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Jeffrey BeckerErica DownsBen DeThomasPatrick deGategno
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The Middle East and Western Indian Ocean

This study examines China’s activities in maritime countries within the Middle East, Western Indian Ocean, and Africa’s east coast. We refer to this group collectively as the Middle East and Western Indian Ocean region. 

Drivers of China’s presence in the region

We have identified the five drivers of China’s growing presence in the Middle East and Western Indian Ocean:

  • Recognition of the region’s global strategic importance: Chinese security analysts, including analysts affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), have long acknowledged the region’s importance as a vital nexus point connecting North America and Europe to Asia.
  • Access to important maritime chokepoints: China relies heavily on access to seaborne energy imports and maritime trade, the majority of which transit maritime chokepoints located in the Middle East.
  • Supporting domestic economic growth: China’s economic presence in the region is intended to upgrade its domestic industries and reduce its overcapacity in certain industries.
  • Defending Chinese people and assets abroad: The number of Chinese citizens and investments in the region has grown considerably. The Chinese military, particularly the PLA Navy, has been given a mandate to protect those interests.
  • Combating domestic terrorism: China is also engaging countries in the region to deny China’s domestic separatist groups access to foreign support and has signed bilateral agreements with many countries to increase security cooperation to combat terrorism.
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DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT A. Approved for public release: distribution unlimited.


  • Pages: 180
  • Document Number: DRM-2018-U-018309-Final2
  • Publication Date: 2/1/2019
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