During the TOChina Summer School 2023, Professor Shi Gangzheng of Tsinghua University analyzed the development and continuity of Chinese policy in the Middle East. After taking a historical overview, I explained the reasons behind Beijing’s growing interest in the region, primarily the Belt and Road Initiative
China’s impressive success in brokering the restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March, along with the Islamic Republic’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, has drawn attention to China’s growing influence in the Middle East, raising fears that this region It could become a new area. The battlefield between China and the United States.
These themes and the dynamics of Sino-Middle Eastern relations were at the heart of the concluding lesson for the seventeenth edition of the book. TOChina Summer School held b Hey GangzhengAssociate Professor at Tsinghua University. It studied the historical development of the People’s Republic’s approach towards the countries of the Middle East and its effects on the current global scene.
Going back to the Cold War, I made it clear that China’s foreign policy toward the Middle East has changed dramatically over the past 80 years. However, the professor emphasized that there are also important elements of continuity, as it has always been subordinate to the internal and global priorities of the organization. The grand strategy Beijing.
In the 1960s, China adopted the “two-fisted fighting” approach, aiming to counter both the United States and the Soviet Union. But this strategy failed miserably in the Middle East, because in the logic of the Cold War, no country in the region was prepared to anger the great powers.
Later, Beijing joined Washington in an anti-Soviet context in the 1970s. As a result, China sought to normalize its relations with all Middle Eastern countries hostile to Soviet expansionism, including Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, regardless of their political and ideological leanings. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic focused on domestic economic development. Therefore, Chinese foreign policy, at the global and regional levels, has favored trade and economic cooperation while trying to minimize any political differences.
It was in this context that the Belt and Road Initiative was announced in 2013. For the professor, this global initiative was initially purely economic in nature, mainly aimed at promoting Chinese exports to new markets in Europe and securing primary resource supplies from “Africa”. Three ways were considered to connect China to these continents: a northern route through Russia using the Trans-Siberian Railway, a southern line through the Indian Ocean, and a central route through the Middle East. Although the latter “central corridor” initially did not receive much attention due to the conflicts in the region, it is now considered the most promising given the uncertainty in Sino-Russian relations after the invasion of Ukraine, and the danger of the southern route being closed. from India.
These geographical considerations, along with the region’s importance to energy security and the growth of Chinese investment, have aroused a strong interest on the part of Beijing in promoting stability in the Middle East. This has led to a hypothesis among many experts that China may decide to get involved militarily in the region. Although she does not rule out this possibility, she does not believe that China is not inclined to adopt a “Western” approach, but rather seems willing to create a new regional security architecture led by local actors and based on reconciliation.
Moreover, the professor says, Beijing would like to maintain a certain distance to maintain a large margin of maneuver and avoid being drawn into unwanted conflicts. Sending troops would also cause great damage to the country’s reputation as it violates the principle of non-interference that Beijing has long advocated.
Returning to the story, she says that in the context of the growing rivalry between the United States and China, the lessons of the Cold War are particularly useful for analyzing the current dynamics of Sino-Middle Eastern relations. The countries of the region, especially those belonging to the Gulf Cooperation Council, are fully aware of their means and have become more proactive and independent in directing their foreign policies towards Beijing, even in the face of pressure from America’s historical ally.
According to the professor, the push towards greater autonomy by regional actors has been facilitated with the advent of the digital age. Recent developments in military technology have allowed Middle Eastern governments to purchase American tanks and aircraft to strengthen their alliances with Washington, while buying Chinese drones that have proven to be cheaper and more effective in addressing the security challenges they face. She used this example of complementarity to argue that the foreign policies of China and the United States do not present serious contradictions outside the Indo-Pacific region.
All of this illustrates how Middle Eastern states, in contrast to the “old” Cold War in which military relations with a superpower represented adherence to a particular ideological camp, now have a greater ability to pursue their national interests and diversify their strategic relationships. According to Xi, regional dynamics in the future will be largely driven by regional powers and the interactions among them. If this trend continues, we could see the emergence of a new “middle ground” (a concept he pioneered). Mao Zedong to describe regions of the world that are intermediate between the spheres of influence of the great powers). In such areas, China, the United States and other major powers may compete not militarily, but in providing support for their security and economic opportunities.
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