Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

China has stayed out of regional conflicts in the Middle East for decades, but with its massive international infrastructure plan, Beijing is finally ramping up involvement — and it's determined to win influence.

Between the lines: If it's successful, a big reason will be that China hasn't taken sides or made enemies in the Middle East. The question is how long that can last.

The big picture: Middle Eastern countries are interested in seeing what China's up to, but they're all hedging, says Barbara Slavin, who leads the Atlantic Council's Future of Iran Initiative. Still, they can be much surer about President Xi Jinping's longevity than they can about that of President Trump, she says.

The U.S. exit from the Iran deal leaves a lane open for China.

  • Beijing is the top consumer of Iranian crude oil and is deeply invested in the region for its energy resources.
  • Washington's sanctions on companies and countries that do business with Iran will hit European firms the hardest. That leaves room for China and Russia, both well-positioned to evade U.S. sanctions, to strike deals with Iran.
  • The China National Petroleum Corporation partnered with the French oil and gas company Total to develop Iran's South Pars oil field, and if Total loses its stake in the deal due to U.S. sanctions, China could take over.

China is investing money and human capital in the Middle East.

  • Under Xi's leadership, the Chinese are setting up new think tanks that focus on the Arab world and creating scholarships for language training.
  • Chinese entrepreneurs are also settling and opening factories in the Middle East.
  • One major project within China's Belt and Road infrastructure initiative is a railway from Kazakhstan to Iran, which Beijing has described as a tool to integrate Central Asia with the Middle East.
  • China has also sought out the United Arab Emirates as a key partner in developing regional infrastructure. The two countries are close to signing onto a "Belt and Road exchange," reports CNBC.
  • "China sees the UAE as influential but also small ... Maybe a nice-sized swimming pool to dip their toes in," says Chris Johnson, a former CIA China analyst who's now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

China is growing as a naval power in the Middle East and North Africa.

  • In the past decade, China has used a global anti-piracy push to increase its maritime presence in the region, Dan Blumenthal, a former China director at the Department of Defense who's now at the American Enterprise Institute, tells Axios.
  • China steadily developed relationships with Gulf countries for logistical and fueling purposes as part of the anti-piracy effort, and those ties culminated in China building a full military base in Djibouti. Earlier in May, China fired military-grade lasers at U.S. military planes from the Djibouti base.

Beijing hasn't made enemies in the Middle East — yet.

  • "China's still a free rider. They will never make a difficult decision ... They've played both sides of the Iran–Gulf split; they will not get their hands dirty in Syria," says Blumenthal. The South China Morning Post notes that "six of the 11 vetoes cast by China at the UN Security Council since 1971 had been on resolutions concerning Syria."
  • But Chinese nationals working abroad have been attacked by terrorists, and Beijing has a history of human rights violations against Muslim Uighurs in northwestern China. "China has one of the worst records on Muslim rights in the world," Blumenthal says. "The question is, how long do Muslim-majority countries turn a blind eye to that?"

Go deeper

Scoop: Stephanie Murphy announcing challenge to Marco Rubio

Rep. Stephanie Murphy. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy is planning to announce a campaign for the U.S. Senate in Florida against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in early June, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Murphy is a proven fundraiser. Jumping in now would give her an early start to build her case for the Democratic nomination and potentially force Rubio and allied GOP groups to spend heavily to retain a seat in a state that’s trending Republican.

55 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Inside the GOP's infrastructure strategy

Sen. Roger Wicker. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Top Republican senators are hoping the White House will make some sort of counteroffer to their infrastructure proposal when they meet with President Biden on Thursday, lawmakers and their aides tell Axios.

Why it matters: This is a sign of how serious the negotiations are, they say. In advance of the meeting, some of the senators are already publicly signaling the areas in which they have flexibility.

58 mins ago - Politics & Policy

By the numbers: Senate seats to watch in 2022

Data: Axios Research, Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Elections; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

While Republicans are giddy about their chances for regaining the House next year, GOP prospects for taking the Senate remain more uncertain, data reviewed by Axios suggests.

By the numbers: At least five Republican senators are retiring after the midterms, and four of their seats are in battleground states. That makes a simple Republican-for-Republican election exchange all the more difficult.