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As rising tensions in the South China Sea worry policymakers from Washington to Brussels, the US and the EU should seize the opportunity to cooperate with China in another part of the world. China’s growing role in the Mideast and its “One Belt, One Road” initiative could be a starting point for non-traditional maritime security cooperation.

While the US rebalances east to Asia, China marches west. Beijing’s project to build a “new silk road” connecting Asia and Europe is the most visible statement of its geostrategic interests. The success of the project, officially known as “One belt, one road” (OBOR), depends in large part on developments in the volatile Mideast.

The Mideast plays a bigger role in Beijing’s foreign policy and trade calculations than ever before. China is now the world’s top global importer of crude oil, with half of its imported oil coming from the region. The Mideast also serves as an important trading hub for China, as well as a market entry point into Europe and Africa. The EU is China’s largest export market, while Africa is an important destination for Chinese investments in energy, strategic resources and infrastructure projects.

Terrorism threatens China’s energy supply

But the Mideast is also the region that presents the biggest challenges for China’s OBOR initiative. The presence of ISIS, Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups threatens China’s energy supply as well as its trade and market access, especially via the Suez Canal.  With over 95 percent of global trade being seaborne, Beijing is heavily dependent on the Canal to reach its export markets in Europe. And in 2013, China surpassed the US to become the world’s largest trading nation.