As the United States becomes embroiled in yet another military intervention in the Middle East, China is embarking with its One Road, One Belt initiative on a long-term approach to the region that it hopes will secure its access to resources and trade, and enable cooperation with the US on Chinese terms. The approach takes as its starting point that with US influence in the region in decline, political and economic indicators suggest that it’s just a matter of time before the pendulum swings in China’s favour.
China ‘s emerging Middle East strategy is shaped as much by contemporary US predicaments in the Middle East as it is by a set of foreign policy principles that at least nominally contrast starkly with those of the United States, with a determination not to repeat what China views as US mistakes. While there appears to be broad consensus on these points, China’s policy community is nonetheless divided on a host of questions related to integrating them into a comprehensive policy towards the region. These questions range from the role of democratization to the degree to which China should assert its influence in the region.
Leaving aside the sheer audacity and scope of Xi Jinping’s Silk Road project that focuses on integrating the enormous swathe of territories between China and the Middle East by concentrating on infrastructure, transportation, energy, telecommunications, technology and security, applying China’s lofty principles is easier said than done and raises a host of unanswered questions.
At the crux of the Chinese debate is the same dilemma that stymies US policy in the Middle East: the clash between lofty principles and harsh reality that produces perceptions of a policy that is riddled with contradictions and fails to live up to the values it enunciates. Non-intervention coupled with economic incentives has so far allowed China to paper over some of those dilemmas. That may be more difficult to maintain as the crisis in the Middle East escalates and potentially spills out of the region and closer to home and China’s economic stake increases.
About the Speaker:
James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow focused on the Middle East and North Africa who publishes widely in peer-reviewed journals as well as non-academic publications. A veteran, award-winning foreign correspondent for four decades in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the United States for publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Financial Times, James has met a multitude of the region’s leaders. As a journalist, James covered primarily ethnic and religious conflict, including some of recent history’s most dramatic events such as the 1973 Middle East war; the Lebanese civil war; the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the U.S.-backed insurgency that ultimately led to the withdrawal of Soviet troops; the Palestinian intifadas; the Iranian revolution, U.S. embassy hostage crisis and the Iran-Iraq war; the Iraqi invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein; the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia; the armed struggles in the Western Sahara, Algeria, the Philippines, Kashmir, Eritrea, Tigre, the Ogaden, Chad, Niger, Chechnya, the Caucasus and Georgia; the Columbian drug cartels; the fall of Noriega in Panama; the wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador; the Kurdish insurgency in south-eastern Turkey, post-revolution Iran and Saddam’s Iraq; and the war on terror. James writes a widely acclaimed blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, has published a book with the same title, and authors a syndicated column. He is a frequent speaker at international conferences, workshops and seminars and is consulted by governments, corporations and judicial authorities. He is currently completing his PhD at the University of Utrecht. James won the Dolf van den Broek prize in 2003 and was a two-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 and 1988 as well as was a finalist for the 2012 European Press Prize; the Kurt Schork Award and the Amnesty International Media Award in 2002 and the Index on Censorship Award in 2012.