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China-MENA Podcast March 30, 2023

US Perceptions of China’s Middle East Presence

By Atlantic Council


Key takeaways

  • The priorities of the United States in the MENA region
  • US perspective on China becoming a major player in the geopolitics of the region
  • China’s regional diplomatic and peace efforts
  • Opportunities and challenges for cooperation between China and the US in the MENA region
  • The impact of the China-Iran relationship on US regional interests


[00:00] Introduction
[01:29] US priorities on the MENA region
[06:55] China as a rising global actor
[14:03] US perspective on China’s deepening presence in the region
[20:26] China’s regional diplomatic and peace efforts
[22:22] Challenges and opportunities for cooperation between China and the US
[28:40] Assessing the impact of bilateral China-Iran relations on US interests
[31:30] Cooperation between China, the US, and the Middle East on climate change challenges
[36:34] Final takeaways from our guests

In this episode

Chris Backemeyer
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Assistance Coordination and Regional and Multilateral Affairs, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
US State Department

In his current position, Chris Backemeyer oversees cross-cutting regional policy issues and coordinates over $7 billion in foreign assistance for the Middle East and North Africa. He is a career member of the Senior Executive Service. Previously, Mr. Backemeyer served as Special Advisor in the Office of the Vice President, advising Vice President Harris on national security and foreign policy issues related to the Middle East, international economics, and climate change. He also has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Press and Public Diplomacy and Assistance Coordination in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iranian Affairs and oversaw the Department’s diplomatic efforts toward Iran; Deputy Coordinator for Sanctions Policy; Director for Iran on the National Security Council staff at the White House; and Deputy Director of the Office of Sanctions Policy and Implementation at the State Department. He also holds a Master’s degree in International Affairs from the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California San Diego and Bachelor’s degrees in Finance and Political Science from Arizona State University.

Julian Gewirtz
Deputy Coordinator for China Global Affairs
US State Department

Mr. Gewirtz recently joined the US State Department from the White House, where he was Director for China at the National Security Council. His prior government service includes roles on the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff and at the US Department of Energy. He is the author of several books on modern China and was previously a Senior Fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He received his doctorate in modern Chinese history from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his undergraduate degree from Harvard College.


Amid a perceived US retrenchment from the Middle East, China has been making greater inroads in the region, most recently by brokering the Saudi-Iranian peace deal. The deal added not only a win for China, but also another layer of complexity to an already intricate regional landscape. China’s expanding role in the Middle East continues to be a major topic of discussion for US policymakers as the country seeks to present an alternative to the US-led global order. To shed light on these issues, we are joined by two esteemed US government officials from the US State Department, Dr. Julian Gewirtz and Chris Backemeyer, who join us in this thought-provoking podcast episode.

Our guests provide unique insights from a US perspective on the potential implications of China’s growing presence in the Middle East. They examine the region’s strategic landscape and China’s efforts to replace US dominance in global governance and discuss the challenges and opportunities for cooperation between China and the US in the MENA region, as well as the priorities of the US in the Middle East. Tune in to gain a better understanding of how the US perceives and reacts to China’s evolving role in the region and how recent developments may shape the region’s future and US response.

Hosted by

The US is in favor of any action taken by China or other countries to lower tensions, decrease conflicts or prevent destabilizing actions in the region

Chris Backemeyer

President Biden sees this decade as critical and has a strategy for China: invest, align, and compete

Julian Gewirtz

About the China-MENA podcast

The China-MENA podcast features conversations with academics, think-tankers, and regional specialists on Chinese Influence in the Middle East and informs US and MENA audiences in the policy and business communities about the nature of China’s outreach to the region.

At a time when China’s global footprint is getting deeper and deeper, it has never been more important to understand its foreign policy and the Middle East is one of the world’s most consequential regions: home to major religions, diverse cultural and social heritage, central to global energy markets, and of course, geopolitics, linking people and markets in Asia, Africa and Europe.  This show will help you understand what China is doing in the region, and how the region is engaging with China as an increasingly important external power.

Podcast series

Listen to the latest episode of the China-MENA podcast, featuring conversations with academics, government leaders, and the policy community on China’s role in the Middle East.

Recommended reading

This podcast was funded in part by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

Further reading

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Wang Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission attends a meeting with Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani and Minister of State and national security adviser of Saudi Arabia Musaad bin Mohammed Al Aiban in Beijing, China March 10, 2023. China Daily via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT./File Photo