Alwaght- The geopolitical developments following Ukraine war that for the first time after Cold War displayed the East-West confrontation have pushed the regional states to new alliances. For decades having chosen the US as their security guarantor, the Persian Gulf Arab states are day by day taking steps to separate ways from Washington and move to its rivals.
In this connection, the UAE Ministry of Defense on Wednesday announced that for the first time, the Arab country held a joint air exercise, dubbed Falcon Shield, with China in western province of Xinjiang.
Exchange of knowledge and boosting the operational capabilities were announced to be the goals of the training drill.
“The aim of the training exercise is to deepen scientific exchanges and the cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries and also strengthen bilateral understanding and trust,” a statement of the Chinese Defense Ministry said.
China said that the next exercise will be hosted by the UAE.
Holding joint exercises allows for better coordination between the militaries and the observation of enemy tactics, and serves as a show of strength and cooperation for the participating countries. Apart from economic and diplomatic cooperation, joint military maneuvers are necessary for the cooperation of countries and are considered a prelude to strategic cooperation between countries, and the exercise between the UAE and China is no exception and shows that Abu Dhabi and Beijing prioritize a new path of security convergence.
Mahmoud Helmi, an Arab researcher and author, told Khaleej Online news outlet that this military exercise shows the desire of the leadership of the two countries to strengthen military ties, ignoring any American anger.
One of the most outstanding unannounced drivers behind these drills is Beijing's will to meet its oil and gas needs and other economic interests in the region and increase of security and stability of such oil producers and exports as the UAE.
“China wants to strengthen its bilateral relations with the UAE and develop strategic partnerships in various fields, including security and defense,” Helmi said.
In recent years, Beijing-Abu Dhabi bilateral relations have seen remarkable expansion, to an extent that in 2018, they signed a comprehensive strategic pact, the first signed with China by a Persian Gulf Arab country.
China and UAE had started their military cooperation before this exercise. At the end of 2021, the American media announced that China was looking to build a military base in the UAE's Port Khalifa, drawing strong Washington reaction. With warnings from the White House, Abu Dhabi finally stopped the construction work. But last December, the American media, citing satellite images, claimed that the construction of military installations in the port was resumed.
Citing leaked Pentagon documents, the Wall Street Journal reported that the facility was likely to have been connected to power and water and building a walled complex for Chinese army's logistical storage ended. The facility is reportedly part of a Beijing global plan called ‘Project 141.’
Also, the UAE Ministry of Defense announced in February 2022 that it plans to buy 12 L15 trainer jets from China, and in the future it can buy 36 more planes of the same type. It seems that the rulers of the UAE are trying to strengthen their relations with such Eastern powers as China and Russia as they understand the realities of the global system that is moving towards multilateralism, something causing White House concern.
In addition to military cooperation, China-UAE relations are at their highest level. After Saudi Arabia, the UAE is the second economic partner of China in West Asia, with their annual trade volume now at $100 billion.
The UAE Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) in May said that it signed three MoUs with Nuclear Power Institute and National Nuclear Corporation of China that will include cooperation in nuclear energy and repair and maintenance of its facilities beside cooperation in cooling reactors with high-temperature gas and also cooperation for provision of nuclear fuel and investment in this area.
A Chinese expert told Global Times newspaper that “China does not intend to fill the power vacuum in the Middle East caused by the US weakness, but it is bolstering cooperation with regional states and contributing to the region's peace and stability.”
Political and military repercussions of the exercise for the US
Given the fact that the UAE and other Persian Gulf monarchies have been strategic US allies over the past decades, Abu Dhabi’s shift to China, as the main US rival, caries significant messages. By this exercise, Emirates wants to tell the US that it has its own options for security management and diversification of its defense infrastructure.
In the last decade, the UAE was the third largest purchaser of American weapons and bought billions of dollars annually from Washington to strengthen its defense base and cooperated with its Western ally in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but these days, it has chosen a path of divergence from Washington.
According to observers, by constantly monitoring regional developments, the UAE seeks to play a different role in relations with world powers and increase its weight in the future equations of West Asia.
It is clear that any cooperation with China means moving away from American policies, and Abu Dhabi is trying to have emerging global powers on its side, because entrusting security to one country in today's world makes countries vulnerable.
Though the US officials ostensibly have not reacted to the drill, it seems that it has aroused the ire of Washington. The surprise visit to Abu Dhabi of the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and meeting with UAE ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed showed that the US cannot tolerate Arab leaning to China.
In addition to the UAE, with this joint exercise, China is also sending a signal to its Western rival that if it seeks warmongering in Taiwan and the South China Sea, Beijing has options at its disposal that it can use to hit back. Chinese increase of security cooperation with Arab countries is the worst scenario for Washington and can eventually lead to the expulsion of American forces from the Persian Gulf.
Despite the US warnings, the Arab countries in the past two years have shown that they do not follow the global American policies like in the past. In Ukraine war, they brazenly rejected the US request to increase joint West’s anti-Russian sanctions and increase their output to control the rallying prices, something interpreted as their convergence with Moscow. In Syria, despite strong American opposition to rapprochement with Damascus, Arab states resumed their ties with government of President Bashar al-Assad after 12 years and returned Syria’s Arab League seat.
China's influence in West Asia is broadening, and Beijing does so through strengthening ties with regional states as the largest exporter to the region, increasing military presence and mediating between countries. The UAE is located in a strategic position in the Strait of Hormuz, through which approximately 20 percent of the world's oil shipments go to global markets, and strengthening ties with the UAE will increase China's foothold in this key region.
Change of Persian Gulf equations
The course of regional developments in recent months showed that the US influence of Arab policies has dwindled and its hegemony in West Asia is declining. The US actions in the past decades show that this country was always the cause of instability and insecurity in the Persian Gulf and sought to strengthen its presence in the region by fueling division between Iran and the Arab monarchies.
With its Iranophobia project, Washington annually sells billions of dollars in arms to its Arab allies, and to avoid loss of this lucrative trade, it will not allow Arab states to move to convergence with Iran. Waging war on Yemen served an aim to inflame tensions between Iran and Arab countries.
But China does not look this way to the Persian Gulf and takes steps towards unity and partnership between Iran and Arab nations. Mediation of a détente agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March bears witness to the fact that Beijing has no intention to provoke tensions in the region.