The “Silk Road” and the “Maritime Silk Road”—stretching from China to the Mediterranean Sea—connected China to the outside world and facilitated trans-regional trade and cultural exchange for centuries.
In September 2013 President Xi Jinping recalled this history in a speech at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan by proposing the creation of a New Silk Road Economic Belt stretching from western China across Central Asia. A few weeks later, in his address to Indonesia’s parliament, Xi called for the development of a Maritime Silk Road aimed at expanding maritime connections and cooperation between China and Southeast Asia.
“All About China” is a journey into the history and diverse culture of China through essays that shed light on the lasting imprint of China’s past encounters with the Islamic world as well as an exploration of the increasingly vibrant and complex dynamics of contemporary Sino-Middle Eastern relations.
March 3, 2015
China, Islam, and New Visions of the Old World
Robert R. Bianchi
China is steadily reshaping the world’s political and economic landscape by connecting Europe and the Pacific through a series of transcontinental and transoceanic networks that will run across the major Islamic countries of Asia and Africa. The slogan that Beijing uses to promote these projects—“One Belt, One Road”—is a shorthand reference to the Silk Road Economic Belt (the overland routes through Central Asia and the Middle East) and the Maritime Silk Road (the sea lanes joining the Pacific and Indian Oceans with the Mediterranean). In fact, even these grandiose labels understate the true magnitude of China’s ambitions; the total number of planned mega-networks is not two, but seven—and still counting.
March 5, 2015
Feasts of the Sacrifice: Ritual Slaughter in Late Imperial and 20th-Century China
Tristan G. Mahfouz-Brown
Muslims in imperial China did not necessarily have to worship at the altars of Chinese gods to exert their identities as upstanding local inhabitants, obedient subjects, or agreeable neighbors. As any child brought up on the story of God’s sparing of Ibrahim’s son knows, followers of any god who pulls his weight in this world or the next are sometimes in need of a lamb or two ...
March 11, 2015
China’s Soft Military Presence in the Middle East
As a result of the growth of its comprehensive power, China today has two frontiers. One is the natural frontier of its sovereign territory; the other is an artificial frontier created by its overseas interests. By deploying a “soft” military presence overseas, specifically in the Middle East, China can protect its commercial interests while also providing public goods for the international community and minimizing the risk of damage to multilateral relations.
March 13, 2015
When Islam was an Ally: China’s Changing Concepts of Islamic State and Islamic World
John T. Chen
For many at present, the phrase “China and Islam” connotes conflict and oppression. This is due to a preponderant focus on the security situation in the Muslim-majority northwestern province of Xinjiang. Chinese policies in Xinjiang—particularly restrictions placed on Xinjiang’s Turkic Uighurs regarding beards, veils, and fasting during Ramadan—have been perceived as targeting Muslims as Muslims, exacerbating the security concerns they were meant to address. Moreover, the pursuit of stability in Xinjiang has led the Chinese government to adopt an anti-terrorism rhetoric reminiscent of its American counterpart.
March 17, 2015
The GCC States and the Viability of a Strategic Military Partnership with China
The term “strategic partnership” has been increasingly used in GCC circles to signify that relations with China are important and worthy of long-term investment. In a March 14, 2014 speech during his visit to Beijing, Saudi Arabia’s then Crown Prince Salman announced that “we are witnessing the transformation of the relationship with China to one of strategic partnership with broad dimensions, to the benefit of both our countries.” Saudi Arabia’s position was echoed by the emir of Qatar during a 2014 visit to China in which issues of common concern to all GCC states, especially combating terrorism, were discussed. Abdel-Aziz Aluwaisheg, GCC general assistant secretary for negotiations and strategic dialogue, has also noted that there is growing interest in the Gulf to develop a “strategic dialogue” with China.
March 19, 2015
China and the UAE: New Cultural Horizons
Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat
Historically, promoting dialogue between people of different nations has been a way to build bridges of understanding between countries. For example, since 1946, the U.S. Fulbright Exchange has served to strengthen relations between the United States and other countries. Similarly, as the partnership between China and the UAE has grown significantly in recent years, both governments have come to recognize the importance of overcoming linguistic-cultural barriers. They have therefore worked cooperatively to increase the number of Emirati and Chinese professionals who are acquainted with each other’s societal norms and customs, methods of performing business, and national and institutional interests.
March 27, 2015
Among Old Friends: A History of the Palestinian Community in China
Mohammed Turki Al-Sudairi
Following the Bandung Conference in 1955, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) espoused―in an unusual contrast with other major powers of the “socialist” and “nonaligned” camps―a pro-Palestinian stance in its foreign policy toward the Middle East. This did not entail, however, any direct contact with the Palestinians, a development that did not appear until the mid-1960s emergence of a more autonomous and coherent Palestinian national movement embodied in the PLO. Contact prior to the establishment of formal channels of communication took place through a number of unofficial and semi-official conduits, ranging from the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), the Chinese embassies in Egypt and South Yemen after 1967, and the “underground” Communist networks (mainly Iraqi, Sudanese, and Yemeni) to such bodies as the Chinese Committee for Afro-Asian Solidarity and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. These contacts enabled the PRC to eventually extend formal diplomatic recognition of the PLO in 1964, making it the first non-Arab country to do so.
April 2, 2015
Mosques and Islamic Identities in China
Lawrence E. Butler
The great trading routes connecting medieval Eurasia by land and sea brought Islam, like Buddhism centuries earlier, to China. Somewhere between 20 and 40 million Muslims—reliable data remains elusive—now live in China. They acknowledge a variety of official and unofficial ethnic identities due to the diverse origins of Islam in China as well as the complexities of modern Chinese ethnic policies. The architecture of China’s mosques, both historic and modern, reflects this diversity. This essay examines the development of mosque architecture in southern China, in the old central capitals, and in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region from earliest times up to the present. In the twenty-first century, modern construction techniques allow patrons to choose from a variety of styles and materials as they design mosques to reflect a particular version of Islamic identity.
April 8, 2015
Searching for Continuity in Sino-Arab Relations
Too often, historians of Sino-Arab relations do not engage in a meaningful dialogue with the political scientists, economists, and anthropologists who are the most vocal commentators on China’s increasing role in the region. Today’s China, with its growing wealth and unprecedented ability to project political and economic power abroad, may appear at first glance to bear little resemblance to the China of the 1950s, when the Communist government of Mao Zedong was reaching out for the first time to the other countries of the developing world. Nevertheless, one can identify several continuities that have long informed China’s interactions with the Arab world. First, Beijing insists that its foreign policy is based on the same ironclad commitment to nonintervention in the affairs of other sovereign countries that it articulated in the 1950s. Second, China has long held special meaning for Arab politicians and intellectuals who wish to use the example of China to promote authoritarian order in their own societies. Finally, the Chinese government has relied on Chinese Muslims to mediate its relations with other Islamic countries for nearly a century. It is only by recognizing these longstanding hallmarks of Sino-Arab relations that commentators can fully appreciate the complexities of China’s interactions with the Arab world in the twenty-first century.
April 14, 2015
The Middle East in China’s Silk Road Visions: Business as Usual?
I-wei Jennifer Chang
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2013 proclamation of the Silk Road Economic Belt (“One Belt, One Road”) and Twenty-First Century Maritime Silk Road initiatives provided an overarching framework for understanding China’s strategic priorities over the coming decade. The land-based and sea-based Silk Roads will link Asia and Europe via the Middle East and Central Asia through a series of transcontinental railroads, pipelines, ports, airports, and other infrastructure projects.
April 21, 2015
Na Zhong: The Complex Perspective of a Patriotic Muslim Scholar
When Na Zhong, Professor of Arabic at Beijing Foreign Studies University, passed away in 2008, his funeral at the headquarters of China’s Islamic Association was attended by many notable Muslims and scholars of Islam. Biographies and reminiscences characterize him as both an accomplished Muslim scholar and a Chinese patriot. Indeed, Na Zhong’s accomplishments are impressive. He was among the founders of Arabic programs at National Central University (later Nanjing University), Yunnan University, and Foreign Affairs University (which later merged with Beijing Foreign Studies University). During his lifetime, he published dozens of volumes of original and translated works on Islamic civilization, the history of the Arab world, and the Arabic language. He was also patriotic, participating in many activities seen as advancing Chinese national interests in the Islamic world.
April 28, 2015
Bringing China and Islam Closer: The First Chinese Azharites
In the 1930s, several groups of Muslim students from China arrived to study at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. They were destined to play an important role in the history of modern Chinese Islam. These 35 Chinese Azharites, all but two from the Sinophone Hui community, helped China to establish lasting links with Egypt and other Muslim countries in the Middle East. They also left a considerable cultural legacy, including translations of crucial texts from both the Islamic and Chinese traditions.
May 1, 2015
Islamic Calligraphy in China: Images and Histories
Given the prominence of calligraphy in the traditional arts of both the Islamic world and China, it is only natural that Islamic calligraphy plays an important cultural role in Chinese Muslim communities. The art form’s survival over the centuries in China, even during prolonged periods of isolation from the rest of the Islamic world, reflects the strength of Chinese Muslims’ religious traditions, as well as the critical function of the written word within these traditions.
May 6, 2015
Will China Interfere in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?
In June 1954, the leaders of China, India, and Burma (now Myanmar) issued a joint statement affirming the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence―mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence―as the basis for conducting international relations. Since then, China has adhered strictly to the principle of non-interference in other countries’ domestic turmoil, as displayed prominently over the past several years in Beijing’s response to the Syrian civil war.
May 20, 2015
The “One Belt, One Road” Strategy and China’s Energy Policy in the Middle East
The genesis of the “One Belt, One Road” strategy—also known as the Belt and Road Initiative—can be traced to three noteworthy public events that occurred in rapid succession in the latter part of 2013. On September 7, in a speech delivered at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed building the Silk Road Economic Belt. Addressing the Indonesian parliament on October 3, he recommended that China and Southeast Asian countries work together to revive the Maritime Silk Road. On October 24-25, at a work forum on “periphery diplomacy” held by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing, Xi stressed that China is committed to forging amicable and mutually beneficial relations with its neighbors, such that they will benefit from Chinese development and China will benefit from a prosperous neighborhood. In this way, the president conceptually linked the notion of the “Chinese dream” to regional development. This conference marked the official birth of China’s “Silk Road strategy.”
June 5, 2015
Chinese Soft Power and Dubai’s Confucius Institute
The Confucius Institute of the University of Dubai is housed in a building named Masaood, a tall structure found off a dusty roundabout about two miles west of the airport. On the day I visit, the UAE is observing National Day, and near the building’s entrance Emirati flags wave in wind smelling of the grilled meat being served as part of a nearby celebration. Up on the fifth floor, where the Institute is housed, signage is in both Arabic and Chinese. Students learn various levels of Mandarin in pristine classrooms.
June 8, 2015
China’s Iran Bet
Jeffrey S. Payne
Iran offers a unique platform for China’s ambitions in the Middle East and so, Beijing is willing to bet that the benefits of closer ties with Tehran will outnumber the costs. This analysis examines the calculations China is making made regarding its relationship with Iran and argues that deepening bilateral ties reveal the centrality of Iran for China’s Middle East strategy.
July 15, 2015
From Nonintervention to What?: Analyzing the Change in China’s Middle East Policy
Though China still adheres to the principle of nonintervention, its unprecedented proactivity and break from its position to “pursue friendly, cooperative relations with all Middle Eastern countries” has already distinguished its behavior in the Syria crisis from its traditional stance.
August 5, 2015
Rising Chinese Waves in the UAE
Zongyuan (Zoe) Liu
The flow of oil and gas from the Persian Gulf to East Asia has rejuvenated the ancient Silk Road, refashioning new networks of collaboration. The energy trade―the backbone of Sino-Middle Eastern ties―has provided the foundation for an increasingly diversified and robust set of relationships between China and the Gulf monarchies. The multidimensional strategic partnership between China and the UAE, in particular, is illustrative of this broader pattern.
February 3, 2016
Fate of the Dragon in the Year of the Red Fire Monkey: China and the Middle East 2016
February 2016 marks the beginning of a new phase in the Chinese lunar calendar, drawing to a close a year marked by heightened risks and fortuitous gains in China’s efforts to secure its interests in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. This essay addresses three questions: How well has China adapted to the conflict and instability that have swept the region? And as we enter the Year of the Red Fire Monkey, what are the concerns that are likely to preoccupy Chinese leaders? What, if any, policy adjustments by Beijing, can realistically be expected in light of the current circumstances and uncertain prospects for the region and for China itself?
February 8, 2016
China and Iran: An Emerging Partnership
The Chinese aim to gradually grow with Iran a multi-dimensional partnership based on mutual understanding and trust, and see in Iran a potential power that could act as its partner in an Asian arena where many see China’s own rise as a threat.
February 9, 2016
Saudi Arabia and China: The Security Dimension
Joseph A. Kéchichian
Political and security ties between Saudi Arabia and China have developed far more slowly than have their economic relations. This essay explores the security dimension of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and China, to shed light on the question of why Sino-Saudi cooperation in the security sphere has been very limited.
February 16, 2016
The GCC and China’s Transformative Role in the Middle East
China is a major economic partner of the GCC countries. This essay discusses the size and scope of this economic relationship, and considers how these ties might evolve as China's ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR) and Maritime Silk Road (MRS) initiatives take shape.
April 6, 2016
Defying Expectations: China’s Iran Trade and Investments
This essay examines China-Iran trade relations, as well as Chinese investments in Iran. Particularly, it asks whether the Chinese-Iranian stated ambition to increase the value of bilateral trade to $600 billion within a decade is attainable. Additionally, it identifies the factors responsible for the trade deficit in Iran’s favor, and shows that the pace of China’s foreign direct investment (F.D.I) in Iran is slowing in spite of absolute increases.
August 9, 2016
China and the Jihadi Threat
Guy Burton This essay discusses China's responses to the jihadi threat. It shows that Chinese strategies have been influenced by whether the terrorist threat is perceived to be domestic or foreign. Internally, the Chinese approach has focused on protection and policing, resulting in confrontation with the Uighur minority in the far western province of Xinjiang. Externally, it has been less confrontational, with a preference for political and peace-building approaches.
August 11, 2016
The G.C.C. and China’s One Belt, One Road: Risk or Opportunity?
Jeffrey S. Payne
China's One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative does not provide an equal opportunity for all states, and, in the case of the Gulf, it is Iran that will likely benefit over all others. The states of the G.C.C. also factor into Beijing’s plan, just not to the same degree―and that is the problem. Yet, as this essay shows, using OBOR and existing comparative advantages will allow the states of the G.C.C. to balance Iran’s potential windfall.
November 10, 2016
Success of China’s Hui Muslims: Assimilation or Hyphenation
With the increased international media attention on the plight of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, Western news magazines have started to also focus on the Hui, or Chinese-speaking Muslims. Some of these accounts attribute the Hui's success to their assimilation into Han Chinese culture and society. This essay refutes this argument by highlighting the differences between the manner in which Uyghurs and Hui were incorporated into the Chinese state.
January 19, 2017
China’s Muslim Communities: ‘Under Maintenance’?
In incorporating Muslim minorities into the nation-state, Chinese policymakers have faced two sets of challenges: The first involves balancing ethno-religious diversity and national integration; and the second entails fostering enhanced connectivity to the outside world while at the same time consolidating CCP-state control over the public sphere. This essay examines the Chinese government's recent and current struggles to address these challenges.
August 1, 2017
The Rhetoric of “Civilization” in Chinese–Egyptian Relations
Chinese authorities have a long history of trying to highlight their historical heritage in their interactions with other countries. Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in China’s relations with Egypt, another country that can claim descent from ancient heritage. Chinese and Egyptian leaders speak to each other not merely on behalf of their own governments, but also as the representatives of grand civilizations stretching millennia into the past. By tracing how Chinese and Egyptian thinkers and policymakers have discussed one another’s claims about their connections to ancient civilizations since the early twentieth century, it is possible to understand in greater detail the evolution of the rhetoric that facilitates Sino–Egyptian relations.
October 17, 2017
The G.C.C. Countries and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): Curbing Their Enthusiasm?
Chinese leaders emphasize that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is focused on developing connectivity through inclusive cooperation. Yet, certain BRI projects have potential strategic outcomes that can affect regional power dynamics. Thus, States that might otherwise be inclined to cooperate with China on the BRI could perceive elements of the initiative to run counter to their interests. This essay shows that, in considering the BRI, the leaders of the Gulf Arab countries have to balance their increasingly important relationship with China against the ways this initiative empowers rivals or threatens their relations with important external powers.
October 31, 2017
Sino-Algerian Relations: On a Path to Realizing Their Full Potential?
China’s footprint in Algeria has expanded since 2001, much as it has throughout the Middle East and the continent of Africa. In 2014, the Sino-Algerian bilateral relationship was elevated to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” and since then has further developed. This essay discusses the roots, substance and scope, and limitations of the blossoming Sino-Algerian relationship.
February 20, 2018
China, Jerusalem and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
On the surface, the Chinese reaction to the US decision to effectively recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was clear. Following President Trump’s announcement to transfer the US embassy to the Holy City on December 6, 2017. Several days later, China voted with every other member on the UN Security Council (UNSC) to uphold the international consensus and previous UN decisions on Jerusalem. By going against world opinion, the US arguably looked out of step in relation to the conflict. By contrast, China’s alignment with international public opinion gave it the aura of a potential mediator. This essay considers whether Beijing has the political will and capacity to make a significant positive impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
March 27, 2018
The Dilemma of the “Halalification” (清真乏化) of Chinese Food
Hacer Z. Gonul and Julius Maximilian Rogenhofer
This article explores Chinese eagerness to join and dominate the global Halal market via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Secondly, it examines why the state selected the Hui Muslims of Ningxia to lead Sino-Muslim world trade, rather than the larger community of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. This section introduces model minority theory to assess Chinese government policy. Third, the article assesses the potential conflict between the Chinese export strategy with growing domestic resentment toward increasingly visible Halal segregation.
April 10, 2018
Middle Eastern Students and Young Professionals in China: A Mutual Investment in the Future
This article, based on personal interviews and conversations conducted in China with 14 men and women in their 20s and 30s from across the Middle East, is intended to shed light on a phenomenon that the author observed while living in China, namely the increasing number of young Middle Easterners who are relocating there in order to obtain academic and professional credentials and experience.
April 17, 2018
China and the Middle East: Growing Influence and Divergent Goals
This essay looks back at 2017, an eventful year, to see how China’s engagement with the Middle East has evolved. In particular, the essay draws upon the work done by the ChinaMed research team on the media and academic articles published over the year by Chinese and Middle Eastern commentators and experts.
May 8, 2018
China’s Approach to Mediation in the Middle East: Between Conflict Resolution and Conflict Management
Mediation diplomacy has emerged as one of the central pillars of China’s foreign policy objectives and practice, with Beijing deliberately positioning itself as a peacemaker in the Middle East conflicts and crises in the region (e.g., Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process). This article examines whether China's mediation diplomacy in the Middle East is a precursor of change in China’s interpretation and application of the principle of non-intervention.
May 15, 2018
Sino-Israeli Security Relations: In America’s Shadow
Much has been written about the Sino-Israeli relationship, mainly regarding political and economic ties. However, the security dimension of the relationship has received comparatively less attention. This article discusses Sino-Israeli security relations in an effort to shed light on their roots, substance and prospects despite Israel’s commitment to its relations with the United States.
December 11, 2018
Middle East Public Opinion toward China
China’s footprint in the Middle East has grown significantly over the past two decades. China’s widening and deepening relations with the region has coincided with a change in the international environment. China’s increasingly extensive diplomatic, commercial and cultural activities in the Middle East has drawn this distant and unfamiliar country into the daily lives of the people of the region to a degree that is unprecedented and likely irreversible. This, then, begs the question: What views do the people of the Middle East hold regarding this rising global power and relative “newcomer” to the region? Drawing on Zogby/University of Maryland and Pew Research Center survey data, this article offers some preliminary observations that address this question.
January 22, 2019
Arab Gulf states silent on China’s Xinjiang crackdown
This article explores the dynamic between China and the Arab Gulf states on the issue of China’s crackdown on Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang Province. Unlike other cases of repression against Muslims around the world, such as Myanmar, the Gulf monarchies have been silent about the situation in Xinjiang. The article argues that this stance is linked to growing GCC-China economic interdependence, question marks over American policy in the Trump era, and reciprocation of China’s foreign policy of “non-interference.”
March 12, 2019
The Belt and Road Initiative in the Gulf: Building “Oil Roads” to Prosperity
Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat
The Gulf, although not directly included in the official map of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is one of the main regions where it is being implemented. On the occasion of President Xi Jinping’s speech at the 6th Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in June 2014, he declared the regional countries as being “natural cooperative partners in jointly building the BRI.” Since then, Chinese state and private firms, banks, and financial institutions have embarked on efforts to advance the BRI in the region. This article discusses the implementation of the BRI in the Gulf energy sector.
May 21, 2019
Intersections: China and the US in the Middle East
China’s inroads into the Gulf and wider Middle East are occurring against the backdrop of intensifying global strategic competition with the United States. Does China’s expanding footprint in the Gulf constitute an additional source of contention in an increasingly rivalrous relationship with the United States? This article, published in biweekly installments, looks briefly at three instances where Chinese activities in the Gulf intersect and potentially clash with US interests and policies. Part 1 discusses China’s role as Iran’s “limited partner” in a constrained environment. Part 2 examines China as Saudi Arabia’s next best friend.
July 9, 2019
China and Syria: In War and Reconstruction
Traditionally, Syria has not been a strategic priority for China. Nor is it today. However, this does not mean that Beijing has been indifferent to the wide-ranging adverse effects of Syria’s disastrous civil war or to the opportunities that its postwar rebuilding might present. China’s Syria policy derives from its broader security and economic interests in the region. Accordingly, China’s two primary policy aims are 1) maintaining a constructive relationship with a government in Damascus that is stable, friendly, and capable of preventing the spread of transnational jihadist activity from its territory; and 2) developing an economic partnership that is compatible with and in furtherance of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This article examines how China has pursued these aims during the eight-year Syrian conflict.
September 24, 2019
The de-Islamification of Public Space and Sinicization of Ethnic Politics in Xi’s China
David S. Stroup
Over the past two years, local law enforcement in Hui communities throughout China have made efforts to remove Islamic identity from public spaces. This article shows that these restrictions are part of a broader centralizing effort by the Chinese party-state to emphasize conformity with a vision of Chineseness centered on Han culture, and scrutiny of those ethnic or religious practices that might be deemed “threatening.”
October 8, 2019
China-Iraq Relations: Poised for a “Quantum Leap”?
Upon arriving in Beijing on September 19 at the head of a 55-member delegation, Iraq Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi described the visit to China as heralding a “quantum leap” in bilateral relations. The five-day visit culminated in the signing of eight wide-ranging memoranda of understanding (MoUs), a framework credit agreement, and the announcement of plans for Iraq to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Since then, however, a wave of angry anti-government protests have swept across much of Iraq, leaving more than 100 dead and thousands wounded — a vivid reminder of the country’s ongoing struggle for stability and of the obstacles to the further consolidation of China-Iraq relations.
November 5, 2019
Transnational Shi’ism in Southern China and the Party-state’s “Hawza” Diplomacy
Mohammed Turki Al-Sudairi
This article seeks to transcend the Sunni-centered narratives that often inform the discussions on Islamicate interactions with China. Following a cursory historical view of Shi’ism’s influences on Chinese expressions of Islam, the article presents a rough sketch of the contemporary transnational Shi’ite communities that have emerged over the past few decades in southern China, most notably those of Guangzhou (Guangdong) and Yiwu (Zhejiang). It then considers the simultaneous and closely-linked phenomenon, dubbed “hawza diplomacy,” of the Chinese party-state’s growing engagement with the custodial authorities of the Shi’ite shrines of Iraq.
November 12, 2019
China’s Outbound Tourism as a Soft Power Tool in the Middle East
Over the past two decades, China has gradually incorporated the use of soft power into its foreign policy. China’s efforts to ramp up its soft power in the Middle East is part of a wider offensive to bolster trade and national security. This article discusses China’s use of tourism as an instrument of soft power in the region.
January 14, 2020
China’s Green Investment in the BRI Countries: The Case of Turkey
China is engaged in the use, production, and export of green technologies. As a part of this policy, China is extending its commitment to green technologies to its Belt and Road (BRI) partners. This article looks at China’s role in Turkey’s green transformation.
January 21, 2020
China’s Economic Stabilization Efforts in Afghanistan: A New Party to the Table?
The “development is the key” argument is one of the tenets of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and underpins China’s policy in Afghanistan. The turmoil plaguing Afghanistan has both spurred and impeded Beijing’s efforts to expand its economic involvement in the country. Nevertheless, China has gradually become more active in Afghanistan economically as well as politically.
February 11, 2020
How did China Win Over the Israeli People?
According to the latest poll published by the Pew Research Center, the Israeli public sees China in a favorable way. Only in Russia and Nigeria does China get a more sympathetic audience. This result seems surprising, when compared to China’s low level of favorability in other Western countries. However, the strong favorability rating registered in the Pew survey is less surprising than it seems, and in fact is a clear indication that the wide-ranging Chinese soft power efforts to appeal to the Israeli public opinion have paid off.
March 17, 2020
The Ferghana Valley Railway Should Never Be Built
Péter Bucsky, Tristan Kenderdine
A planned Kashgar to Osh railway is part of China’s Eurasian Intercontinental CR Express rail freight policy. It would require a huge amount of new construction, massive public debt for Kyrgyzstan and would provide no clear economic benefit. The proposed line would also actually be longer than the existing route from Urumqi to Tashkent via Kazakhstan.
April 28, 2020
The Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on China’s Belt and Road Initiative in the Middle East
The coronavirus has hit the Middle East at a time when the region is already burdened with multiple problems, including a series of long-running conflicts, sectarian tension, economic crises, and widespread political unrest. This article provides a preliminary assessment of the effects of the covid-19 virus on China’s Belt and Road partners and activities in the region.
May 19, 2020
China’s Maritime Silk Road and the Middle East: Tacking Against the Wind
The momentum of the BRI has lately slackened due to a variety of setbacks and disruptions. Until now, China has made headway in executing BRI-related projects in the Middle East despite such problems. Plummeting oil prices coupled with the onset of the worldwide public health and economic crises triggered by the covid-19 pandemic could result in scaled back plans and delayed implementation of BRI projects in the region. But China is not about to abandon the effort to extend the Maritime Silk Road to the Middle East — nor are its most avid regional partners.
June 9, 2020
Geopolitical and Geoeconomic Challenges to China’s Silk Road Strategy in the Middle East
Despite Beijing’s increasing engagement in the Middle East, it lacks a clear, consistent, and comprehensive strategy for the successful implementation of the new Silk Road. Although China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework for cooperation with the Middle Eastern states is marked by strategic flexibility and maximizing opportunities, that may prove insufficient. As China and the countries of the region become more integrated, they will also share risks and face near-term geopolitical and geoeconomic challenges.
July 14, 2020
The Chinese Islamic Association in the Arab World: The Use of Islamic Soft Power in Promoting Silence on Xinjiang
Lucille Greer, Bradley Jardine
This article analyzes the coverage by Arabic-language Chinese state media of the Chinese Islamic Association’s activities following three key dates during Beijing’s increased securitization in Xinjiang. The article sheds light on the three-pronged approach that the state-led Chinese Islamic Association has used to craft the Xinjiang narrative for an Arabic-speaking audience: defending the uniqueness of Chinese Islam and warning of the threat of foreign influence; engaging in “Hajj diplomacy”; and conducting exchanges with Muslim leaders and Islamic institutions.
July 21, 2020
Positioning the Provinces Along China’s Maritime Silk Road
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a central policy framework with decentralized initiatives. Under the BRI’s Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and the Maritime Silk Road (MSR), China’s inland provinces and coastal peers have been obliged to implement the top-down national strategy while at the same time having been granted the latitude to interpret the strategy to suit their commercial interests. This article looks at how Fujian and Jiangsu provinces have sought to position themselves along the Maritime Silk Road with respect to their relations with Middle Eastern partners.
August 18, 2020
Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Program and China
In recent years, Saudi Arabia and China have publicly announced several joint nuclear projects in the Kingdom, including one to extract uranium from seawater, with the stated goal of helping the world’s largest oil producer develop a nuclear energy program or become a uranium exporter. This article discusses China’s reported involvement in Saudi Arabia’s nascent nuclear program.
September 15, 2020
China’s Pursuit of a “Strategic Fulcrum” in the Middle East
A great deal of the literature on China’s relations with the Middle East engages the subject through geopolitical analyses that are based mainly, if not exclusively on Western sources and perspectives. This article draws on the work of scholars and thinkers in China’s leading government and party-linked think tanks and foreign policy institutions to shed light on China’s interests and approach to the region — a “competition without confrontation” approach centered on the development of relationships with a select number of key Middle Eastern states that can serve as “strategic fulcrums” (战略支点) for building Chinese influence.
September 22, 2020
China and the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement
Giorgio Cafiero, Daniel Wagner
On September 15, President Trump presided over a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Abdullatif Al Zayani, respectively, signed a general declaration of principles, called “The Abraham Accords.” Numerous analysts have focused on the regional impact of the normalization of relations between Israel and these two Gulf Arab countries. However, this development has worldwide geopolitical implications — including for China.
October 6, 2020
Towering Ambitions: Egypt and China Building for the Future
Over the past decade, Egypt and China — the former a traditional US partner and the latter America’s strategic competitor — have forged ever-deeper ties. During that time, Beijing has sought to leverage its relationship with Egypt to advance the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), while Cairo has looked to China as a critical partner in the revitalization of the Egyptian economy. Entering 2020, Egypt was one of the fastest-growing emerging markets, and the Sino-Egyptian economic relationship was thriving. However, the fallout from the pandemic could undermine Egypt’s recent success in restoring growth and regaining investor confidence. It could also test the resilience and delay the further expansion of Sino-Egyptian economic ties.
December 22, 2020
China’s Libya Policy and the BRI: Sights Set on the Future
The political turmoil that has plagued the region since the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, most notably the ongoing conflict in Libya, has made it difficult for China to realize its aim of incorporating the Maghreb into the BRI framework. This article discusses China’s efforts to protect and promote its economic interests in Libya, thereby advancing its prospects for extending the BRI to the region.
January 26, 2021
“The New Algeria” and China
Given the host of challenges that Algeria currently faces and consistent with past efforts to diversify its foreign relations, Algeria could seek to deepen its relationship with China — a rising global power with deep pockets and an expanding footprint in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and a country with which Algeria has already established a comprehensive strategic partnership. Yet, even under a scenario in which Beijing answers the call, it should not be assumed that the scale and contours of Chinese engagement will fundamentally change, will consist mainly of predatory economic activities and malign influences, or can rescue Algeria from structural problems of its own making.
May 18, 2021
China’s Maritime Silk Road and Security in the Red Sea Region
David H. Shinn
China’s Maritime Silk Road (MSR) is an integral part of Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Suez Canal, Red Sea, and Gulf of Aden are essential to the success of the MSR and, consequently, to the BRI. This largely explains why China located its first and, so far, only foreign military base at Djibouti near the narrow Bab el-Mandeb passageway between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, has invested so much in port and warehouse construction, and stepped up its economic and political engagement in countries on both sides of the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden. But increased engagement leads to higher expectations by African and Arab governments, greater leverage and exposure for China, and complications for other great powers in the Red Sea region. China is treading carefully as it accommodates this evolving situation while trying to minimize new security responsibilities.
May 27, 2021
Transitioning to a New Approach: China’s Stance on Operation “Guardian of the Walls”
On May 21, following eleven days of conflict — the fourth since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 — the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Israel agreed to a cease-fire. This article examines the Chinese response to the conflict between Hamas and Israel in the context of China’s expanding engagement and ambitions in the Middle East and increasing great power rivalry.
July 20, 2021
The “Build Back Better World”: An Alternative to China’s BRI for the Middle East?
The intensification of US-China strategic competition has potentially profound implications for the Middle East. An unbridled rivalry between Washington and Beijing is more likely to compound the challenges that Middle East countries are facing rather than help address them constructively. The Biden administration’s recently launched Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative is better suited to function as a complement to Beijing’s Belt and Road than as a zero-sum alternative to it — and, shaped in that manner, would better serve Middle East stability and prosperity.
July 27, 2021
Transatlantic Climate Action in the Gulf and Great-Power Competition
Forging an ally-centered partnership to support nationally owned climate action initiatives in developing countries could form part of a new Transatlantic agenda. Focusing some of these initiatives on the MENA region, specifically on the Gulf — where US, European, and Chinese interests intersect — and aligning them with local priorities, though without casting them as part of a zero-sum struggle with Beijing, could contribute to a more resilient and cleaner planet, a more stable region, and a less contentious manifestation of great-power competition in a volatile part of the world.
September 21, 2021
China’s Taliban Conundrum
During a regular press conference held just hours after Taliban forces entered Kabul, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying stated that China stands “ready to continue to develop good-neighborliness and friendly cooperation with Afghanistan and play a constructive role in Afghanistan’s peace and reconstruction.” But China may not, as some anticipate, rush to fill the vacuum left by the US withdrawal.
October 19, 2021
Sustainable Momentum? China and the Mideast Solar Market
Although global energy demand fell in 2020 due to the pandemic, investment in energy transition increased. In April, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reported that renewable energy’s share of new generating capacity rose substantially for the second year in a row. China, which has emerged as the indisputable leader of renewable energy expansion worldwide, has begun to reorient its overseas energy investment and finance towards non-fossil fuels projects. This shift could portend a larger role for China in the MENA region’s growing renewables sector, especially in solar power production.
November 30, 2021
China’s “Pearl”: The UAE Amid Great-Power Rivalry
As tensions between the US and China have intensified, the security implications of deepening Chinese ties with MENA countries have emerged as a source of growing concern to Washington. Of particular concern is Chinese ownership and development of port-industrial park complexes in the Gulf, which could serve as access points for what American officials regard as China’s “long-term goal of expanding its military presence to secure vital routes of energy and trade.” Chinese activities in the United Arab Emirates have recently come under close scrutiny, as Washington seeks to prevent UAE — Beijing’s “pearl” along the Maritime Silk Road — from becoming a military outpost in its “string of pearls.”
January 11, 2022
China’s Health Silk Road and the BRI Agenda in the Middle East
During the pandemic era, China’s Health Silk Road (HSR), interlinked with the Digital Silk Road (DSR), has emerged as a vehicle for powering the nascent third phase of the BRI, which has retained its prominence as a “major platform” for international development cooperation. This development is evident in China’s involvement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
January 6, 2022
The Persistent ISKP Threat to Afghanistan: On China’s Doorstep
Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) has been emboldened by the withdrawal of foreign forces whose previous counterterrorism measures had constrained their activities in Afghanistan. China, which had benefited from the American security presence, has become increasingly concerned about the security vacuum that followed the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Beijing is now compelled to find ways to protect its own security and economic interests given the changing realities on the ground.
January 20, 2022
Strategic Maneuvering: The Gulf States Amid US-China Tensions
Mona Abu Shanif
Arab Gulf leaders have begun to pursue policies to respond to the rise of China and the receding power and influence of the United States. It can be argued that the Arab Gulf states in general, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, regard US concerns over China’s ascent as an opportunity to bargain with Washington and realize some military and technical gains. The polarization between Washington and China gives them wide berth to maneuver and extract benefits from both sides without the Gulf states having to take drastic steps in terms of its cooperation with China.
January 26, 2022
The Strengthening Ties Between China and the Middle East
In a sign of strengthening relations, a long procession of foreign ministers from MENA visited China earlier this month. In addition, two MENA nations signed MoUs involving the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s global infrastructure development effort. The fact that it was foreign ministers traveling to China, rather than their counterparts with the ministries of trade or economy, suggests a shift in focus in relations from trade and economics to geopolitics.
February 3, 2022
The “New Normal” in Saudi-UAE Relations — Tying China In
The joint statement issued at the conclusion of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Abu Dhabi last December affirmed the two countries’ extensive and enduring friendship. Yet, the invocation of shared visions masks a complex and increasingly competitive relationship as Saudi Arabia and UAE push to diversify their economies and position themselves to profit from China’s growing capabilities and increasing involvement in the Gulf, wider Middle East, and East Africa.
March 7, 2022
Connecting Beijing’s Global Infrastructure: The PEACE Cable in the Middle East and North Africa
One of the most ambitious elements of China’s Digital Silk Road is the Pakistan & East Africa Connecting Europe (PEACE) fiber-optic cable. China has long expressed its ambition to connect the greater Middle East, Africa, and Europe with Chinese fiber optics in order to expand its presence in the region, and Beijing now boasts strategic infrastructure assets in geopolitical hotspots, such as the Pakistani port of Gwadar.
March 10, 2022
Defying Dystopia: Scope for US-China Collaboration in Building Middle East Resilience
The United States and China, despite an intensifying global strategic rivalry, have a shared interest in the stability and development of Middle Eastern countries. There is both a pressing need and scope for Washington and Beijing, whether working in tandem or in parallel, to augment their support for resilience-building efforts in the Middle East and North Africa.
March 25, 2022
China’s Evolving Conflict Mediation in the Middle East
Since the early 2000s, China has exhibited a degree of flexibility regarding its policy of non-interference in internal affairs, exemplified through a broader series of mediatory efforts in civil wars in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. China’s approach to conflict management has evolved, as have its motivations. This paper examines this evolution through the window of China’s conflict management in Sudan, Libya, and Syria.
April 5, 2022
Putin’s “Gift,” China’s Choices, and Mideast Dilemmas
Beijing’s response to Russia’s war against Ukraine has profound implications for the US-China bilateral relationship. The choices Xi Jinping makes, notably whether to provide material assistance to Russia economically or militarily, is likely to determine whether a new Cold War can be averted. The stakes for the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) could not be higher, as until now they have sought to diversify their extra-regional partnerships rather than choose sides.
May 19, 2022
Something’s Brewing: China’s “Teapot” Refineries and Middle East Producers
The number, size, level of sophistication and roles played by China’s independent, or so-called “teapot” refineries, are changing. Their evolution is reflected in the relationships between teapots and Middle East crude oil suppliers. In the battle to ensure their profitability and very survival, smaller Chinese teapots have adopted various measures, including sopping up steeply discounted oil from Iran. Meanwhile, Middle East suppliers, notably Saudi Aramco, are seeking to lock in Chinese crude demand while pursuing new opportunities for further investments in integrated downstream projects led by both private and state-owned companies.
June 7, 2022
China-GCC Digital Economic Cooperation in the Age of Strategic Rivalry
The strategic rivalry between China and the US that has developed over the past decade includes a struggle for control of the global digital economy, particularly the digital infrastructure and information communications technology (ICT) markets. In recent years, China has become a global leader in some areas of the digital economy. Digital economic cooperation has emerged as an increasingly important element of China’s relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries — and a focal point of Sino-American strategic rivalry in the Middle East.
June 16, 2022
China and the Middle East: Heading into Choppy Waters
James M. Dorsey
China could be entering choppy Middle Eastern waters. Multiple crises and conflicts will likely shape its relations with the region’s major powers, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey.
July 12, 2022
China Prioritizes Short-Term Energy Security: Implications for Sino-Middle East Relations
This article provides an opportunity to refocus attention on the precipitating conditions and broad outlines of China’s energy security strategy, and by doing so reveals the structural underpinnings of Sino-Middle Eastern relations at a time when both sides are wrestling with the challenge of reconciling energy security and carbon neutrality.
August 23, 2022
China in a Volatile LNG Market and the Stakes for Qatar
Last year, Chinese demand for natural gas grew at the fastest rate on record, with imports registering an increase of 19.9% year-on-year. China imported more LNG in 2021 than any other country, accounting for nearly 60% of global LNG demand growth. This year, however, with the economy struggling, Chinese authorities have focused on securing supply and containing costs. As a result, China’s LNG imports have slowed, further contributing to a global LNG market of unprecedented volatility and uncertainty. Developments in the Chinese gas market are of great significance to Qatar, which has sought to capitalize on China’s demand growth as well as its expanding overseas investment activities.
October 30, 2022
China-Middle East Engagement Amid Slow Growth
After a strong start in early 2022, China’s economy has slowed markedly. The economic headwinds that China faces at home and abroad are a political problem for Xi Jinping, whose party’s legitimacy has been built upon rapid growth and rising incomes. The economic headwinds that China faces at home and abroad are a political problem for Xi, whose party’s legitimacy has been built upon rapid growth and rising incomes. They are also a concern for the international community, which had become accustomed to China being the global economy’s growth engine. Clearly, this is so among the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), whose engagement with China has grown exponentially in recent years.
December 15, 2022
CHIPS on the table: Escalating US-China tech war impacts the Mideast
What began in 2019 as an effort by the Trump administration to cripple Huawei has lately expanded, as the US has introduced sweeping rules aimed at cutting China off from key chips and components for supercomputers. Washington has signaled that it will not hesitate to pursue extraterritorial measures if partners fail to fall in line with the new restrictions. Thus, the US-China battle over microchips has emerged as a proxy for geopolitical competition which Washington’s allies and partners might prefer to avoid but are nonetheless likely to be drawn into. For America’s Gulf allies and Israel, this development poses fresh challenges and difficult choices.
January 9, 2023
China and the United States in the Middle East: Policy Continuity Amid Changing Competition
There is often the tendency to imagine the United States and China involved in a strategic back-and-forth, launching new initiatives, and implementing new approaches to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). However, as Andrea Ghiselli argues in this MAP article, the substance of the two countries’ behavior in the region and toward each other is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. It is probable that they will do more of what they are already doing: Washington will continue to focus on security issues and defense cooperation while Beijing will stick to its trade and investment-centered agenda.
February 2, 2023
Pakistan and Egypt: China’s Distressed Assets
Pakistan and Egypt are pivotal states in volatile regions. For this reason, the world’s major powers and multilateral financial institutions essentially regard them as ‘too big to fail.’ But the short-term outlook for both economies is grim. Islamabad and Cairo have their hopes pinned on securing IMF support and short-term refinancing and rollovers from friendly countries, notably the Gulf States. How Pakistan and Egypt manage their current crises, and whether their leaders can muster the political will to shift decisively from seeking a respite to enacting meaningful reforms are matters of some importance to China. For, as China’s capabilities and ambitions have grown, so too have its economic stakes in both Pakistan and Egypt, and in their surrounding regions.
February 21, 2023
Women’s Rights Under the Taliban in Afghanistan: The China Factor
The restoration of the old order in Afghanistan — particularly the gradual erosion of women’s rights and freedoms — is not simply driven by the Taliban’s desire of returning to its fundamental roots and upholding its puritan ideology. The emergence of new regional actors and their increased activities, particularly Beijing’s increasing footprint, plays a role as well.
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