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China's Global Reach
China’s Pivot to the Middle East

Chinese President Xi Jinping has been touring the Middle East this week, and he was in Cairo yesterday, where he announced financial support for Egypt. Bloomberg:

China and Egypt signed $15 billion worth of agreements before President Xi Jinping headed to Iran, where he will finish a Middle East trip aimed at boosting China’s diplomatic clout in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

China Railway Group Ltd. is part of a consortium of companies that won a rail project in Egypt worth $1.1 billion, while China State Construction Engineering Corp. signed a $2.7 billion contract to build a convention center, parliament and government offices, the two companies said in separate filings to the Shanghai stock exchange Friday.

Xi’s trip is part of Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” plan to increase China’s global standing and deepen trade ties across Eurasia. Earlier this week, Xi visited Saudi Arabia, where he voiced support for Yemen’s Riyadh-backed government in its war against an Iran-backed militia. Today, he’s in Iran, where he published a full op-ed explicitly invoking the Silk Road that once connected Persia to China:

The much-prized Persian carpet is weaved out of a fusion of China’s silk and Iran’s sophisticated techniques. And the exquisite blue and white porcelain is produced thanks to a mixture of Iran’s “smaltum” (a type of material containing cobalt, unique to Iran) and China’s advanced skills. Via Iran, China’s lacquerware, pottery, as well as papermaking, metallurgical, printing and gunpowder making skills were spread to the west end of Asia, and further on to Europe. And from Iran and Europe, pomegranate, grape, olive, as well as glass, gold and silver ware were introduced into China.

It isn’t hypocritical or inconsistent that Xi has been flattering both Iran and Saudi Arabia on his trip. This is about diversification for China—ensuring that the country doesn’t only rely on one country or a few countries for oil. So while many in the press are looking to identify a sophisticated geopolitical strategy in Xi’s actions, the story is actually much simpler.

After years of more exclusive access to Iranian markets, China now has a competitor: Europe, which The Wall Street Journal reports will resume importing Iranian oil next month now that sanctions have been lifted.

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