The White House’s top official responsible for the Middle East told US allies in the Gulf that deepening certain ties with China would hamper their cooperation with their chief strategic ally and security partner.
“There are certain partnerships with China that would create a ceiling to what we can do,” Brett McGurk, the White House’s Middle East Coordinator, told a panel on Sunday at the IISS security conference in Bahrain.
“It’s simply a fact and that’s the truth here as anywhere else in the world, based upon relationships between countries that are military competitors of ours.”
A geopolitical rivalry between the US and China is testing loyalties in the oil-rich Gulf.
Despite decades of close cooperation with Washington, including by hosting military bases, China has emerged as a major economic counterweight.
The perceived US retreat from the region has sent allies in search of ways to diversify their security and diplomatic partnerships.
The United Arab Emirates offered one example last year, suspending talks on a US$23 billion deal to purchase F-35 jets and other weaponry after failing to agree on conditions for the protections of US defense equipment.
The Biden administration has also pressured the UAE to remove Huawei Technologies Co. from its telecommunications network, and has pushed it to distance itself from China, the biggest buyer of Gulf oil.
Elsewhere, the White House signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia in July to invest in new US-led technology to develop 5G and 6G networks, part of efforts to try to limit the influence of China’s Huawei.
Forcing countries in the region to pick sides is bad news, UAE presidential diplomatic adviser Anwar Gargash said last year, urging dialog between the US and China to avoid a new Cold War.
On Sunday, McGurk said US allies aren’t at the point of jeopardizing cooperation.
“Thus far, we are not seeing that type of relationship that is getting in the way of what we’re working here to build,” he said.