In 2013, China surpassed the European Union to become the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s largest trading partner, and Chinese oil imports from the region rival those of the United States. Do China’s growing interests in the Middle East imply a greater commitment to the region’s security? How can China and regional governments reinforce these ties through greater diplomatic engagement?
In a new Policy Briefing, Chaoling Feng addresses the key choices facing Chinese and Middle East policymakers. She finds that China’s continued reliance on a framework of “non-intervention” is being challenged by the region’s divisive conflicts. Indeed, China’s economic interests face mounting risks when even maintaining “neutrality” can be perceived as taking a side. Furthermore, China’s case-by-case, bilateral engagement with MENA countries has hindered efforts to develop a broader diplomatic approach to the region.
Feng argues that China and particularly the GCC states must work to further institutionalize their growing economic interdependence. China, drawing on its experiences in Africa and Latin America, should take a more holistic approach to engagement with the MENA region, while enhancing Chinese institutions for energy trading. GCC countries, for their part, should aim to facilitate bilateral investments in energy production and support China’s plans for Central and West Asian infrastructure development projects.