Asia’s New Pivot

Evolving Ties Between Asia and the Middle East

  • Economic & Energy Ties

    Commercial engagement through trade, investment, and joint business ventures.

  • Strategic & Diplomatic Relations

    Official engagement by governments in the context of geopolitical priorities.

  • Security & Military Cooperation

    Bilateral engagement between defense and military establishments.

  • People-to-People Ties

    Cultural engagement and the flow of people and ideas.

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Country Briefs

(Additional Countries Coming Soon)

About the Project

The U.S. “pivot” to Asia, announced 10 years ago by the Obama administration, recalibrated the geopolitical outlook for countries around the world, especially in the Middle East and Asia. Over the next few years, as the rebranded U.S. “Rebalance” was being implemented, another Asian pivot started to take shape. This one had little to do with ties between the United States and its Asian partners. Instead, it centered on deeper integration between nations on both sides of the Eurasian continent.

While both Asia and the Middle East have traditionally looked to the United States as their most significant economic and security partner, this dynamic is changing. Trade between China and the Middle East surged by a staggering 600% from 2000 to 2014, largely driven by increasing energy demands. Similarly, Indian exports to Gulf Cooperation Council countries have nearly doubled over the past decade. Going forward, it is clear both regions will also increasingly look toward the other to achieve their strategic priorities.

In the past few years, several seminal events have highlighted the growing network of Asia–Middle East relationships. In February 2017, King Salman of Saudi Arabia launched an ambitious month-long tour of four Asian countries, announcing more than $65 billion of economic deals over the course of his visit. Salman’s visit provided the most obvious evidence of a growing “Look East” trend among Gulf nations, which seek markets and partners that will help usher their economic modernization and diversification.

Meanwhile, Asian countries are looking west. While Asian economic interests have historically been driven by the need for reliable access to energy resources, these relationships are now deepening and diversifying into new sectors, including technology, green energy, defense, and infrastructure development. In line with its Belt and Road Initiative, China has intensified its investments in and engagement with the region. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has also doubled down on engaging the Gulf region, Israel, and Iran through its “Think West” policy.

The potential long-term implications of growing integration between the Middle East and Asia present a number of challenges and opportunities that have yet to be fully understood or explored. This Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) initiative will explore the strategic implications of emerging ties between major countries in Asia and the Middle East. The project seeks to identify the most significant drivers and trends fueling closer Asian and Middle East ties and to assess the geostrategic implications of these trends for the United States and for key regional players.

A series of visual briefs – starting with India and China – will outline an individual country’s evolving ties with the other region across four key areas:

  • Economic and Energy Ties: Commercial engagement through trade, investment, and joint business ventures.
  • Strategic and Diplomatic Relations: Official engagement by governments in the context of geopolitical priorities. 
  • Security and Military Cooperation: Bilateral engagement between defense and military establishments.
  • People-to-People Ties: Cultural engagement and the flow of people and ideas.

(ASPI will publish visual briefs for additional countries over the next several months.)

About the Asia Society Policy Institute

With a solution-oriented mandate, the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) tackles major policy challenges confronting the Asia-Pacific in security, prosperity, sustainability, and the development of common norms and values for the region. ASPI is a think- and do-tank designed to bring forth policy ideas that incorporate the best thinking from top experts in Asia and to work with policymakers to integrate these ideas and put them into practice.

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Explore the
Country Briefs

(Additional Countries Coming Soon)