ANALYSIS: US Confronts Iran’s Influence in the Middle East, Identifies Beijing as Chief Strategic Rival

‘The CCP is engaging in indirect confrontations with the United States, aiming to dismantle the current international order,’ Carl Schuster says.

In a concerted effort to curb Iranian sway in the Middle East, the Pentagon underscores that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) constitutes the principal strategic adversary of the United States. High-ranking U.S. military officials have pointed out that the region is becoming a competitive arena involving major powers such as the United States, China, and Russia.

On Feb. 2, the United States conducted operations targeting 85 facilities across Iraq and Syria associated with the Iranian military and allied militant groups. The strikes, aimed at command and intelligence centers, as well as depots for rockets, missiles, drones, and ammunition, represented a countermeasure to the recent deaths of three American soldiers in Jordan, attributed to militant actions.

These preemptive actions were focused on bases situated in the remote expanses of Iraq and Syria, deliberately avoiding Iranian soil to minimize the risk of escalation. The United States also took steps to provide advance warnings, potentially to reduce Iranian casualties.

President Joe Biden said, “The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world.” Echoing this sentiment, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated, “We will continue to work to avoid a wider conflict in a region.”

The CCP: America’s Foremost Strategic Challenger

Parallel to the bombardment of Iranian-backed militias, Scott Berrier, the outgoing director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, highlighted, during his farewell, the strategic rivalry posed by China. He labeled the CCP as America’s “number one and our only number one” strategic competitor.

Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, elaborated on this viewpoint in an interview with The Epoch Times.

“China is America’s primary strategic competitor. It has more diplomatic, economic, and military power than the Soviet Union ever dreamed of having. It is also significantly more powerful than Russia. Russia and Iran are immediate strategic threats. That is, they are active and physically challenging US interests now,” he said.

“China is preparing for the day it can threaten us physically, but Beijing will wait until America’s diplomatic, economic, and domestic political strength has declined further before trying it,” Mr. Schuster added.

Mr. Schuster said that the CCP is engaging in indirect confrontations with the United States, aiming to dismantle the current international order without resorting to military conflict. This strategy involves extending support to nations such as Iran, North Korea, and Russia, thereby straining U.S. resources and indirectly challenging U.S. influence.

CCP’s Strategic Support for Russia, Iran, and North Korea

In a demonstration of geopolitical alliances, the Chinese Minister of Defense, Dong Jun, pledged unwavering support for Russia amidst the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. This assurance was conveyed during a dialogue with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, as evidenced by a video released by the Russian Ministry of Defense on Feb. 5.

Despite facing opposition from the United States and Europe, Mr. Dong emphasized that the CCP would steadfastly uphold its policies concerning Ukraine, asserting that external pressures would not deter Sino-Russian cooperation.

The CCP’s support extends beyond Russia to include North Korea, with which it shares a significant border and a history of increasing economic engagement. From 2000 to 2015, trade between China and North Korea expanded dramatically. The inauguration of shipping routes in 2015, aimed at bolstering North Korean coal exports to China, marked a peak in bilateral trade.

Iran’s relationship with the CCP reflects a strategic partnership, particularly in the face of Western sanctions aimed at curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. China has emerged as Iran’s principal oil purchaser and a major trading ally, facilitating military advancements through the exchange of military technology and arms. This cooperation has enabled Iran to support militia groups in the Middle East, further complicating regional security dynamics.

The repercussions of these alliances are evident in the mounting tensions between Iran and the United States. A stark manifestation of this conflict was the drone attack by Iran-supported militias on U.S. forces in Jordan on Jan. 28, resulting in casualties and injuries among American military personnel.

This incident underscores the intricate web of international relations and the strategic posturing by the CCP in supporting nations that challenge U.S. interests and influence on the global stage.

The Middle East: Strategic Battleground for Global Powers

In a detailed exposition, Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, commander of the U.S. Air Forces Central, highlighted the Middle East as a “fertile ground for strategic competition” among the United States, China, and Russia.

Addressing defense journalists last October, Lt. Gen. Grynkewich emphasized the critical importance of the Middle East to China, noting that the region supplies approximately half of China’s oil and a significant portion of its natural gas. This energy consumption is instrumental in fueling China’s ascending global stature.

Lt. Gen. Grynkewich expressed concerns over the CCP’s endeavors to diminish the United States’ longstanding influence in the Middle East. Currently, China’s strategy involves leveraging economic influence and the expansive “Belt and Road” initiative, which aims to fund infrastructure projects across the globe. However, these financial engagements often come with detrimental strings attached for the receiving nations, leading to potential debt traps.

Highlighting the natural progression from economic to military interests, Lt. Gen. Grynkewich warned of the potential for the CCP to escalate its military footprint in the Middle East to safeguard its burgeoning economic interests.

This speculation finds some basis in recent developments, with Iranian and Russian media reporting that China is set to conduct joint naval exercises with Iran and Russia, further solidifying this tripartite military collaboration. Such maneuvers follow previous joint exercises in the Gulf of Oman, underscoring a growing military camaraderie among these nations.

Mr. Schuster elaborated on the Middle East’s geostrategic significance. The region’s role as a major oil and natural gas provider positions it as a vital concern for global powers, including the United States, Europe, and Asia, particularly the latter two regions.

“China is working hard to challenge, if not overcome, America’s influence and power in the Middle East. That is one of the reasons China is supporting Iran, investing heavily in Iraq, and trying to woo America’s traditional Middle Eastern allies, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait,” he said.

This strategic posture by China is indicative of its broader ambition to realign global power dynamics in its favor, utilizing the Middle East as a key lever in this geopolitical recalibration.


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