Retrenchment from Africa has China eyeing Middle East 

China’s announcement late last year that it will scale back the money it lends to Africa, from US$60 billion to $40 billion over the next three years, has raised questions about Beijing’s long-term strategy on the continent. But it has also opened another line of inquiry: If Chinese infrastructure investment is leaving Africa, where is that money going? 

The Middle East could be part of the answer. Last month, in a span of just five days, foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain visited China along with Nayef al-Hajraf, the secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council. China also invited the Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers, ostensibly for talks on trade and investment.

These trips reflect shifts in China’s relationship with the Middle East. GCC leaders are mobilized by the aspiration of restarting talks on a China-GCC free-trade agreement. The two sides held nine rounds of negotiations between 2005 and 2016 before they were disrupted by intra-GCC politics – namely the severing of Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini ties with Qatar. With the internal rifts now mended, negotiations with China are back on track.

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