19 September 2014
China has embarked on a Middle East strategy that is shaped as much by contemporary US predicaments in the Middle East as it is by a set of foreign policy principles that 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 seems to be divided on a host of questions related to integrating them into a comprehensive policy towards the region. These questions range from the role of democratisation to the degree to which China should assert its influence in the region.
The extent of the policy debate was evident during a recent government-backed symposium between Chinese policy analysts and former ambassadors to the Middle East and several of their scholarly Western and Arab colleagues. A glimpse of those differences goes some way to explain the focus of the Chinese policy debate. The debate is framed by an emphasis on external rather than domestic drivers of crisis in the Middle East and the importance attached to the formal aspects of political processes such as Chinese official statements and outcomes of elections in the region irrespective of whether they were free and fair, for example Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s re-election in June, rather than political reality on the ground. Ironically, framing that alongside the principle of non-intervention in a country’s domestic affairs effectively amounts to support for autocratic regimes in the Middle East, a policy for which the United States has paid dearly.
…James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Wurzburg and the author of the blog The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer and a forthcoming book with the same title.
RSIS / Online
Last updated on 19/09/2014