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China’s Growing Engagement in the Middle East: Implications for Regional and International Dynamics

May 29 from 15:00 - 16:30 BMT

CPG Event Series on Peace and Security in Asia

May 29, 2024, 3 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. (GMT+7), online via Zoom video teleconferencing

organized in collaboration with the Asian Governance Foundation

Description

The war between Israel and Hamas after the terror attacks of October 7 has reverberated across the wider Middle East, ushering rising instability that – along with growing domestic criticism of the support of Israel’s actions – threatens to compromise the role and reputation of the United States and its allies in the region.

This fluid environment is widely seen as offering China, whose influence in the Middle East has consistently grown over the last decade, opportunities to further deepen its footprint in the region.

China’s presence in the Middle East didn’t just emerge in the last few years. While until the 1990s, China was energy self-sufficient due to the huge oil reserves within its own borders, in the wake of China’s unprecedented economic growth with the opening-up policy, the demand for oil also increased exponentially, and amidst these changing needs, China’s gaze moved to the Middle East, the home to around half of the world’s oil reserves. Since then, China’s economic footprint in the Middle East has surged, driven under China’s president Xi Jinping, especially under the framework of his prestige project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Trade between China and the Middle Eastern nations is soaring, positioning China as the region’s largest trading partner. Moreover, substantial investments in infrastructure projects, technology cooperation, and trade agreements underscore China’s deepening economic ties with the region. Notably, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia cooperated with Huawei and Alibaba in developing part of their tech infrastructure. This encompasses their 5G networks, along with smart city applications, and the creation of large data centers. Last September, Huawei initiated a new “cloud region” in Riyadh that seeks to support government services and AI applications.

Besides these traditional areas of trade and investment, which are increasingly conducted in Chinese yuan, Beijing has been expanding its toolkit in the last few years and is becoming a more vocal actor in military and security affairs as well as in diplomacy.

Regarding its military and security engagement in the region, China conducts joint military maritime and air drills with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), among others. Since 2019, China and Saudi Arabia have held the Blue Sword exercise, a joint naval special forces drill. Last year, Chinese and UAE air forces inaugurated the joint fighter jet Falcon Shield exercises. In addition, China has heavily invested in strategic and dual-use ports and other maritime infrastructure in Egypt, Djibouti, and Saudi Arabia.

On the diplomatic front, China successfully pushed for the enlargement of BRICS to now include also Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the UAE and mediated an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to resume diplomatic relations. Consistently advocating for a two-state solution and a permanent UN membership for Palestine, China, furthermore, recently hosted closed-door meetings in Beijing between representatives of the Palestinian political parties Fatah and Hamas, in a bid to push toward intra-Palestinian reconciliation and a united Palestinian leadership. These moves carry strong symbolism showing China’s role as a mediator between rival powers and historic enemies and highlighting its ambitions to position itself as a credible diplomatic player in the Middle East.

This comes as the Biden administration – in the face of the Israel/Hamas conflict and Iran’s rising power – has taken steps that demonstrate a re-focus on Middle East threats after years of strategic attention towards China and Russia that led to pivoting away from former extensive engagements in the Middle East. Last month, the president signed into law a USD 17 billion aid package for Israel. In October, 900 US troops have been deployed to the Middle East in response to attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq and in Syria.

The European Union (EU), meanwhile, is struggling to find a unified position vis-à-vis the current Middle East crisis. Last month, Ireland, Malta, Slovenia, and Spain decided to take the lead among EU members in efforts to support the recognition of Palestine, aware of skepticism and resistance to such efforts among some of their peer countries, including Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands, among others. In the latest development, Hungary and Czechia voted in a May 10 vote in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly against a resolution in support of Palestine’s bid to become a full UN member while all other EU member states voted in favor.

Against the backdrop of the current complex developments in the ongoing Gaza conflict, this webinar hosted by CPG’s Peace & Security Center (CPSC) will explore China’s growing diplomatic presence and engagement in the Middle East, focusing on the strategic and geopolitical interests Beijing in pursuing in the region and their implications for regional and international dynamics.

Speakers (in alphabetical order)

Amin Saikal, AM, FASSA

is emeritus professor of Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies and founding director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University. He specializes in politics, history, political economy, and international relations of the Middle East and Central Asia.

He is also adjunct professor of social sciences at the University of Western Australia, and adjunct senior fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), as well as recipient of the Order of Australia (AM), and elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia (FASSA).

His latest books include How to Lose a War: The Story of America’s Intervention in Afghanistan (2024); Iran Rising: The Survival and Future of the Islamic Republic (2021); Iran at the Crossroads (2016); Zone of Crisis: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq (I.B. Tauris, 2014). He is the co-author (with James Piscatori) of Islam Beyond Borders: The Umma in World Politics (2019). He has also published feature articles in major international dailies, including The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a frequent commentator on national and international TV and radio networks.

Jingdong Yuan

is Director of the China and Asia Security Programme at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Dr. Yuan’s research focuses on Indo–Pacific security, Chinese foreign policy, Sino–Indian relations, China-EU relations, and nuclear arms control and nonproliferation.

Prior to joining SIPRI, he was an Associate Professor at the Centre for International Security Studies, University of Sydney, and held visiting appointments at the National University of Singapore, University of Macau, East-West Center, National Cheng-chi University, Mercator Institute for China Studies, Fudan University, Berlin Social Sciences Centre (WZB) and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR).

He is the co-author of Chinese Cruise Missiles: A Quiet Force-Multiplier (2014) and China and India: Cooperation or Conflict? (2003), and co-editor of Re-engaging China: Can Australia Lead the Way Again (2023), Trump’s America and International Relations in the Indo-Pacific (2021) and Australia and China at 40 (2012).

His publications have appeared in Asian Survey, Australian Journal of International Affairs, Contemporary Security Policy, International Affairs, International Journal, Journal of Contemporary China, Journal of International Affairs, Nonproliferation Review, Washington Quarterly, and in many edited volumes.

Mohammed Alsudairi

is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations of the Arabic Speaking World at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (CAIS), Australian National University. Prior to joining CAIS, Dr. Alsudairi a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences at Hong Kong University, working on a project examining the intersections between religion and infrastructure in the context of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

His research focuses on the historical and contemporary connections between the Middle East and East Asia; the histories of transnational revolutionary and counter-revolutionary networks in the Arab world; ideological security bureaucracies and state-led cultural engineering practices across Asia; and Muslim religiosities and sectarian identities in the Middle East, China, among others.

His academic work has appeared in multiple academic journals including The Middle East Journal, Third World Quarterly, Journal of Arabian Studies, Journal of Contemporary China, Global Policy, and Oxford University’s Journal of Islamic Studies.

Among his recent publications are “Exploiting China’s Rise: Syria’s Strategic Narrative and China’s Participation in Middle Eastern Politics” (Global Policy, 2022); “Guarding Against the Threat of a Westernising Education: A Comparative Study of Chinese and Saudi Cultural Security Discourses and Practices Towards Overseas Study” (Journal of Contemporary China, 2021); and “A Near-Normalisation? Sino-Saudi Diplomatic Flirtations between 1955 and 1957” (Asian Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, 2020).

Dr. Duc Quang Ly

Project Manager, CPG

 

Webinar Recap and Appreciation

This afternoon, CPG’s Peace & Security Center (CPSC), in cooperation with the Governance Foundation (AGF) hosted the webinar “China’s Growing Engagement in the Middle East: Implications for Regional and International Dynamics.” Coinciding with the China-Arab Summit, the event explored China’s engagement in the Middle East.

With 40 participants in attendance, the webinar offered profound insights into Beijing’s strategic and geopolitical interests in the region and their broader implications.

We extend our sincere gratitude to our esteemed panelists for their fascinating and insightful discussion: Prof. em. Dr. Amin Saikal, Founding Director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (CAIS) at the Australian National University; Dr. Jingdong Yuan, Senior Researcher and Director of the China and Asia Security Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute; and Dr. Mohammed Alsudairi, Lecturer at CAIS.

We also extend our appreciation to the participants who actively engaged and posed valuable questions during the open forum session, representing a diverse geographic range from Paris to Tel Aviv to Sydney.

Special thanks are owed to CPG Fellows and AGF Board Members in attendance, including H.E. Son Soubert, High Privy Councillor to His Majesty the King of Cambodia; Pol. Lt-Gen. Suthin Khiewratana, former Commander of the Thai Border Patrol Police; former Ambassador Dr. Warawit Kanithasen; and Prof. Hall Gardner from the Department of History and Politics at the American University of Paris, as well as AiR and EiR contributors.

The event is part of the CPG event series on peace and security in Asia.

Agenda

Contact Information

Contact Dr. Duc Quang Ly at duc.quang.ly@cpg-online.de for program content.

Contact Ms. Venus Phuangkom at events@cpg-online.de for administrative matters.

Details

Date:
May 29
Time:
15:00 - 16:30 BMT
Series:
Event Category: