[Senate Hearing 117-632]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]

                                                        S. Hrg. 117-632
                    CHINA'S ROLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST



                               BEFORE THE

                       SUBCOMMITTEE ON NEAR EAST,
                       SOUTH ASIA, CENTRAL ASIA,
                          AND COUNTERTERRORISM

                                 OF THE

                          UNITED STATES SENATE


                             SECOND SESSION

                             AUGUST 4, 2022


       Printed for the use of the Committee on Foreign Relations


                  Available via http://www.govinfo.gov
                      U.S. GOVERNMENT PUBLISHING OFFICE 
       51-627PDF          WASHINGTON : 2023

                 COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS        

             ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey, Chairman        
BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, Maryland         JAMES E. RISCH, Idaho
JEANNE SHAHEEN, New Hampshire        MARCO RUBIO, Florida
CHRISTOPHER A. COONS, Delaware       RON JOHNSON, Wisconsin
TIM KAINE, Virginia                  ROB PORTMAN, Ohio
EDWARD J. MARKEY, Massachusetts      RAND PAUL, Kentucky
JEFF MERKLEY, Oregon                 TODD YOUNG, Indiana
CORY A. BOOKER, New Jersey           JOHN BARRASSO, Wyoming
BRIAN SCHATZ, Hawaii                 TED CRUZ, Texas
CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, Maryland           MIKE ROUNDS, South Dakota
                                     BILL HAGERTY, Tennessee
                 Damian Murphy, Staff Director        
        Christopher M. Socha, Republican Staff Director        
                    John Dutton, Chief Clerk        


           CHRISTOPHER MURPHY, Connecticut, Chairman        
JEANNE SHAHEEN, New Hampshire        TODD YOUNG, Indiana
EDWARD J. MARKEY, Massachusetts      RAND PAUL, Kentucky
CORY A. BOOKER, New Jersey           TED CRUZ, Texas
CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, Maryland           MITT ROMNEY, Utah
                                     BILL HAGERTY, Tennessee



                         C  O  N  T  E  N  T  S


Murphy, Hon. Christopher, U.S. Senator From Connecticut..........     1

Young, Hon. Todd, U.S. Senator From Indiana......................     3

Leaf, Hon. Barbara A., Assistant Secretary of State for Near 
  Eastern Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC......     5
    Prepared Statement...........................................     6

              Additional Material Submitted for the Record

Responses of Ambassador Barbara A. Leaf to Questions Submitted by 
  Senator Todd Young.............................................    23

Responses of Ambassador Barbara A. Leaf to Questions Submitted by 
  Senator Chris Van Hollen.......................................    23

                    CHINA'S ROLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST


                        THURSDAY, AUGUST 4, 2022

                           U.S. Senate,    
             Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia,
                Central Asia, and Counterterrorism,
                            Committee on Foreign Relations,
                                                    Washington, DC.
    The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:33 a.m., in 
room SD-419, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Hon. Christopher 
Murphy presiding.
    Present: Senators Murphy [presiding], Shaheen, Van Hollen, 
Young, and Hagerty.


    Senator Murphy. We are going to convene this subcommittee 
today to discuss China's role in the Middle East. I thank our 
witness for being here today as well as my colleagues.
    As much as it is possible in an open setting, my goal in 
this hearing is to have a frank conversation so that we can 
appropriately factor China's Middle East goals as we right-size 
American goals.
    The United States has been the dominant power in the Middle 
East for decades. America's deal with regional despots, 
particularly in the Gulf, has long been a pretty 
straightforward one, providing security in exchange for the 
steady provision of oil to the global economy.
    For the past 20 years, several of the dynamics that 
underpin this arrangement have changed. First, back in 1980, 
the United States relied heavily on energy imports to power our 
economy. At that time, one-third of all oil that we use in the 
United States came from the Gulf.
    Today, the United States produces as much oil as it gets 
from abroad, or only 9 percent of these imports come from Gulf 
countries. Today, the U.S. is not totally dependent on Gulf 
fossil fuels, but China is. Today, more than 50 percent of 
China's oil comes from the Gulf states.
    Second, our allies in the Gulf no longer honor the deal 
that was made decades ago even though we still have a big 
physical military presence in the Gulf, bigger than ever 
before, and we keep giving Gulf nations a pass on human rights 
    Too often our Middle East allies act in conflict with our 
security interests. Recently, for instance, it took a high-
profile trip from the American President to Riyadh in order to 
simply convince our supposed allies in the region to produce 
more oil to address spiraling global prices.
    Third, today, China now needs the Middle East more than we 
do. Consider this stunning fact. The value of Saudi fossil fuel 
exports to China has grown from $1.5 billion in 2000, just 
about 20 years ago, to $43 billion today.
    It is no secret why China is deepening its ties to the 
region. It is the Chinese economy, not the U.S. economy, that 
has become completely dependent on Middle East oil.
    This hearing gives us an opportunity to explore China's 
role in the Middle East and help us craft a policy that enables 
us to counter China's influence in the areas that threaten U.S. 
interests while finding ways to cooperate in the limited areas 
where our interests align.
    There is no question that China's growing presence in the 
Middle East presents a challenge to the United States that we 
have to confront. With such a large U.S. military footprint in 
the region, we must assure that China does not get its hands on 
our most sensitive technology.
    Frankly, that is why I have opposed selling F-35s and 
Reaper drones to the UAE. While Middle East oil does not matter 
to us as much as it used to, it still matters. We do not want 
China to get a monopoly on the Middle East energy trade.
    China is also an attractive partner to dictators of the 
region who are looking for more tools of repression and 
surveillance that the Chinese have perfected. As the world's 
leading human rights and democracy defender, the U.S. should 
push back on the spread of these tools of repression.
    At the same time, I hope this hearing considers whether it 
is worthwhile to approach every Middle East issue through a 
lens of U.S.-China competition.
    For example, China's recent sale of armed drones to Saudi 
Arabia does not mean that we should rush to provide those 
drones ourselves. The Saudis have a clear record of misusing 
such weapons against civilians in Yemen and we are right to 
distance ourselves from these abuses.
    In addition, Chinese investments into the vanity projects, 
the shiny new cities for Egypt's President Sisi and the Saudi 
Crown Prince, they post questionable returns for investors. 
There is no compelling reason why the United States should be 
seeking to counter China's investments in these projects with 
our own funding.
    Of course, there are limited areas where China and the U.S. 
share interests. We should not ignore them. For example, both 
China and the United States have a shared interest in securing 
shipping lanes in the Gulf. Both benefit from an Iranian 
nuclear deal to avoid proliferation and both the United States 
and China benefit from stability in the region.
    Finally, we should recognize that while China's influence 
in the region is increasing, it has limits and that the United 
States commitment to the region, despite much hyped fears of 
abandonment, continues as we remain the leading security 
partner for every country in the region except, of course, for 
    We should not be so insecure as to believe that our 
partners in the Middle East think China can be taken seriously 
as an alternative to the United States. For example, while the 
United States preserves the security of the shipping lanes in 
the Gulf as a global public good, it is hard to imagine China 
acting to preserve anything, but its own shipments.
    Let us face it, if a war erupted between the Arab Gulf 
countries and Iran, the Chinese navy is not sailing to anyone's 
    Recognizing these limitations to China's influence gives us 
real leverage in the region and we need to use it to reset our 
relationship. For decades, our approach to the Middle East has 
been overly militarized at the expense of economic 
diversification and inclusive political reform, which leads me 
to my last and most important point.
    We should not deprioritize political and economic reform 
priorities in the Middle East for the sake of competing with 
China. Poor, corrupt, and unequal societies make for a 
combustible mix that can quickly cause superficially stable 
regimes to collapse quickly.
    In the long run, the most stable countries are democracies 
and we should not lose sight of that goal.
    I look forward to the witness' testimony today to learn 
more about how the State Department is diagnosing and taking on 
this important issue.
    With that, I will turn to the ranking member for opening 

                 STATEMENT OF HON. TODD YOUNG, 
                   U.S. SENATOR FROM INDIANA

    Senator Young. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this 
hearing, and thank you, Assistant Secretary Leaf, for being 
here today.
    I believe this topic is critical for us to examine as great 
power competition is not confined to one geographic region.
    While we rightly seek to prioritize countering the Chinese 
Communist Party, we must acknowledge that Beijing is not just a 
challenge in the Indo-Pacific, but also a challenge to our 
interests across the Middle East, in Africa, and beyond.
    America's role in the Middle East is at a critical moment 
and our approach to our relationships with our partners will 
speak volumes to our allies and our adversaries alike.
    Perception is vital, and given some of the Administration's 
policy missteps, one could come to an erroneous conclusion 
about America's role, intent, and influence in a region where 
we have traditionally been the partner of choice.
    The withdrawal from Afghanistan, a somewhat nebulous Indo-
Pacific strategy, and Iran policy that could disrupt the 
delicate balance of power, restrictive arms sales policies, the 
Biden administration's belated embrace of the Abraham Accords, 
it is not hard to see how our adversaries are weaving these 
threads into a broader narrative of U.S. disengagement.
    As our perceived light wavers, China is seeking to fan 
theirs into a flame. We already know the region is key to 
Beijing's economic ambitions. A substantial portion of its 
overland and maritime trade routes rely on regional access, 
requiring not just stability, but influence no matter the cost.
    A GCC ministerial visit to China in January show that the 
desire to deepen economic cooperation is mutual. Regional 
governments want to diversify their economies and Foreign 
Minister Wang's efforts to continue talks of a free trade 
agreement represent an opportunity that is too good for our 
Gulf partners to pass up.
    Militarily, we only need to look at the overtures Beijing 
has made to anyone willing to listen, including both partners 
and adversaries of the United States.
    Since the end of the U.N. conventional arms embargo on 
Iran, China has a new and willing partner who will flood the 
region with Chinese arms, including to proxies intent on the 
destruction of Israel.
    These examples show how Beijing has studied our example and 
is playing to what it perceives as our vulnerabilities. Where 
America must hold herself and our partners to a higher moral 
standard, Beijing instead distances itself with talks of mutual 
benefits and neutral engagement.
    This is the CCP party line when partnering with countries 
at ideological odds with each other. Where we must tie U.S. 
foreign assistance to positive steps in health, human rights, 
food security, and any other number of themes, Beijing only 
opens its checkbook.
    While the CCP might claim that the countries of the Middle 
East should be free from U.S. influence, they are taking every 
possible means to exert their own influence and control.
    Perhaps this may offer an opportunity. As its interests in 
the region grow, China will not be able to maintain an image of 
distant objectivity.
    Deepening engagement with ideologically opposed regional 
players will eventually drag China into a geopolitical 
    Secretary Leaf, I hope you can address these concerns today 
and answer some key questions today such as what will it take 
to win that competition and what can Congress do to support 
that goal.
    We want to help, all of us. When it comes to national 
security, we cannot afford to spend time playing politics. I 
believe we are at a crossroads in our relationship with the 
region. The steps we take now will determine if the 
Administration's actions will permanently alter the 
geopolitical landscape or reinforce why America has been a 
stalwart and dependable ally of choice to our allies there for 
over 70 years.
    I am pleased that we are here to discuss such an important 
    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    Senator Murphy. Thank you, Senator Young.
    It is now my pleasure to introduce the Honorable Barbara 
Leaf, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.
    Assistant Secretary Leaf assumed that role in May 31 of 
this year after an interminably long confirmation process. She 
has served as Special Assistant to the President and senior 
director for the Middle East and North Africa at the National 
Security Council, previously served as our Ambassador to the 
UAE which is, I think, where I first met Secretary Leaf, and 
various other high level positions both in Washington and 
abroad, including Rome, Sarajevo, Cairo, Tunis, and Jerusalem.
    Ambassador Leaf, we welcome you to the committee. We ask 
that you limit your opening remarks to about 5 minutes and the 
rest of your testimony will be submitted for the record.

                         WASHINGTON, DC

    Ambassador Leaf. Chairman Murphy, Ranking Member Young, 
members of the subcommittee, thank you for this opportunity to 
share our assessment of the People's Republic of China's 
activities in the Middle East and North Africa.
    Let me first convey on behalf of the Secretary and the 
Department of State as a whole our deepest condolences on the 
tragic loss of Congresswoman Walorski and her two staff members 
yesterday. It was shocking and, indeed, our prayers and our 
thoughts are with the families and loved ones.
    As we assess China's influence in the region today in those 
areas that matter most, our national security. We retain a 
clear advantage and that is due to a long legacy across 
administrations of U.S. leadership on crucial issues of 
security, conflict resolution, and engagement with partners 
over the decades on all the issues that matter most to the 
peoples of the region.
    The PRC's economic ties with the region, however, as you 
have both noted, reveal growing influence that requires our 
scrupulous attention and action.
    In 2000, PRC trade with the Middle East and North Africa 
was about $15 billion. By 2021, it had reached $284 billion. 
That jump was driven in no small part by China's voracious 
appetite for the region's energy as well as its quest for 
markets for its exports in the region and beyond.
    It remains in our national interest as the leader of the 
global economy to ensure the energy supply reaches world 
markets and that sea lanes remain open and secure.
    The PRC has shown neither desire nor the capability to 
assume that role and, frankly, nor should we want it to. My 
concern with this economic trajectory lies in two critical 
areas, and then there is a third set of issues on which we must 
remain vigilant.
    First is the PRC's unfair or unsavory practices in 
attempting to leverage its investment and trade, especially in 
critical areas of research and technology to increase its 
global edge unfairly.
    That can mean theft of IPR or misuse of access to national 
telecoms networks, and PRC acquisition of strategic 
infrastructure--ports, for example--may open new 
vulnerabilities for some states in the region.
    My second concern is the longer-term impact of the PRC's 
steady accretion of economic ties and how Beijing might use 
those relationships for political and even coercive advantage.
    There is no question, we are already seeing a more 
competitive environment in the region for the U.S. and this 
creates conditions where the PRC can coerce countries on U.N. 
votes and support for its positions on issues like Taiwan, the 
Uyghurs, and Russia's brutal war in Ukraine.
    Third, while--and, importantly, while China's current 
military engagement in the region is relatively limited, there 
is clear potential over the longer term for economic relations 
to morph in the direction of more robust defense relationships, 
as the PRC markets its military hardware aggressively, and 
where PRC acquisition of strategic infrastructure goes, there 
is a potential, almost a certainty, for dual use or outright 
military presence.
    As President Biden underscored last month in Jeddah, this 
Administration advancing aggressively an affirmative framework 
for America's engagement in the region, deescalating regional 
conflicts, enhancing our partnerships for collaborative work on 
issues that affect the whole region, and promoting regional 
integration in economic, political, and security terms, and 
that includes Israel.
    President Biden made clear in engaging with regional 
leaders in July that we are here to stay. We are not going 
anywhere and we are certainly not going to leave a vacuum in 
the Middle East for Russia or China or Iran, for that matter, 
to fill.
    Secretary Blinken has underlined that our approach to the 
challenges offered by the PRC globally is to invest, align, and 
compete--invest in the foundations of our strength at home, 
align with partners and allies, and harness those assets to 
compete with the PRC and that means in the Middle East as much 
as around the world.
    We are aligned with partners concerning the critical threat 
posed by Iran on the need to work in common on challenges 
ranging from climate change, food and water insecurity, 
contesting the forces of extremism, dealing with fragile 
states, supporting refugees, and resolving the still unresolved 
issue of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.
    We are engaging both bilaterally as well as through 
regional organizations and through new structures that we have 
helped create, the Negev Forum as one of them, that will build 
on the new relationship, expanding relationships between Israel 
and Arab states.
    The PRC has not just been absent from this space that I 
have just described. In some significant instances, Beijing has 
actively acted against the region's security, whether in its 
relations with Iran or Syria, or its sales of advanced 
weaponry--UAVs as an example--that are used by nonstate actors 
against our Gulf partners and others.
    For all the region's challenges, the U.S. deep and decades-
long strategic cooperation with regional partners remains an 
asset that no country, certainly not the PRC, can hope to 
match. We must remain engaged and continue to demonstrate the 
collaborative leadership the region requires and desires.
    Thank you very much, and I am happy to take your questions.
    [The prepared statement of Ambassador Leaf follows:]

            Prepared Statement of Ambassador Barbara A. Leaf

    Chairman Murphy, Ranking Member Young, Members of the Subcommittee, 
thank you for this opportunity to share our assessment of the People's 
Republic of China (PRC)'s activities in the Middle East and North 
    Time and again, we're reminded how important the Middle East and 
North Africa remains to our national security. The region's sea lanes 
are essential to a secure global supply chain and commerce. The 
region's energy resources remain vital for market stability and the 
global economy. The vulnerability of fragile states in the region, left 
unaddressed, may mean refuge for terrorists with transnational 
aspirations on the one hand, or conflict that produces wider 
instability and flows of refugees on the other. And an increasingly 
dynamic, internet-savvy youth population makes the region an important 
audience for U.S. policy priorities--and influence.
    For decades, we have worked to prevent conflicts and terrorism from 
threatening the security and stability of the United States and that of 
our partners and allies; to prevent the proliferation of weapons of 
mass destruction; and to ensure the security of our closest partners, 
including an ironclad commitment to Israel's security.
    As we assess the PRC's influence today in the Middle East and North 
Africa, in these areas that matter most to our national security, we 
retain a clear advantage that the PRC is unable to challenge.
    A clear-eyed analysis of the PRC's economic ties with the region, 
however, reveals growing influence and areas that require our 
attention. We must be careful to discern signal from noise within this 
growing volume of economic activity, but we must also remain attuned to 
trends that may more directly impinge upon U.S. interests.
    In 2000, PRC trade with the Middle East and North Africa was worth 
$15.2 billion. By 2021, that figure had risen to $284.3 billion. That 
dramatic jump was driven in no small part by energy--mainly oil and 
natural gas--accounting for 46 percent of the total trade today.
    In comparison, over that same timeframe, U.S. trade with the region 
rose from $63.4 billion to $98.4.
    The difference between PRC and U.S. trade in the region is not 
surprising--the PRC's voracious appetite for imported energy fuels an 
economy in which domestic oil production has remained flat for decades.
    We're not competing with the PRC over the region's hydrocarbons. 
Far from it. The United States has dramatically reduced its own 
dependence on imported oil to the point of becoming an oil and natural 
gas exporter.
    However, it remains in our national interest, as the leader of the 
global economy, to ensure this energy supply reaches world markets and 
that our closest allies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific enjoy unfettered 
access to stable energy supplies. The PRC has shown neither the desire 
nor the capability to assume that role. Nor should we want it to.
    The PRC's export-heavy economy sends goods to and through the 
Middle East and North Africa. The region is a growing market for PRC 
wares, as well as an important transshipment point. The Suez is a vital 
lifeline for PRC trade with Europe.
    My concern with this trajectory lies in two critical areas. And I 
would underline that we must remain vigilant on a third set of issues.
    The first is the PRC's attempt to leverage investment and trade in 
critical areas of research and technology to increase its global 
competitiveness. PRC economic engagement is not always solely economic. 
It often brings with it a security concern, for the United States and 
for our partners. We have seen PRC intellectual property theft, 
technology transfer, and data harvesting worldwide over the years. And 
we've cautioned our partners about the risks inherent in accepting such 
    Israel's high-tech sector is dynamic and innovative, has an organic 
connection to U.S. partners, and is potentially vulnerable to PRC 
exploitation. We have been frank with our Israeli friends about our 
concerns, and the value of rigorous investment screening mechanisms to 
ensure that technology, strategic infrastructure, and other critical 
assets are not compromised by external funding. Israel's adoption of 
such a mechanism has been a critical first step, and one we would like 
to help them improve upon. We also hope to work together on other 
issues like monitoring research institutions and expanding export 
controls to protect Israel's valuable technological contributions from 
being exploited by PRC companies.
    The UAE also has a vibrant tech and innovation sector, but some 
partnerships with PRC companies pose potential risk. For example, early 
COVID vaccine coproduction agreements offered the promise of 
accelerating the fight against the pandemic, but also carried privacy 
concerns, such as providing the PRC wide-ranging access to unique 
patient data. We have additional concerns with Chinese inroads in the 
UAE's tech sector.
    We raise these concerns regularly with our partners because we 
don't want to see their sovereignty, security, and economic 
competitiveness compromised by PRC investment. And we offer technical 
assistance in setting up investment screening mechanisms, like CFIUS. 
We continually remind our partners of the risks posed by vendors like 
Huawei, Hikvision, Nuctech, and other PRC companies whose technology 
compromises our and our partners' security.
    My second overriding concern is the longer-term impact of the PRC's 
steady accretion of economic ties in the region, and how Beijing might 
use those relationships for political and even coercive advantage. 
There is no question that we are already seeing a more competitive 
environment in the Middle East and North Africa, in which we must vie 
for influence on global issues.
    We've seen the same polling numbers you have--in some recent 
polling the PRC is viewed relatively favorably by populations across 
the region. Certainly the PRC leverages its economic investment to 
portray itself as a power on the rise, unburdened by the legacy of U.S. 
political and security engagement in the region. In the information 
space, Beijing employs relentless propaganda and disinformation to 
promote its image and undermine that of the West and other democratic 
countries. It seeks to suppress views critical of the PRC through 
harassment, intimidation, and other coercive measures against members 
of regional media. Beijing also leans on state-run media for favorable 
coverage. It uses content-sharing agreements and placement of paid 
advertorials to extend the reach of its preferred narratives, while it 
also threatens to revoke advertising dollars and other support if 
stories run contrary to the PRC's viewpoints.
    We are working within the State Department, including through our 
Global Engagement Center, as well as throughout the U.S. Government and 
alongside our partners and allies, to proactively address information 
manipulation efforts by the PRC and other actors.
    This also creates conditions where the PRC can coerce countries on 
UN votes and support for its positions on issues like Taiwan, the 
Uyghurs, and Russia's brutal war in Ukraine. Not to mention a host of 
others that go to the rules-based order that we have worked assiduously 
since WWII to build and maintain.
    That's why we've increased our dialogue with key regional partners 
on our multilateral priorities, as well as our engagement with regional 
multilateral organizations. Quite apart from advocacy for our own 
positions, it is important to demonstrate that the PRC's record has not 
supported the region's greatest needs. Just a few examples serve--
Beijing has offered solace and protection to the Assad regime--using 
its veto at the UN Security Council to stymie accountability in Syria. 
It vetoed UN Security Council Resolutions on the cross-border aid 
mandate three times in 2020 and 2021 before allowing authorization for 
a reduced number of crossings, threatening life-saving humanitarian aid 
to millions of Syrians in need.
    As we look to advance our core interests in the region, our 
engagement highlights the PRC's absence on key issues of security and 
stability for the region. As President Biden underscored last month in 
Jeddah, this Administration has an affirmative framework for America's 
engagement in the Middle East and North Africa--deescalating regional 
conflicts, enhancing our partnerships for regional security, and 
promoting regional integration. In his public and private engagements 
President Biden made clear the U.S. commitment to the region's welfare 
and moreover, that ``we are not going to leave a vacuum in the Middle 
East for Russia or China to fill.''
    As Secretary Blinken detailed in May, our approach to the PRC is to 
``invest, align, and compete.'' Globally, we are 1) investing in the 
foundations of our strength at home; 2) aligning with partners and 
allies; and 3) harnessing those assets to compete with the PRC to 
defend our interests and build our affirmative vision for the future. 
This is as true in the Middle East and North Africa as it is around the 
    We are aligned with our regional partners concerning the critical 
threat posed by Iran--its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, its support for 
terrorism, and interventions to destabilize the region. We are working 
to achieve a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA to halt 
the development of Iran's nuclear program and to build an integrated 
approach to regional security, providing common defense in the face of 
shared threats and capitalizing on the opportunities presented by 
deepening integration across the region--in political, economic and 
security terms, and including Israel in those efforts.
    The PRC has not just been absent from this space, Beijing has aided 
Iran and acted against the region's interests. Last year, the PRC 
finalized a 25-year strategic partnership agreement with Tehran, with 
the promise of billions of dollars in potential future investment in 
Iran. The Commerce Department's Entity List includes over 70 PRC 
nationals and entities sanctioned for supporting the Iranian regime in 
one form or another. The PRC has been the top destination for Iranian 
oil--both legitimate exports and trade that circumvents sanctions.
    Beyond Iran, the PRC has been notably absent from the fight against 
ISIS and contributed negligibly to the international humanitarian 
efforts in Yemen and Syria. Last year Beijing released an empty four-
point plan on Israeli-Palestinian peace and has not since returned to 
the issue.
    In all these areas, the region has long looked to U.S. leadership 
to convene warring parties, to mitigate and resolve conflict, to 
leverage diplomatic relationships, and to pursue solutions that build 
lasting regional stability. As I noted at the outset, it remains in our 
interest to do so.
    Our alignment with our partners produces real results. During his 
trip, the President announced an agreement to open Saudi airspace to 
all civilian carriers, allowing Israeli overflights of the Kingdom for 
the first time. Through this engagement with key partners, we secured 
extension of the ceasefire in Yemen, investment in a partnership to 
develop U.S. technology for reliable 5G and 6G networks, an agreement 
to link the GCC to Iraq's electoral grid, and new contributions to the 
Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment.
    Only U.S. engagement could have produced the historic Abraham 
Accords and the follow-on development of the Negev Forum, creating new 
ways to develop Israel's connections with its Arab neighbors, while 
also leveraging this new mechanism to strengthen the Palestinian 
economy and improve the quality of life of Palestinians. We have 
supplied the region with over 35 million doses of life-saving COVID-19 
vaccine. And as the region deals with drought, extreme heat, and other 
consequences of climate change, we have worked with partners to advance 
a bold agenda on climate, particularly as we look forward to the region 
hosting the next two climate conferences--COP27 in Egypt this fall, and 
COP28 in Dubai in 2023.
    Ultimately, our ability to compete with the PRC in the Middle East 
and North Africa rests on the continued strength of our partnerships 
and the work together that those relationships produce--in the region 
and beyond, whether in Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa. For all the 
region's challenges, the United States' deep and decades-long strategic 
cooperation with regional partners remains an asset that no country--
certainly not the PRC--can hope to match.
    We must continue to deliver on the promise of American leadership 
and demonstrate that we remain an engaged, reliable partner. We cannot 
cede space to the PRC--or any other power--to press its case; we must 
be present and offer U.S. leadership and solutions. This will sometimes 
involve tough conversations with countries in the region, but we will 
pursue these in the spirit of partnership and in support of our common 
    Our partners in the region worry that the United States' renewed 
focus on the Indo- Pacific comes at the expense of the Middle East and 
North Africa. But the truth is that we remain a global power, with 
global responsibilities; we are deeply engaged in both critical 
regions, and we must remain so. Because our partners in this region are 
vital to our security, our economic prosperity and that of the globe.
    As the Secretary has said, ``this is not about forcing countries to 
choose. It's about giving them a choice.'' Countries are going to have 
significant relationships with the PRC, just as the United States does. 
We will engage constructively with the PRC where we can, confront where 
we must, and in this more competitive era where our influence in the 
region is periodically contested by others, we will compete confidently 
in the value of the partnership and the values we have to offer.
    Our record stacks up well against the PRC's. Our core interests in 
the region remain secure. But it will take sustained investment, 
engagement, and a concerted effort to ensure we deliver on our promise 
of a stable, more prosperous future.

    Senator Murphy. Thank you very much, Ambassador. Thank you 
for that candid testimony.
    I will start with a round of questions and then open it up 
to the committee.
    I want to talk a little bit more about China's relationship 
with Iran and China's relationship with the Gulf. There is this 
collective freak out that happens in the Gulf when the United 
States enters into a diplomatic conversation with Iran. Our 
Gulf allies sort of posit to us that it is all or nothing; you 
are either with us or you are against us.
    Yet, China seems to be able to have it both ways. China is 
deepening its ties with Iran and deepening its ties with the 
Gulf. Iran does not shut its doors as China gets more 
militarily involved in the Gulf.
    Is there a risk at some point that China is going to be 
asked by the Gulf countries to fish or cut bait, to choose 
sides? Or, alternatively, why does China get to play both sides 
while the United States is told that we have to choose?
    Ambassador Leaf. Senator, I think I would differ with you 
on a couple of key tenets.
    Now, it is true that if you go back 8, 10 years at the dawn 
of the efforts to negotiate the JCPOA, there was a collective 
freak out, no question, and notwithstanding regular efforts by 
the Obama administration to read Gulf partners into where we 
hope to go on the eventual JCPOA there was great anxiety.
    I would not say that that anxiety is missing as such, but 
it is--the Gulf countries are very focused on the regional 
dimension of what Iran is doing. This visit that I just spoke 
to by the President is the punctuation point of a body of work 
for the past year and a half. It will provide forward momentum 
on further such work that goes to assisting our partners with 
their self-defense, bolstering their resiliency, and networking 
more deeply in security defense, intelligence terms, their 
ability to deal with the threats emerging from Iran's provision 
of arms to proxies.
    It is an irony, I am the first to say, that those UAVs that 
these proxies use; they are Chinese. Now, they are not provided 
by the state, but the state does not attempt to curtail that 
    I see the Gulf states in terms of they have taken a 
different approach to Iran. They themselves have channels with 
Iran to manage those relationships. We have encouraged those 
diplomatic conversations.
    Are they going to hold China to account? I look forward to 
that day because, frankly, China is getting away with murder in 
some terms.
    Senator Murphy. Second, let me present to you an argument 
that I find compelling, but not persuasive, but I think it is 
important for us to talk about and that is this.
    As China becomes more dependent on exports from the Gulf 
relative to U.S. dependency, some would suggest that China 
should, in fact, pick up more of the tab for regional security.
    Security of the Gulf, frankly, may matter more to them that 
it matters to us and, yet, we pick up almost all of that cost. 
They have a bigger military presence today than they did, but 
it is still our guarantee in the region that matters.
    Is there any constructive role that China can play with 
respect to regional security or should we view this as a zero 
sum game--any increase that China has with respect to military 
cooperation or partnership in the region is a loss to U.S. 
national security interests?
    Ambassador Leaf. To be quite frank, as I said earlier, I 
would not want to see China pick up the role that we have had 
for almost 80 years in securing sea lanes and the flow of 
commerce and energy supplies for the entire global economy.
    It is a big job. It is a big responsibility. I would rather 
be on U.S. shoulders than Chinese shoulders because what--that 
puts the dependency of our own Asian partners at risk in terms 
of that--those energy supplies.
    There is a constructive role. China could play a 
constructive role vis-a-vis Iran, but they do not.
    Senator Murphy. China could play a constructive role. They 
are not, which is why I find your argument persuasive, but I 
think it is important to have the conversation.
    I will have other questions for a second round, but we have 
got members waiting to ask questions, so I will turn it over to 
Senator Young.
    Senator Young. Thank you.
    China has cemented itself--picking up on the chairman's 
many questions related to Iran and its relationship with China, 
China has cemented itself as one of Iran's most reliable 
allies. Iran's foreign policy agenda has focused on 
strengthening an axis of resistance, which means support from 
another power is vital.
    Chinese oil producers have provided Iran an economic 
lifeline as it attempts to circumvent U.S. sanctions. They 
provide diplomatic cover for Iran as it accelerates its nuclear 
program and violates its obligations to the IAEA, and they have 
signed cooperation agreements that seek to bring their 
countries closer together economically and militarily in coming 
    Failing to stand up to China will hamper our long-term 
efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons 
capability. We can all hope for that.
    A few questions along these lines. For starters, can you 
update me and my colleagues on the current status of China's 
purchases of Iranian crude oil?
    Ambassador Leaf. Senator Young, I do not have those precise 
figures. I will get them for you.
    What I can say to this issue we have just rolled out a 
third set of sanctions on entities that are trafficking in 
these goods. We did so on August 1. We did a previous round in 
July, and you will see an increasing tempo of these sanctions, 
but I will get you those figures.
    Senator Young. Thank you.
    As it relates to the sanctions, what steps are being taken 
to ensure stricter compliance with those sanctions and 
preventing Iran from using China to circumvent pressure?
    Ambassador Leaf. This is an issue of work between the State 
Department and Department of the Treasury, OFAC, and it is 
ongoing. There is a quite a bit of work being done on an 
ongoing basis to illuminate the map and then to go after those 
    Senator Young. Maybe we could get an update from OFAC or 
State, whomever. Could that be something you could help with or 
    Ambassador Leaf. Absolutely. Absolutely.
    Senator Young. Okay. All right. Thank you.
    What has the Chinese role been in negotiations toward 
return to the JCPOA? Does the China-Iran relationship represent 
an obstacle towards the Biden administration's stated objective 
of a longer and stronger deal?
    Ambassador Leaf. I would say that it has been constructive 
within the bounds of the P5+1 efforts. China has been clear 
that it would like to see Iran and the U.S. resume compliance-
for-compliance approach, a resumption of the JCPOA.
    I think my concern goes as much to how China does not 
pressure Iran at the appropriate points when we see kinetic 
activity and where we see clear evidence that Iran is providing 
lethal aid, resources, et cetera, to proxies in the region that 
are extraordinarily destructive, but within the bounds of the 
P5+1 they have been reasonably constructive.
    Senator Young. China and Iran recently announced a 25-year 
deal designed to deepen their strategic relationship.
    What is the status of this deal? Do we believe that 
increased cooperation between the countries poses an increased 
threat to American troops or American allies in the Middle 
    Ambassador Leaf. The deal was--the partnership--the 
strategic partnership arrangement was inked last year. I think 
many of the elements of it would necessarily not be--they would 
not be implementable, given the strictures of sanctions, but it 
certainly gives a direction to China's prioritization of Iran 
as one of five countries that it sees as key to its own 
influence in the region.
    There is no direct threat as such at this moment to U.S. 
forces, but it is definitely not good for the region.
    Senator Young. Are they contemplating weapons co-
development, intelligence sharing? If you could just give me--
    Ambassador Leaf. I do not think I have that information for 
this setting. I would be happy to come back to you in a 
classified setting to give you more of a read into that.
    Senator Young. Okay. We will likely take you up on that. 
Thank you so much, Chairman.
    Senator Murphy. Senator Shaheen.
    Senator Shaheen. Thank you. Thank you for being here, 
    I want to--today is the second anniversary of the explosion 
at the port of Beirut, and Lebanon has had many challenges over 
the last couple of years and it certainly provides fertile 
ground for China as they are looking at the Middle East.
    They have been looking at helping with the port of Beirut--
40 percent of Lebanon's ports are owned by China--and the head 
of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has said that Lebanon should be 
looking toward more friendly nations such as China for support.
    What are we doing to try and counter that fertile ground 
for China to make mischief in Lebanon?
    Ambassador Leaf. Senator, we are really actively engaged on 
the ground and from Washington with the Government of Lebanon 
and helping--working to shore up what is a real prospect of 
state collapse and societal collapse, and China is not, I would 
say, in the mix at all either in terms of significant 
humanitarian assistance or economic assistance.
    I would be happy to share with the committee some of the 
differences in the way that U.S. and China approach the Middle 
East because it is quite striking. We look at the trade volume 
and port acquisition and it is striking.
    It is pretty extractive. It is pretty one-way benefit, and 
I would say the same thing is true in Lebanon. Lebanon is not 
much of a business environment, frankly. The pickings are 
pretty slim and, really, I am not so concerned about the China 
threat there as I am about the threats to the fabric of society 
    Our efforts are in terms of getting the government to agree 
to an IMF program, which will release funds and sustainable 
funds to meet their budget and their services.
    Of course, we are working on what we hope will be an energy 
bailout arrangement, and what I would just say is the ports 
notwithstanding, I really do not see the threat to our 
interests in Lebanon coming from China so much as from the 
perilous state of the state itself.
    Senator Shaheen. One of--obviously, I mentioned the port 
because so much of what we see China doing is trying to control 
the ports as part of the significant infrastructure in the 
Middle East.
    How are we working with the Development Finance 
Corporation, with the IMF, with other agencies, to give 
countries an alternative for those infrastructure investments?
    Ambassador Leaf. We are doing--right. We are doing a number 
of things. One, as you say, with those--we are doing 
matchmaking with DFC and partner governments.
    We are also finding other prospective investors for 
countries who are being approached by China on ports and we 
have a number of partners who are very engaged.
    I do not really want to go into it in this setting, but I 
can tell you that this is not sort of a wide open field and 
China is the only country with these ports in play. They do 
have--they have acquired stakes in about a dozen ports across 
the region.
    I would also say, the other piece of this is that we are in 
regular discussions with governments about the risk factors 
attendant to strategic infrastructure being bought up either in 
part or in whole by even private sector--Chinese private sector 
actors, let alone state-owned enterprises, because of this 
military-civilian fusion and the plethora of laws--Chinese 
laws--that require Chinese private sector as well as state-
owned enterprises to basically give access to their 
intelligence and to their military.
    We have lit that up for a number of countries and it has 
been persuasive.
    Senator Shaheen. I think helping us to better understand 
how we are working in those areas is helpful because I remember 
a conversation Senator Murphy and I had with a former prime 
minister of Greece several years ago when China was investing 
in the Port of Piraeus.
    He said, well, we went to the EU and the EU could not help 
us, and we came to you all and you would not help us, and so 
the Chinese offered help.
    I do think we have got to be very clear that we have to 
provide--help countries have some alternatives to what is being 
offered by China.
    Ambassador Leaf. Senator, if you will--Senator Murphy, if 
you will allow me to finish responding.
    We see absolutely eye to eye with you on that, Senator, and 
we are very engaged both in lining up alternatives, but to 
really illuminating the risk factors.
    I think, going back to the issue of Greece and a number of 
countries around the world, yes, that was sort of the going in 
proposition--why would you turn away free money? I mean, what 
is not to love about an investor coming in?
    Except the other side of that investment. There has been 
debt financing issues around the globe, but there are 
sovereignty issues. Nobody is signing up when they offer a 
commercial port in part or in whole for sale. Nobody is signing 
up for the PLA to use that facility. Yet, this is what is 
becoming clearer as a risk for countries.
    Unfortunately, the other thing that we have going for us in 
the Middle East is sort of a sovereignty neuralgia about things 
like this, and this is something that we really play to, 
    Senator Shaheen. Can you explain what you mean more about 
    Ambassador Leaf. I just--I would say an acute sense of 
sovereignty and especially when it comes--for instance, in 
Iraq, a strong sense that national assets are national assets 
and they shall not be even sold off to a foreign private 
sector, let alone foreign governments.
    It is a residue--it is a legacy of colonial history, but it 
is quite a strong thing and it is something that we can work 
    Senator Shaheen. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    Senator Murphy. Senator Van Hollen.
    Senator Van Hollen. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and Madam 
Assistant Secretary, it is good to see you.
    This is an important topic and I have tried to dig into it 
and I am going to submit some questions for the record.
    I want to use my time to discuss a couple issues regarding 
Americans detained in Iran, an American lawyer recently 
detained in the UAE, and what you are doing to get to the full 
truth and accountability in the shooting death of an American 
journalist in the West Bank, all part of your jurisdiction.
    I am satisfied that the Administration is doing everything 
it can to gain the release of the Americans that are detained 
in Iran.
    I have less confidence, at least at this moment, that the 
Administration is doing everything it can to ensure due process 
in the case of Asim Ghafoor. As you know, he was tried and 
convicted in absentia with no notice of the charges, alleging 
money laundering.
    He was then arrested in Dubai en route to a family wedding 
in Istanbul. He has been sentenced to 3 years and then more. He 
has been denied bail and denied access to American lawyers.
    In the interest of time, I just ask you for a couple of 
commitments. Will you meet with his American lawyers before the 
Tuesday hearing? They are willing to make themselves available 
at your convenience.
    Ambassador Leaf. Yes. I think I just had--we just got that 
request yesterday and, yes, I can do so.
    Senator Van Hollen. Thank you. Could you keep myself and 
members of the committee posted on the progress with respect to 
due process?
    Ambassador Leaf. Absolutely. As you are probably aware, 
Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Benaim is following this 
minute-by-minute and he is keeping me briefed on this, but 
    Senator Van Hollen. I appreciate that. I had a conversation 
some time ago with Brett McGurk over at the National Security 
Council and I just--you are a former ambassador to the UAE. You 
know a lot of the players.
    I just think it is outrageous that he has been denied due 
process. He was arrested pretty much around the time the 
President was in the region--a slap in the face.
    Let me go on to the killing of American journalist Shireen 
Abu Akleh in the West Bank on May 11. Secretary Blinken has 
repeatedly called for ``an independent credible investigation 
and for accountability.'' President Biden has said the same.
    Just a simple yes or no question. Is that still the 
position of the Biden administration, the need for an 
independent credible investigation?
    Ambassador Leaf. We have asked that there be credible 
investigations. There have been----
    Senator Van Hollen. The Secretary is on record a couple of 
times calling for an independent investigation. That is a 
    Ambassador Leaf. I will have to come back to you on that, 
Senator, because that has not been my understanding of where 
our position was, but let me clarify that.
    Senator Van Hollen. I think you are going to find a number 
of members very disappointed if that is the case.
    On June 23, 24 senators, including Senators Murphy and 
Shaheen and others, wrote to the President asking for not only 
an independent investigation, but making it clear that that 
would require U.S. involvement. Just last week the SFOPS 
appropriations bill that was released contains similar 
language, calling upon the Administration to have U.S. 
    On July 12, a group of SFOPS subcommittee members, 
including Senators Leahy, Murphy, Durbin, and myself, sent a 
follow-up letter to Secretary Blinken. Have you seen that one?
    Ambassador Leaf. I have not.
    Senator Van Hollen. I urge you to look at that. I mean, 
this is why a lot of us are concerned that----
    Ambassador Leaf. I will do so. I will do so.
    Senator Van Hollen. A lot of us are concerned that this is 
not getting the attention it deserves if you, as Assistant 
Secretary, have not seen it. We asked for information regarding 
the report by the U.S. security coordinator. Have you seen that 
    Ambassador Leaf. Not in full. I have been briefed on it. I 
was out there--I have been out to speak with our folks several 
times and I have been briefed in detail on it, and I followed 
the course of the U.S. security coordinator's work over the 
course of 5 some weeks.
    I am intimately involved. I have not seen the actual report 
by letter, and if I can just explain. I have not seen that 
second letter, principally, because I just came back into town 
on the weekend and I have been really focused on this 
testimony, but I----
    Senator Van Hollen. I appreciate that.
    If you could take a look at it----
    Ambassador Leaf. I will.
    Senator Van Hollen. --because we asked for a response by 
last week.
    Ambassador Leaf. Okay.
    Senator Van Hollen. If you could get back to us maybe later 
    Ambassador Leaf. Yes. Sure.
    Senator Van Hollen. --to tell us when we can expect a 
response on that.
    We asked for a significant amount of information regarding 
that report, which, as you know, just stapled the PA report and 
the IDF report together and then reached some conclusions. That 
was not an independent report. I do not think anybody has said 
it is.
    If I could just also bring to your attention the fact that 
the chairman of the full committee here, Senator Menendez, and 
Senator Booker have asked for a senior level classified 
briefing on the state of the investigation.
    Look, I am concerned that the Administration is not giving 
this the attention it deserves. The Secretary says things like 
an independent investigation, which he did say, and we have 
called for accountability about an American journalist who got 
shot and killed.
    We have expressed our desire and our determination to 
protect journalists around the world, especially in conflict 
zones, and this is a journalist who was wearing full press 
regalia at the time she was shot and killed.
    I just--there are a number of us that are not going to 
allow this to be swept under the rug and we are looking for 
    Ambassador Leaf. Thank you, Senator.
    I completely take all of your points. I can tell you the 
Secretary had a lengthy discussion with Minister--Defense 
Minister Gantz--I want to say it was a week ago--and he has 
been pressing for accountability.
    I will be happy to come back to you on all of these issues 
you raise.
    Senator Van Hollen. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    I would just say an independent report does not include a 
PA report and an independent report does not include an IDF 
report. That is why members of this committee have asked for 
American involvement in the investigation.
    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    Senator Murphy. Thank you, Senator Van Hollen.
    Let me just confirm that I share Senator Van Hollen's 
concerns about both getting that independent report, but also 
seeking accountability for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, also 
his concerns regarding the effort to secure due process for 
Asim Ghafoor.
    I appreciate your commitment to be attentive to both of 
those matters.
    I actually want to stay--I will open up for a second round. 
There might be a couple other members who come seeking 
recognition as well, but I actually want to stay on UAE for a 
    The Abraham Accords were a success, a victory, for 
stability in the region, but they did not exist in a vacuum. 
There were commitments that were made in coordination with 
those Accords that should cause us concern.
    One of those commitments was the sale of F-35s and Reaper 
drones to UAE. The Trump administration rushed into that sale 
without doing the due diligence, and if they had done the due 
diligence they would have figured out that there was real risk 
of appropriation of U.S. technology by China and that is, I 
imagine, why we have seen a suspension of that sale by the 
Biden administration.
    I understand there is a limit to what you can say in an 
open setting, but I think it is important for us to understand 
at a basic level why there are concerns about the choices that 
UAE has made.
    I mean, in essence, what they did was choose China's 5G 
technology over the F-35, and so maybe you can talk for a 
moment about the threat to the compatibility of Gulf defense 
and U.S. systems if our allies continue to make decisions to 
more fully integrate themselves with Chinese technology.
    Ambassador Leaf. I would say a couple of things and then I 
have got to step carefully in this setting.
    You are right. There was a complex of issues attendant to 
that prospective sale that were sitting on the desk, as it 
were, when the Administration came into office and it was one 
of the first issues on which the Administration had to grapple.
    Frankly, clearly, the 5G issue was just one of several--one 
of a list of things that needed much greater clarity and much 
better agreement, clearer agreement, detailed agreement, on 
rules of the road for any prospective sale, given the cutting-
edge, state-of-the-art technology that would be at risk by a 
number of things that were in the mix at that time in terms of 
the UAE's defense relationship with China.
    As I recall, 5G preexisted and was sort of not factored in, 
we thought, appropriately into the consideration of the deal 
and so it was one of the issues.
    I would just simply say that in--more broadly, we take 
deadly seriously the issue of protecting our technology, our 
systems, our personnel and, thus, this issue of Huawei and 
other untrusted vendors is an issue of discussion with us 
across the region and we have been pretty successful in 
pushing, basically, people out of the direction of purchasing 
that technology in a number of cases.
    We have not had active discussions recently on the F-35, 
but that will still be in the mix. There are a number of things 
and, obviously, Senator, to say the least, I would be happy to 
come back and do this in a more detailed fashion in a 
classified setting.
    Senator Murphy. I would just simply encourage my colleagues 
on the committee and, specifically, on the subcommittee to get 
that classified brief regarding some of the very difficult 
decisions the Administration has to make about technology 
conflicts in the UAE.
    Let me ask one more question in the second round. Then I 
will turn it over to Senator Hagerty.
    I want to talk about drone technology because part of this 
sale to UAE is the MQ-9s, but I maybe want to back up and talk 
more broadly about drone technology. This is a nightmare 
technology in the wrong hands and it is a competitive landscape 
in which the United States has technology, but the Chinese have 
    Often, the argument gets made to us, well, we need to sell 
this technology to countries because if we do not, the Chinese 
will, and there is no strings that come attached with the 
transfer of Chinese drone technology. At least if the United 
States provides the technology, we will have some input into 
how it is used.
    That is a pretty unsatisfying and unsavory answer because 
often this is just about an owner of the technology being not 
responsible, but less irresponsible if the United States is 
    I ask this in the frame of the issue of drones, but you can 
back it up and be even more general in the kind of technologies 
we are talking about, but the question is this. Are there still 
good reasons, including human rights concerns, that we may not 
want to sell certain weapon systems into the Middle East even 
if the Chinese are an alternative?
    Ambassador Leaf. I mean, obviously, QME has made--QME is a 
bedrock issue. It has to be--any system has to be calibrated in 
that context.
    This tension that you cite, Senator, you are exactly right 
and it can sometimes feel very unsavory. The Chinese have 
gotten their--more than their foot in the door precisely 
because of their virtual monopoly on drone technology and they 
have spread it across the region helter skelter and it is 
    Should we be selling it to--should we be selling drone 
technology to partners? Yes, under careful, scripted, clear 
rules of the road.
    It is a huge problem, so yes, there are certain 
technologies we should not provide and it is a case by case 
    Senator Murphy. I will just argue that we should be careful 
to lower our standards----
    Ambassador Leaf. Yes.
    Senator Murphy. --when it comes to the end use of this 
technology simply because the Chinese have no standards.
    Senator Hagerty.
    Senator Hagerty. Thank you, Mr. Chair, and welcome, Ms. 
    I just had a good conversation with John Rakolta, who was 
very complimentary of your capabilities and your service.
    I know that the conversation was going on as I came in 
about Huawei. I share concerns with my colleagues about that 
institution and many like it that are operated by the CCP.
    In fact, in my previous job as ambassador to Japan, I spent 
a great deal of time working to get Huawei out of the Japanese 
telecom carriers and getting the Japanese Government to agree 
to have a clean network. It is not inexpensive. It is a lot of 
hard work, but it is terribly important.
    At the same time, in the Middle East the Chinese Communist 
Party continues to expand their digital Silk Road with 
companies like Huawei, expanding systems that connect China 
with the Middle East, with Africa, and beyond and I am very 
concerned about the underseas cables that they are laying, 
again, with these Chinese systems that make them vulnerable to 
exploitation and we have, I think, a very big concern with one 
of them that I am sure you are aware of.
    It is the cable that connects Pakistan and east Africa 
together with Europe. It is known as the PEACE undersea cable. 
The PEACE cable travels overland from China to Pakistan. Then 
it runs from both Karachi, Pakistan, and the Chinese-built 
Pakistani port of Gwadar to stretch out undersea to various 
points in east Asia, Egypt, and Europe before terminating in 
the south of France.
    Huawei is all over this so-called PEACE undersea cable and 
I am very concerned about any ability of the CCP to cut it, to 
disrupt it, to divert it, to monitor information that our 
allies might be using, and I wanted to get your thoughts, 
Secretary Leaf, on what--on how you perceive this threat and 
what you see are the Administration's options to address it.
    Ambassador Leaf. I am not as well versed, frankly, Senator, 
on this particular technology dilemma or threat for us, and I 
will get myself schooled on it.
    I will say more broadly across the region we are all over 
this issue of these untrusted vendors in the information and 
communications technology sphere and we have been working 
across the region to inform, illuminate, educate, host 
governments on the risks to their sovereignty, risk to their 
    When they have these untrusted vendors in their national 
networks they have basically given a backdoor to the Chinese 
Government and there is data theft and so forth.
    We have had successes and yes, there are, clearly, 
countries that have already bought into Huawei. I remember a 
couple of years ago this same sort of fight argumentation with 
the U.K., this belief they had at that time that they could 
firewall things, and I think people have begun to understand 
this risk.
    It is an ongoing effort for us diplomatically. I will look 
into this issue of the PEACE cable and how we are constructing 
our approach on that, but we have been very focused on it as 
concerns the national telecoms.
    Senator Hagerty. One thing I would urge you to take a look 
into is the previous Administration's work on the SMW6 cable 
stretching from Singapore to Marseille. There was a tremendous 
amount of work that went into dealing with this exact concern 
on that undersea cable.
    I would just highlight for my colleagues, too, the CCP has 
the articulated goal of controlling 60 percent of the fiber 
optic cable market by 2025. That is 3 years from now. They are 
going to control it with their own technology, with 
technologies that we know we should be deeply concerned about.
    I would very much appreciate your digging into that, 
Secretary Leaf, and to have a further conversation about that 
as you learn more and, again, look at the example of SMW6 as, 
perhaps, a way that the Administration might choose to deal 
with this.
    Ambassador Leaf. I will do so.
    Senator Hagerty. Let me turn next to the strategic 
cooperation agreement between Iran and China that was signed in 
March of 2021. It is coming to fruition now.
    Iran has increasingly turned its sights toward China in 
search of diplomatic, economic, and technological support, and 
this agreement reportedly includes economic, military, and 
cybersecurity cooperation.
    According to the New York Times, the agreement calls for 
joint training and exercises, joint research and weapons 
development and intelligence sharing, all of this to fight the 
lopsided battle with terrorism, drug and human trafficking, and 
cross border crimes.
    The deepening cooperation between these two authoritarian 
regimes, potentially, gives China a significant foothold in the 
Middle East.
    Secretary Leaf, do you agree that this sort of long-term 
strategic agreement that China struck with Iran poses a 
significant threat for the United States and our national 
security interest?
    Again, I would like to get your thoughts on what we might 
do to counter that threat.
    Ambassador Leaf. Most certainly this is a very unwelcome 
turn of events. It is not surprising entirely. The regime in 
Tehran is itself so supremely isolated, and not just because of 
our sanctions. It is isolated because of its own actions, its 
own predatory destructive behavior within its near abroad as 
well as the larger region.
    Members of the regime have long sort of flirted with the 
idea that simply turning east, as it were, would allow them to 
evade all these problems. That is the logic of the engagement 
and for China, of course, China takes an approach--it has, I 
think, five such strategic partnerships and obviously to the 
degree to which Tehran feels it has this anchor in a great 
power does not bode well.
    It is certainly an issue of concern and what we have to do 
is, again, the hard diplomatic work, the defense work, the 
security cooperation, intel cooperation, with all of those 
    Not just the Gulf countries. I mean, this was the logic of 
the President's visit, going to Israel, meeting with the GCC 
plus Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, really demonstrating, again, U.S. 
leadership and a sort of affirmative and collaborative 
leadership with these countries on the range of issues.
    It does illuminate rather starkly the way China goes about 
its business in the region and it is not to the region's good.
    Senator Hagerty. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    Senator Murphy. Thank you.
    Senator Young. Or, actually, Senator Shaheen. I guess we 
have a second round.
    Senator Shaheen. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I will be quick 
and, actually, my question is really off the topic.
    I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity since 
you are before us to ask you about what is happening in Iraq 
and the unrest there and what we are doing to try and help 
stabilize that situation.
    Ambassador Leaf. Iraq is a consuming issue of concern for 
us. We, in the Department of State, at the National Security 
Council, Department of Defense, are in constant engagement with 
Iraqi leaders.
    I was on the phone yesterday with our ambassador in 
Baghdad, and we are taking in one sense and against the 
abjuring--sort of the invitations of various leaders for us to 
get into the fray and for us to sort things out and for us to 
put the thumb on the scale in this standoff over government 
formation, and that is not something we are going to do.
    At the same time, we are really leveraging relationships 
and providing good counsel and, above all, counseling these 
blocs. The Kurds are in an impasse, as you know, which is part 
of the whole puzzle. Then you have got a standoff between Sadr 
and the framework--the coordinating framework.
    What we want to see, above all, is no resort to violence 
and there was a very tricky 48-hour period there. We are 
messaging aggressively. I will go out there probably in 
September to do some more work.
    It is an issue. It is a set of issues of consuming interest 
to us and we want to do the kind of engagement that puts the 
responsibility squarely on Iraqi shoulders to manage and to 
make decisions.
    Senator Shaheen. I certainly agree with that. Obviously, 
this is a country where America has spent a lot of blood and 
treasure and I think there are a lot of people in this country 
who care very deeply about what happens in Iraq, and I am glad 
to hear that we are engaged.
    Ambassador Leaf. This Administration is populated with 
people who served in Iraq--I certainly did--and who retained a 
very strong visceral connection to the country, but also it is 
a national security must. It is a keystone country for the 
    Senator Shaheen. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    Senator Murphy. Senator Young.
    Senator Young. Assistant Secretary, I want to ask you a few 
questions about China basing in the Gulf region.
    Last year, there were reports well-publicized that China 
was constructing military basing infrastructure at a port site 
in the UAE.
    What is, for starters, the status of that project, please?
    Ambassador Leaf. This is an issue that I would love to come 
back to in a classified setting. What I will say is Beijing has 
made clear that it has a global--a plan for a global set of 
military installations. Obviously, Djibouti was its first such 
    We are keeping a very close eye on this, not only in the 
UAE, but elsewhere and this is a kind of issue where we are 
very clear with our partners that economic relationships are 
one thing, buying defense articles is another thing, but they 
will quickly run up against the bilateral defense relationship 
    Senator Young. Right.
    Ambassador Leaf. --in a certain direction.
    Senator Young. Good. That seems like a pretty direct 
    Ambassador Leaf. It is.
    Senator Young. --and I think it is the one that needs to be 
sent. Has the Administration received assurances from the UAE 
authorities that they have ordered China to permanently halt 
port base construction?
    Ambassador Leaf. All I can say in this setting is that we 
are making headway on our discussion. I will be happy to come 
back and brief you in detail.
    Senator Young. Sure. What about civilian Chinese 
infrastructure projects in the UAE and the broader Gulf region? 
Do you have concerns that those could be cover for Chinese 
military and security services presence across the region?
    Ambassador Leaf. Yes.
    Senator Young. If you could speak to that.
    Ambassador Leaf. Yes, I do, in the sense that, as I said 
earlier, these--whether it is a part or in whole purchase, 
investment, et cetera, it offers an inroad, and by Chinese law 
you must offer potential use by Chinese intelligence and 
    Senator Young. Are there particular projects that you could 
point to that are especially concerning or that you are 
    Ambassador Leaf. Not for the moment. Not for the moment.
    Senator Young. Okay. The Wall Street Journal recently 
reported that China has sought to establish a military presence 
along the African coast.
    In Equatorial Guinea, for example, the effort was only 
rebuffed at the urging of U.S. officials. Given its Atlantic 
coast and its role as both a geographic and economic gateway to 
both European and African markets, do you anticipate attempts 
from Beijing to do the same in Morocco?
    Ambassador Leaf. We are watching all of these locations 
very closely and we are engaging with governments.
    As far as Equatorial Guinea, we made very clear to the 
government that certain potential steps would raise national 
security concerns and that is the kind of dialogue we are ready 
to jump into with any of these countries.
    Senator Young. Okay. I have got about 80 seconds left and I 
am going to stay under the time threshold here.
    Every plebe at the Naval Academy, one of the first things 
you learn are the various choke points around the world, right, 
and the Suez Canal for generations has been really vital to our 
national security and economic security and that of so many 
    Events there in 2021 illustrate that it can also be an 
Achilles' heel, right? In the event of a serious disruption 
like we have recently seen to the Suez Canal, what other fail-
safes exist to mitigate risk to the global supply chain?
    Ambassador Leaf. Okay. I am going to have to take that one 
back for some scrutiny because if you are talking about 
blockage of the Suez Canal, I mean, obviously, the Department 
of Defense has many tools at its disposal. In fact, the 
Department and others were involved in unblocking the canal, 
but I am----
    Senator Young. I bring it up in this context because it is 
important to China's trade routes in Europe and Africa. That is 
kind of the thematic nexus, but yes, that is fine.
    Thank you.
    Senator Murphy. Senator Hagerty, a second round?
    Two final questions while we have you before the committee, 
just two non-China-related questions for the record.
    Can you give us an update on the status of proximity talks 
with Iran relative to the JCPOA? I know we talked about it in 
the context of China's role, but I think it would be good for 
the committee to get an update on where those discussions 
stand, more broadly.
    Ambassador Leaf. Yes. As you may have seen, Special Envoy 
Malley is in Vienna. He has gone forward for--at the invitation 
of High Representative Borrell who has put a package out that 
is, largely, the package that we last saw in March, so Robert 
is going to go forward to hear where the Iranians come out on 
    We are where we have been for some months. We are not 
interested in discussing extraneous issues, which the Iranians 
keep trying to introduce into the discussion. We will have a 
better sense over the next day or so where things come out, and 
I am sure Rob would be more than happy to come up and give you 
a briefing.
    Senator Murphy. Lastly, news came out yesterday that OPEC+ 
approved a pretty meager increase in oil production. They had 
announced earlier that they would be increasing production by 
650,000 barrels a day.
    Yesterday, they announced that that increase for September 
would only be 100,000 barrels, and most global oil and energy 
economists suggest that that simply will not move the needle on 
global prices.
    What do you make of that announcement?
    Ambassador Leaf. Senator, I know this is an ongoing 
discussion between members of the Administration and members of 
OPEC. This is, I think, a first bite at the apple, but more--
these discussions will continue.
    I know there are--some of the states have said that they 
are up against--they are running out of headroom in terms of 
further production. It is an ongoing discussion.
    Senator Murphy. Okay. Thank you very much for your time 
    We are going to keep the record open for members to submit 
questions for the record until close of business 5 o'clock 
    With that, we thank you for your time and this hearing is 
    [Whereupon, at 11:37 a.m., the hearing was adjourned.]

              Additional Material Submitted for the Record

         Responses of Ambassador Barbara A. Leaf to Questions 
                    Submitted by Senator Todd Young

    Question. Can you update the committee on the current status of 
China's purchases of Iranian crude oil, including historic purchasing 

    Answer. The People's Republic of China (PRC) has reportedly 
purchased an average of 600,000-800,000 barrels of oil per day from 
Iran over the last 12 months, in contravention of U.S. sanctions. 
Absent a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA, we will 
continue to enforce sanctions on imports of Iranian oil, petroleum 
products, and petrochemical products.
    We have issued three rounds of designations this year enforcing 
sanctions on PRC companies using illicit means to buy Iranian oil. On 
August 1, the Treasury and State Departments designated entities 
facilitating illicit transactions related to Iranian petroleum and 
petrochemical products, including several PRC entities.

         Responses of Ambassador Barbara A. Leaf to Questions 
                 Submitted by Senator Chris Van Hollen

    Question. Chinese Health Diplomacy in the Middle East: I chair the 
SFRC subcommittee that oversees global health policy. When we talk 
about strategic competition with China, it's often repeated that while 
China may make news funding infrastructure mega-projects, if you go to 
the schools and hospitals in the places where China is building these 
projects, what you'll see is that its U.S. foreign assistance 
supporting the actual needs of the people who live there. But we're 
seeing signs of China venturing into those areas as well and attempting 
to establish itself as a leader in global health. Chinese health 
diplomacy, the so-called ``Health Silk Road,'' is particularly evident 
in the MENA region, where the UAE and Bahrain were early to approve a 
Chinese coronavirus vaccine; and where Turkey, Iran, and Morocco are 
among the top recipients of the vaccine.
    What are you seeing on the ground in terms of Chinese health 
diplomacy, and has that impacted U.S. efforts to meet health needs in 
the region?

    Answer. The United States has donated more than 38 million COVID-19 
vaccine doses across the Middle East and North Africa--the vast 
majority provided multilaterally through COVAX. In contrast, the 
People's Republic of China (PRC) has donated only 14 million doses of 
Sinopharm and Sinovac to the region, while selling over 180 million 
vaccine doses through bilateral sale agreements, primarily to Iran and 
Morocco. Our mRNA vaccines have been and remain the most desired in the 
region, with some countries even boosting with our mRNA vaccines after 
initial vaccination with PRC-developed vaccines.
    To date, we have not seen so-called ``Health Silk Road'' 
initiatives making a substantive impact on sustained U.S. health 
diplomacy efforts to meet the region's needs.

    Question. Chinese Investment in Iraq: In January, Beijing announced 
a major initiative to build schools, homes, and health care centers in 
Iraq, including building at least 7,000 schools out of the 8,000-12,000 
Baghdad estimates are needed to meet the country's needs. The U.S. has 
provided $3 billion in humanitarian assistance to Iraq since 2014, 
according to USAID.
    What does this major visible investment by China in Iraq signal 
about their broader bilateral relationship? What impact does that have 
on U.S. interests in Iraq, and what we can do about it?

    Answer. The U.S. partnership with Iraq remains strong. The People's 
Republic of China's (PRC) investment in Iraq has not had a substantive 
impact on the core security and political foundations of the U.S.-Iraqi 
partnership. The Iraqi Government awarded two PRC-affiliated firms a 
contract to build 8,000 schools as part of an oil-for-projects 
agreement, with 1,000 schools to be constructed in 2022, according to 
media reports. The United States recognizes Iraq's right to pursue 
cooperation with international partners to advance its development 
goals. We also encourage Iraqi partners to carefully and critically 
choose development solutions that will bring real benefits to the Iraqi 
people and help secure Iraq's sovereignty. We continue to engage the 
Iraqis to ensure a climate conducive to competitive international 
investment, including in the development of Iraq's energy sector. U.S. 
companies play a major role in Iraq's energy sector, and we want to see 
that continue.
    In contrast with the United States, the PRC leverages its economic 
investment to suppress criticism and to coerce countries into aligning 
with the PRC while ignoring issues of security and regional stability. 
For example, the PRC vetoed UNSC Resolutions on cross-border aid three 
times in 2020 and 2021--threatening humanitarian aid to millions of 
Syrians in need--while offering solace and protection to the Assad 

    Question. Huawei: I have significant concerns with the dominance of 
Huawei in the Middle East. The Administration has recently taken steps 
to facilitate U.S. involvement in building out 5G and 6G networks in 
the region, but more must be done.
    What more can we do now to facilitate the expansion of U.S. 
telecoms in the Middle East, and what changes, if any, should Congress 
consider in the future to put us in a more competitive position?

    Answer. In response to our concerns about the inherent risks of 
using untrusted vendors associated with the People's Republic of China, 
we are pursuing support for alternative approaches to wireless network 
infrastructure, such as Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN), which 
can offer lower capital and operating costs, increase supplier 
diversity, and prevent vendor lock-in. We are raising awareness about 
these opportunities through diplomatic engagement and technical 
assistance programs. We are encouraging the U.S. International 
Development Finance Corporation and other potential partners to pursue 
funding for critical telecommunications infrastructure for countries 
that cannot afford trusted alternatives but seek to replace or upgrade 
their network through a trusted supplier.

    Question. What is the Department doing to convey the risks of doing 
business with Huawei to our allies and partners in the region?

    Answer. We have consistently engaged our partners in the Middle 
East and North Africa (MENA) about the inherent risks of using 
untrusted vendors associated with the People's Republic of China (PRC) 
to build out any aspect of their telecom infrastructure or other 
information networks. We have presented our deep concerns at every 
level of government. Our persistent engagement has deterred billions of 
dollars of investment from partners in the region to PRC tech firms--
including Huawei, ZTE, and others. We fully intend to sustain regular 
engagement with MENA partners on this important challenge and offer 
alternatives wherever possible.