Pentagon: China ‘significantly’ increased efforts to engage with Middle East in 2021

China’s increased engagement with countries, specifically Iraq, was noticed through its work to begin prioritizing public health, digital infrastructure, and green energy opportunities in Middle Eastern countries.

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China and its military “significantly” increased efforts to engage with Middle Eastern countries, according to a Pentagon report released on Tuesday.

The report on China’s military, released annually, also warned that Beijing was on track to have 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035.

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The Pentagon believes China has over 400 nuclear warheads in its current stockpile.

“The [Chinese army] plans to basically complete modernization of its national defense and armed forces by 2035. If China continues the pace of its nuclear expansion, it will likely field a stockpile of about 1500 warheads by its 2035 timeline,” the report read.

As for the Middle East, the Pentagon highlighted two “key shifts” that China made in 2021 in how it went about the so-called Belt Road Initiative.

China’s increased engagement with countries, specifically Iraq, was noticed through its work to begin prioritizing public health, digital infrastructure, and green energy opportunities in Middle Eastern countries.

Beijing increased its “Health Silk Road” and “Digital Silk Road” initiatives by providing medical aid, including COVID-19 vaccines, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other pandemic support to partner countries. This could help China expand the international market share of its medical products, strengthen its bid for a role as a global public health leader, and identify the need for new Belt Road Initiative (BRI) projects.

The Digital Silk Road is one way China delivers its technology to other countries, which they try to leverage to “propagate” their own technology standards as they try to set global standards for next-generation technology, according to the Pentagon.

Some of these methods include Chinese investments in 5G networks, undersea cables and data centers. It also includes satellite navigation systems, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing for domestic use and export.

“As Beijing’s economic interests expand in areas like Africa, Latin America, Central Asia, and the Middle East, we expect to see increased focus on expanding power projection operations globally,” the Pentagon said.

The Pentagon said China, the fifth-largest arms supplier in the world, sells conventional weapons, including drones, submarines, naval surface vessels, surface-to-air missile systems and fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, Serbia, the UAE, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

“[China] is seeking to expand its overseas logistics and basing infrastructure to allow the [army] to project and sustain military power at greater distances,” the Pentagon said.

Tuesday’s report warned that a global Chinese military logistics network could disrupt US military operations as Beijing’s global military objectives evolve.

The Chinese military already has a support base in Djibouti and is considering and planning additional facilities in the Middle East and North Africa.

Some countries being considered include the UAE, Pakistan, Kenya, Seychelles, and others.

“Despite China’s efforts to diversify energy suppliers, the sheer volume of oil and natural gas imported from Africa and the Middle East will make securing strategic maritime routes a priority for Beijing for at least the next 15 years,” the Pentagon said.

Read more: UAE suspends talks on F-35 deal with US; State Dept hopes solve ‘outstanding issues’

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