden’s previous comments, Leaf said: “We’re certainly not going to leave a vacuum in the Middle East for Russia or China or Iran, for that matter, to fill.”
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