Following the first high-level US-China talks of the Biden administration, Beijing’s top diplomats are now on a six-country swing through the Middle East . Among the stops are Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran. While the talks with the US in Alaska seemed an exercise in futility, marked by a fiery exchange of accusations, the Chinese diplomatic tour of the Middle East shows another side of the coin: how Beijing’s and Washington’s overlapping interests in the region could provide solid ground for cooperation. China is rapidly expanding its economic footprint in the Middle East, but paradoxically, it is this push that will give rise to opportunities for collaboration with the US. The meeting between Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi took place at the site of the planned city of Neom. With a price tag of US$500 billion, the futuristic city is a cornerstone of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic diversification push. When completed, the mega-project aims to blend cutting-edge technology, big data and Artificial Intelligence to create a so-called “cognitive city”. China is set to benefit from the opportunities Neom presents, in much the same way it has already done in neighbouring Dubai’s push to build a smart city, but on a much larger scale. China-Iran deal a ‘momentous’ shift as US ties sour, says ex-envoy China has also forged comprehensive strategic partnerships with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Egypt and Algeria. Its energy security is deeply linked to Middle Eastern hydrocarbons, but this is not the only reason behind Beijing’s push towards closer involvement with the region. President Xi Jinping’s flagship foreign policy initiative, the Belt and Road Initiative, coupled with the Digital Silk Road, is expanding in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Beijing also benefits from the Biden administration’s steps to give the Saudi Crown Prince the cold shoulder, as it drives him closer to China’s orbit. But becoming the region’s economic and technological juggernaut is not going to shield Beijing from getting entangled in the Middle East’s many conflicts. Take Iran , for example. China has signalled its support for a “nuclear-free” Middle East, has called on the US to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and wants Washington to ease sanctions against Tehran. Wang reiterated this position just a few days before embarking on the Middle Eastern trip, during a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. A return to the Iran nuclear deal negotiating table and the easing of sanctions could benefit China in the form of renewed crude oil imports in exchange for long-awaited infrastructure financing and investments in the manufacturing sector. The much-hyped 25-year economic and security agreement signed over the weekend could thus lead to real outcomes, though many analysts doubt it is as significant as it has been made out to be. The JCPOA is one area in which the interests of the United States and China align. But there are many more. While the Alaska talks highlighted beyond any shadow of doubt the friction points between Washington and Beijing, the Middle East’s ongoing security transition is a chance for both countries to cooperate where their interests overlap, namely in the areas of anti-terrorism and security. While the US is poised to return to its previous role as an offshore security balancer with fewer boots on the ground, the Belt and Road Initiative and Digital Silk Road can prosper only in a safe environment. This represents a perfect opportunity for calibrated US-China cooperation, and could be a starting point to reverse the trend of antagonism between both sides. More could be on the cards: China’s current policy of non-alignment in the region differs from its previous stance of non-interference, and it is now carefully placing bets on all sides – “balanced vagueness”, if you will. This increases the chances that its interests will align with those of the US from time to time. US, China look to shore up ties with allies after Alaska clash A full decade after the Arab spring, most of the countries in the MENA region are still mired in a profound crisis. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the already critical social, economic and political woes of the region. In this environment, no regional actor is capable of asserting itself as an exclusive hegemonic power in the Middle East. Therefore, involving Russia, India, Turkey as well as China and the US in a multipolar security architecture and broader political dialogue under the aegis of the United Nations could be the path to regional stabilisation, despite several obstacles – not least the fact that these nations’ interests are sometimes at odds. Successful US-China cooperation in the MENA region could well lead to similar efforts in other areas of common concern for the two countries, namely Afghanistan and North Korea. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s “three Cs” summary of American policy towards China states that America will compete, confront and collaborate, as needed. The Middle East could well prove to be the one area where the third leg of this policy stands.