Wednesday, May 14, 2014

China in the Middle East

Middle East Report 270   
Spring 2014

“Will China dominate the twenty-first century?” So asks the title of one of the latest entries in an expanding canon on the subject. The question is of particular concern in Washington, because its premise is that the post-World War II “American century” is coming to a close or perhaps already over. A corollary question is whether China covets the US role in the Persian Gulf and the surrounding region. The spring 2014 issue of Middle East Report zooms out to look at the historical and geopolitical aspects of Chinese ties to the Middle East and then zooms in to look at the economic, cultural and human interactions.
It was not always the case that Chinese-Middle Eastern relations were refracted through the prism of links to the West. Cemil Aydin lays out the often forgotten history of West Asian fascination with East Asia, and vice versa, while Shuang Wen recounts Muslim activist meetings in Meiji Japan. Chinese ties with Africa, as Engseng Ho demonstrates, also have both a rich history and potential to reshape today’s world.
A key reason for Middle Easterners’ interest in communist China was Maoism and its solidarity with Third World countries under various degrees of Western domination. Mohammed al-Sudairi, Afshin Matin-Asgari and Kamran Ali write about Maoist influence in the Arab world, Iran and Pakistan, respectively.
Today, with Mao long gone in both body and spirit, China offers Middle Eastern states a model of neoliberal economics without political reform, as well as the tantalizing promise (as yet unrealized) of a counterweight to the West. Kyle Haddad-Fonda reports on the frustrations of Arab diplomats in Beijing. Haiyun Ma and I-wei Jennifer Chang show how the study of Middle Eastern languages in China tracks with the strategic interests of the Chinese state.

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