Risky game with Washington and Beijing. China is expanding its influence in the Persian Gulf and having corona vaccine tests carried out in the United Arab Emirates. The geopolitical rival, Donald Trump, helps.
Risky game with Washington and Beijing
Hend al-Otaiba is proud of her vaccination on Twitter. The photo shows her with sparkling eyes and a mask, her left arm ready for the doctor. Otaiba, head of the public relations department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), claims to have received the corona vaccine from the Chinese company Sinopharm. “Soon the vaccine will be available to everyone on the front lines in the UAE – a huge step forward in our successful fight against Covid-19,” she wrote on Tuesday.
The cooperation between the UAE and China on corona vaccine development is a win for both countries: The rich Gulf state can present itself as a modern pioneer, especially since the number of infections there is actually rising again. China, in turn, is getting another test field for one of its vaccine candidates. It can also score diplomatically as a result – and that with a historical partner of the United States.
The UAE is pursuing a difficult balancing act: close ties with Washington – and with Beijing. The Emiratis are investing a lot to create a good mood in Washington: They are financing a think tank, secretly donating millions of dollars in the last US election campaign and recently establishing diplomatic relations with Israel shortly before the US election for President Donald Trump another gift.
At the same time, however, they have also deepened their relations with Beijing in recent years: China is now the emiratis’ most important trading partner. In 2018, the two countries entered into a comprehensive strategic partnership, China’s highest level of bilateral relations. In 2019, Abu Dhabi invited the Chinese company Huawei to expand its 5G cell phone network – a company that was blacklisted by Trump.
Rapid rapprochement between Beijing and Abu Dhabi
It is hardly surprising that the UAE are orienting themselves towards China in the long term: the entire world order is shifting to the east and the Chinese Silk Road initiative is particularly attractive for the Emiratis, with their ambition as a hub between Eurasia and the Indian Ocean. China, in turn, is showing increasing interest in the region and has also concluded extensive strategic partnerships with Saudi Arabia and Iran.
But it is astonishing how rapidly the rapprochement is now taking place – thanks to Donald Trump. Ironically, the US President, who has taken up the cause of pushing back China’s influence in the world, is providing Beijing with a diplomatic stepping stone in the corona crisis.
The USA has little to offer in one of the most pressing issues of the moment, the fight against Corona. Instead of being a global pioneer who shares its expertise with close partners and thus binds them to itself, the US under Trump has become, for example, catastrophic mismanagement and anti-science. Other countries, on the other hand, seem to use the fight against Corona more skillfully for their political purposes.