Think Tank (5/2023)
Prof Amin Saikal (right)
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Great Power Competition in the Middle East
10 Oct 2023

Is the old Middle East coming back with a vengeance? In a seminar, held on 10 October 2023, titled “Great Power Competition in the Middle East,” Professor Amin Saikal, Visiting Distinguished Fellow at RSIS, NTU; emphasised how the Middle East is once again becoming an arena for traditional superpower competition, reminiscent of the Cold War era, albeit to a lesser degree.

Prof Saikal outlined the rapidly changing strategic landscape of the Middle East, characterised by the waning historical influence of the United States (US). Of note, two key factors ­­— US’ strained relations with Iran and mounting scepticism among Arab nations concerning the US’ dependability — have created opportunities for Russia and China to bolster their presence and influence in the region. This shift has culminated in the establishment of various military and economic partnerships, prominently illustrated by the burgeoning Iranian-Chinese ties and the Russo-Syrian patron-client relationship, among others.

Prof Saikal noted that with Russia increasingly preoccupied with the war in Ukraine, China is becoming the US’ main competitor in the Middle East. On the global stage, China sought to position itself as a key player in the Middle East by engaging in proactive diplomacy as a peace broker, as evidenced by its role in restoring ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This was at a time when Arab states found it desirable to hedge, vis-à-vis China and the US, for both domestic and foreign policy considerations. Top of Form

The seminar concluded with a Q&A session with Prof Saikal. The questions raised covered a wide range of topics, including the differences between China and the US’ roles in the Middle East, India’s role and strategic interests in the region under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the potential impact of the Israel-Palestine conflict on future regional dynamics.

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