Lebanon looks to China as US, Arabs refuse to help in crisis

BEIRUT (AP) – Facing a worsening economic crisis and with little chance of Western or oil-rich Arab countries providing assistance without substantial reforms, Lebanon’s cash-strapped government is looking east, hoping to secure investments from China that could bring relief.

But help from Beijing risks alienating the United States (US), which has suggested such a move could come at the cost of Lebanese-US ties.

A tiny nation of five million on a strategic Mediterranean crossroads between Asia and Europe, Lebanon has long been a site where rivalries between Iran and Saudi Arabia have played out. Now, it’s becoming a focus of escalating tensions between China and the West.

In recent months, the Lebanese pound has lost around 80 per cent of its value against the dollar, prices have soared uncontrollably, and much of its middle class has been plunged into poverty.

Talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout have faltered, and international donors have refused to unlock USD11 billion pledged in 2018, pending major economic reforms and anti-corruption measures. Left with few choices, Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government – supported by the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies – is seeking help from China, an approach that the militant group strongly supports.

He is walking a tightrope.

“Our move toward China is very serious but we are not turning our back to the West,” a ministerial official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to talk to the media. “We are passing through extraordinary circumstances and we welcome whoever is going to assist us.”

A general view of containers piled up at one of Beirut’s seaport terminal. PHOTO: AP