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China to deepen military engagement in troubled Middle East to protect growing interests

China plans to protect its growing interests in the troubled Middle East by deepening its military engagement in the region and may break its non-alignment policy in the future, analysts said.

The nation was willing to push military relations with Saudi Arabia to a new level, Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan said Wednesday.

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It is another step in Beijing’s engagement in the Middle East after China reached a deal with Damascus to provide aid and training to the Syrian government on August 14.

Wang Yizhou, an international relations expert at Peking University, said China’s interests in the Middle East were growing deeper than ever because of its ties in areas such as labour, tourism, business and natural resources.

Chen Gang, a senior researcher at the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore, said a fledgling China would fill the power vacuum as Washington’s decades-long period of dominance in the Middle East was drawing to a close.

“China might break its non-alignment policy in the future to better protect its overseas interests as it has no foreign military base right now,” Chen said.

In contrast to the countless overseas installations and bases owned or used by the United States’ armed forces, China has only one military facility in the northeast African nation of Djibouti.

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Song Junying, an international affairs expert at the China Institute of International Studies, said a stable Middle East region was the key to ensuring the smooth development of Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative – China’s grand eco-political strategy to revive the land and maritime Silk Roads dating back to the days of Marco Polo.

“If situation in Middle East deteriorates, China’s interests would also be badly affected,” Song said.

China’s President Xi Jinping visited Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran during his trip to the Middle East in January.