The Middle East has emerged as a new theater of U.S.-China great power competition. Today, America’s military presence in the region coupled with its strong diplomatic relationships provide Washington with potential leverage over Beijing. During a crisis or conflict originating in East Asia, Washington could use its military capabilities in the Middle East to hold at risk or even sever the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) linking China to some of its key markets and sources of energy imports.
However, China’s burgeoning presence in the Middle East is eroding this source of leverage. Under the umbrella of what it calls “One Belt, One Road,” Beijing is steadily expanding its political influence and investment footprint around regional maritime chokepoints, including the Suez Canal, the Bab el Mandeb, and the Strait of Hormuz. Commercial entanglement with Beijing could have strategic implications. Specifically, U.S. allies and partners in close proximity to these chokepoints could prove reluctant to allow American forces to operate against China-bound shipping from their territory or through their airspace.
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