In the Middle East, While America Fights, China Wins | Opinion

The stark difference was on display for the entire world to see. On February 25th, President Joe Biden decided to launch a series of air strikes against Syria, sending a mixed message on America's involvement in the Middle East. Just 13 days later, President Xi Jinping of China reached out to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to wish him a speedy recovery after the latter contracted COVID-19.

Make no mistake—this wasn't the first time China proactively involved itself in Middle Eastern affairs. The Chinese have been making inroads for more than a decade in the region's economic, political and security spheres. They have secured key alliances and won the rights to precious commodities. As the biggest global importer of crude oil, China obtains almost half of its needed supply from the Middle East.

China does not seek to spread democracy or overthrow regimes. It aims to trade and cooperate with every nation in the region while maintaining neutrality—a sharp contrast to Western interventionism. With more than a dozen partnership agreements with various Middle Eastern nations, China's appetite in the region is insatiable.

China seeks broad strategic partnerships with various countries regardless of security commitments or political positions. Moreover, it seeks to preserve its regional interests by building and maintaining distinct bilateral relations based on goals rather than threats, and through cooperation agreements in areas of common interest.

Take Oman, for example, which in 2017 took a $3.5 billion loan from major Chinese financial institutions to compensate for sluggish oil prices that year. Since 2015 China has also invested a very generous $10.87 billion in Iran, $13.93 billion in Egypt and $8 billion in Kuwait.

The Chinese have built roads, ports, bridges, stadiums, refineries and high-speed rail lines throughout the Middle East. By contrast, the United States has sent mixed messages through a confusing patchwork of withdrawals, investments, troop surges and precision bombing campaigns.

As the most powerful nation in the world, the United States is still admired and envied in the Middle East. The people of the region consume American products, media and culture on a much larger scale than they do China's offerings. As someone who is personally very fond of the United States, it saddens me to see China fill the void left by the U.S. Why should America spend its blood and treasure on war, while China reaps the benefits of friendship and peace?

joe, biden, xi, jinping, meeting, us, china
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 4, 2013. Relations between Washington and Beijing have deteriorated over four years of President Donald Trump, and now Biden inherits troubled ties between the world's top two economies. LINTAO ZHANG/AFP/Getty Images

China's Middle East strategy is not a single regional strategy, but rather an "investment portfolio" through which Beijing focuses on its national interests in each country, and on economic relations in particular.

The United States should actively engage in more cooperative efforts with countries in the region and forge a new path free from the contradictions and quagmires of the past. Partnering with the European Union to secure investment opportunities would be a step in the right direction.

This is a zero-sum game. America's losses will be China's gains. The Middle East is still ripe for mutually beneficial ventures, but the longer the United States stalls, the more time China has to seize the resource-rich region. This must stop.

The people of the Middle East have suffered from useless geopolitical tensions for far too long. War has become a seasonal event, with most of today's youth unable to remember a time without an American-involved conflict taking place in their homeland. Despite the longevity of these disputes the United States has little to show for its efforts.

A few months ago, I was asked to help a young boy, aged 7, who was badly burned in Syria. When he was admitted to a local hospital, the unsanitary conditions and lack of medical equipment caused his wounds to become seriously infected. I was asked to help the boy's recovery by financing the costs of his transportation to a much better hospital in Lebanon. Unfortunately, the young boy didn't survive his ordeal and passed away shortly after arriving.

This isn't an isolated incident, and unfortunately painful stories like it occur every day.

There are tens of thousands of Middle Easterners who desperately lack medicine, sanitation and even food and drinkable water. Imagine if the West were to lend a caring hand and provide these necessities, as opposed to Beijing building rail lines and stadiums. Instead of dropping bombs on an already crippled Syria, the United States could use its incredible network of allies and resources to unleash the full potential of many nations that have historically been written off. It is my hope that America and the West will alter their stance toward the Middle East, stop ceding valuable relationships to China and work together for the betterment of all involved.

Hasan Abdullah Ismaik is a Jordanian businessman and founder of MARYA Group a private investment company, which he founded in 2006. According to Forbes, Ismaik is among the youngest of the Middle Eastern billionaires.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.