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In the current geopolitical landscape assumed to reach dimensions of a multipolar world order, the emergence of China as a prominent global player has significantly altered the international dynamics.
The shifting international landscape is presenting a notable challenge to the traditional dominance and influence historically held by the United States on the global stage. The ascent of China as a formidable economic, technological, and military force is reshaping power politics, introducing a new era characterized by increased competition and complexity in international relations. Utilizing different levels of analysis-individual, state, and international-would help contribute to a better understanding of the complex relationships between various variables toward understanding the increasing Chinese presence in its region and beyond.
Every level of analysis offers a different perspective on intentions, actions, and outcomes influencing the changing dynamics among important international players, including China.
At the individual level of analysis, the ideologies, decisions, and actions of national leaders exert significant influence over a nation’s foreign policy.
China’s engagement in the Middle East epitomizes a stance characterized mainly by three distinctive ‘non’ principles: non-capitalist, non-alignment, and non-interference.
This ideological divergence stands in contrast to the principles and approaches traditionally espoused by the United States. Consequently, China emerges as an increasingly appealing and influential actor within the Middle East, particularly among the populace of the region fatigued by the perceived imposition of U.S.-led policies.
The alternative model offered by China resonates with Middle Eastern citizens seeking a different perspective diverging from the historical dominance and interventionist attitudes associated with U.S. foreign policy in the region. As a result, the ideology and characteristics of China have prepared conducive ground for demonstrating its soft power in the region. As Eslami and Papageorgiou (2023) suggest that China has actively bolstered its soft power influence within the region by undertaking various humanitarian endeavors, recognizing the significant role of soft power in cementing its status as a global power.
These initiatives encompass a wide array of efforts, including providing medical assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, promoting cultural exchanges to strengthen interpersonal connections, notably through a surge in tourism, facilitating educational collaboration through university exchanges, and establishing Confucius Institutes across the Middle East. Collectively, such initiatives represent a deliberate strategy aimed at cultivating a favorable perception of China in the region, emphasizing its commitment as a responsible global actor and a dependable partner in fostering positive relations.
Second, state-level considerations include the internal dynamics of a country that influence how it behaves at the international stage. The rise of China has been fueled by its fast industrialization, technological advancements, economic reforms, and strategic investments in global initiatives and infrastructure.
In the case of the Middle East, China’s engagement in the region primarily revolves around securing energy imports essential for sustaining its manufacturing, transportation, and agricultural sectors. At the state level, China has strategically cultivated alliances with various Middle Eastern nations to attain this objective.
The Middle East is a ‘’penetrated region’’, and China is a relative latecomer in this region, arriving at a time when the end of the Cold War and the consequent ‘’unipolar moment’’ of the U.S have come to an end ensued by the complex, complicated, and contested security order evolving toward a post-American regional order in the Middle East (Rozsa, 2021).
As for China, the state-to-state relations encompass initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the establishment of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF) in 2004, and the convening of the China-Arab States Summit, among others. Notably, the Belt and Road Initiative stands as a significant endeavor reflecting China’s overarching development strategy aimed at fostering connectivity within global trade networks across the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The Middle East countries have signed many agreements and memoranda under the BRI framework, because they aspire to become important regional and global strategic, logistical and economic hubs (The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, 2023).
The evolving engagement between China and Middle Eastern countries represents a mutually beneficial relationship, fostering convergence of interests. For China, this
involvement aims to secure energy resources, utilize economic opportunities, cultivate political and strategic ties, ensure regional security and stability, and, albeit controversial, establish a counterbalance to the U.S. influence. Conversely, the Middle Eastern nations seek to establish global trade networks, form alliances with an ascending global power, facilitate technological exchange and knowledge transfer, and gain political support and diplomatic relationships through their engagement with China.
This convergence of interests forms the basis for a symbiotic relationship, wherein both parties stand to gain from their collaborative endeavors in various spheres, encompassing economic, political, and strategic domains.
Lastly, the analysis at the international level looks at a more global scale in which countries function. The evolving multipolar global order has altered the balance of power, posing opportunities as well as challenges for the U.S. and China. Their relationship has been impacted by shifts in the global economy, trade dynamics, technology, international institutions, and power structures.
China wants to shape the international system, as seen by its involvement in BRI, international institutions, and its growing influence in global governance. In response, the United States is adjusting its alliances, putting more of an emphasis on strategic rivalry, and pushing for a rules-based system that in the main serves its interests. Furthermore, as suggested by Diplomat (2023), the West’s 2001 and 2003 invasion of Afghanistan andIraq respectively, the ‘renowned’ War on Terror, and efforts to overturn the political clout of radicals during the Arab Spring prompted the UAE and Saudi Arabia to look for a counterbalance to the U.S. influence. China is more likely to represent this “counter-balance,” and its existence offers different answers to issues the U.S. has orchestrated. Additionally, it is evident that for Arab nations seeking strong ties with the United States, a prerequisite introduced by the U.S. has been the normalisation of relations with Israel. Arab nations, for instance, have expressed interest in buying F-35 aircraft from the U.S. The condition set out by the U.S. has been that such acquisitions hinge upon their willingness to first establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
Numerous obstacles to procuring fifth-generation fighter aircraft have led the Gulf Arab countries to seek alternative solutions (Defense Security Asia, 2023). In that vein, the “Israeli conundrum”, now more complicated than ever with the Hamas attack on October 7, further prompted those Arab countries to seek alternative solutions in opposition to the U.S.
In conclusion, a better grasp of the intricate variables at play influencing the significant shift in the global balance of power could be attained by analyzing consequences of China’s ascent and its effects on the attitude of the U.S. through applying the individual, state, and international levels of analysis.
China Daily. (2023). BRI brings development of China and Middle East closer than ever | english.scio.gov.cn. The
State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of
China’s Middle East agenda. (2023). The Diplomat – The Diplomat is a current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific,
with news and analysis on politics, security, business, technology and life across the
Eslami, M., & Papageorgiou, M. (2023). China’s increasing role in the Middle East: Implications for regional and
international dynamics. Georgetown Journal of International
Rozsa, E. N. (2021). China’s interests in the Middle East and North Africa.
Why is the US reluctant to sell F-35 to its Arab Allies in the Gulf? (2023). Defence Security