Skip to content
Hussein Ibish

Gulf States Are Caught in the Middle of the U.S.-China Cold War

Washington provides protection. Beijing is the top customer. What’s a petrostate to do?

Emperor Xi and King Salman.

Emperor Xi and King Salman.

Photographer: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Preventing a potential U.S.-China Cold War has emerged as a top foreign policy priority for Gulf Arab countries, especially Washington's key partners: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But, as illustrated by the recent controversy over a secret Chinese port being built in the UAE, balancing relations between the established superpower and the rising one is getting harder for smaller states.

Construction of the Chinese facility, near the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi, was halted due to protests from Washington. The UAE insists it was merely a shipping port. Still, it’s understandable that U.S. officials suspect China may be trying to establish a military foothold in the Gulf.