Can the China be an Influential and Essential Player in the Middle East?


The China advocates an authoritarian liberal policy in the administration of the communist party, far from democracy, human rights and a western-style government. On the other hand, China, which is fully integrated with the world, is increasing its presence in the regions it chooses such as Africa and Middle East and North Africa. Keywords: China, Middle East, North Africa, Military, Economic Power, Diplomacy, Soft Power ...


The China advocates an authoritarian liberal policy in the administration of the communist party, far from democracy, human rights and a western-style government. On the other hand, China, which is fully integrated with the world, is increasing its presence in the regions it chooses such as Africa and Middle East and North Africa. This study will provide a general framework for analyzing the foreign policy of the People's Republic of China with the countries of the Middle East and its investments, military means, trade, economic volumes and position vis-à-vis the problems of the region and taking into account of China's claim to be the world power before becoming a democrat. China manages to touch almost every country in the Middle East. While doing this, the China does not hesitate to use both his soft power and hard power and it takes on the role of mediator as it has never done before. Trying to explain all this, the aim here is not to make a chronological assessment, but to point out the changes and continuities in Chinese politics during the period 1949-2020 with emphasis on current events.

Keywords: China, Middle East, North Africa, Military, Economic Power, Diplomacy, Soft Power


La Chine mene une politique libérale autoritaire dans l'administration du parti communiste, loin de la démocratie, des droits de l'homme et d'un style de gouvernement occidentale. Par contre la Chine, pleinement intégrée au monde, renforce sa présence dans les régions où elle choisit comme l'Afrique et le Moyen-Orient et l'Afrique du Nord. Cette étude fournira un cadre général pour analyser la politique étrangère de la République populaire de la Chine avec les pays du Moyen-Orient et ses investissements, ses moyens militaires, ses commerces, ses volumes économiques et sa position vis-à-vis des problèmes de la région en prenant considération de la revendication de la Chine d'être la puissance mondiale avant de devenir démocrate. La Chine parvient à toucher presque tous les pays du Moyen-Orient. Pour cela, la Chine n'hésite pas à utiliser à la fois son soft power et son hard power et elle joue le rôle de médiateur comme elle ne l'a jamais fait auparavant. En essayant d'expliquer tout cela, le but de cet article n'est pas de faire une évaluation chronologique, mais de souligner les changements et les continuités de la politique chinoise au cours de la période 1949-2020 en mettant l'accent sur les événements actuels.

Mots Clés: Chine, Moyen Orient, Afrique du Nord, Puissance Militaire et Economique, Diplomatie, Puissance Douce


The 4th edition of the China-Arab States Fair was inaugurated in September in the Hui Autonomous Region of Ningxia (northwest of China), with the participation of 2900 companies from China and the Arab world.[1]This edition is just one example to show China's interest in the Middle East. Since many times, China increases its presence, develops its investments, continues to sell arms and takes hydrocarbons in the MENA region. They also strengthen friendship, cooperation and joint development with the Arab countries and they increase its capacity to be a world leader against the United States. It can be also stated that the real challenge for China is to become a superpower before becoming democratic. It is for this reason that China is trying to increase its existence in the Middle East as they did in Africa. The objective of these policies is to strengthen connectivity between the actors of Rimland, an important step in the strategy of the game of “go“ which allows encircling an area to bring into the area of Chinese influence.[2] So, in this complicated context, the China uses every means possible for becoming an influential and essential player in the Middle East.

Firstly, the brief history of China’s existence in the Middle East should be examined and then the importance of the New Silk Road and Rimland’s theory in Chinese strategy should be analyzed. In the first part, the major interest in China in terms of energy supply will be taken into account by talking about China's energy dependence. In the second part, the delivery of arms in the region, also speaking about the maritime presence and Sino-Gulf cooperation and military partnership will be analyzed. In the third part, China’s investment in the Middle East as the Egyptian case will be discussed. Lately the Chinese diplomacy with regard to the major crisis such as the Eastern Mediterranean, the Israeli-Palestinian question and the Arab Spring will be explained. All these developments and processes will be an indication of how much China attaches to the region and how much it is trying to increase its dominance.

A Brief History of the Relationship Between China and the Middle East Countries from the 1940s to September 11

Even though researchers are newly acquainted with the recent translation of a 1,100-year-old narrative, written by an Arab adventurer, offering a 9th-century Arab view of China in the Tang Dynasty[3], it will be started from the 1940s and reach 'to September 11 in 4 important sentences.

Before the creation of the People's Republic of China, the first connection begins between 1945-1955in which China follows Soviet policy for the Middle East. There was no direct relationship with these countries because they were soon to be born and they were in the hegemony of great power like The United States or Great Britain. At that time, the Arab countries did not recognize the People's Republic of China. On the other hand China described these countries as counter-revolutionary leaders and feudal dictators.[4]Despite this situation, the support of China to Egypt during the trilateral aggression of Suez in 1956, the recognition of the Algerian interim government in 1958 and the support of China to the Palestinian National Movement are determinative of this era.[5]

In second phase, China was not in line with the Soviets in 1956-1966, within the framework of the solidarity of the third world, they have begun to establish relations with the countries of the region within the framework of an anti-western policy. They have attended the Bandung Conference which gathered in Bandung, Indonesia on April 18-24, 1955 and brought together the Asian-African states that gained their new independence at that time and continues until the Cultural Revolution launched by Mao to revive the spirit of the Chinese Revolution.

The third period was between 1967-1977.The closures of China by the Cultural Revolution resulted in the estrangement of the Soviets. China began to see the Soviets as a threat and to move closer to the United States. Therefore, China has agreed with the allied countries of the United States. The countries like Turkey, Iran, and China's rapprochement with the United States has opened China to the Middle East.

The fourth period has opened from1972. The rapprochement of China with the United States was a period that can be summarized with less ideology and more political motivation. It was the orientation of the Chinese regime towards to capitalism. In order to continue modernization and capitalism, it was necessary to establish relations with all countries. The distance or proximity of a country to the United States or Russia wasn’t longer matters.[6]

In the 1990s, all countries in the Middle East visited China at least once. As a result, China’s development of technology, economic and military powers, no military conflict with any country in the middle east (in addition,China did not send their soldiers to the United Nations during the Gulf War) so everything gave China a place of trust and respect for the countries of the Middle East. During this period, China became close to a number of regional countries, which it classified as "pro-American", "reactionary" and "feudal" regimes during the Mao era and followed a policy based on diversity.[7]

Following these stories, the September 11 attack and the new Silk Road clearly project China's policy on the region. In the article entitled Ben Simpfendorfer's New Silk Road, he talks about economic policy of Chinese people by re-establishing the Silk Road.[8]

Furthermore, he focused on the September 11 attack that changed the world's view of the Middle East. After 7 days, China has joined the world trade organization then they have developed to import oil. The Chinese economy, fueled in part by the country's entry into the WTO, rapidly moved towards growth of 10% per year in the following years.

Likewise, America and Europe have tightened visa restrictions for Arab nationals after September 11. The number of Arab nationals visiting the United States fell from 251,000 to 232,000 between 2000 and 2010. Visits to Europe also declined in the same period and it was around this time that China unofficially liberalized its visa policy. Many felt more comfortable travelling to China because their name might match that of a wanted terrorist in Europe or the United States. Not surprisingly, China's total trade with the Silk Road countries has increased in the past five years, from less than $ 1.1 billion to $ 1.9 billion. As a result, China has overtaken the United States as the world's largest exporter to the Middle East, having overtaken the United Kingdom in 2002 and Germany in 2006.[9]

Yiwu City, Rimland Theory and the New Silk Road

China’s one of the city, Yiwu which explains many things about the Chinese strategy, is building the largest supermarket in the world and it is building the international shopping paradise. Yiwu has become one of the best markets for Muslimguests. Contrary to the somewhat globalizing image - China-Africa, Sino-Arab world - these silk routes are constantly reorganized and renamed by the actors who animate them and in the places where they occur.

Table 1 shows that the main destinations are no longer just neighboring states of China. The Arab and Muslim world are important export destinations for Yiwu.

[1]Mona Shoukry, Inauguration en Chine de la 4e édition de la "foire-expo" Chine-Etatsarabes,2019,> ,
[2]TanguyStruyeDeSwıelande, La Chine et ses objectifsgéopolitiques à l’aube de 2049, 2017
[3]Jan Keulen, LesChinoisvus pas les Abbassides,2015,>
[4] Hakan Güneş, Çin’in Ortadoğu Politikası,Çin Deniz Ülke Arıboğan(dir), Çin’in Gölgesinde Uzakdoğu Asya, İstanbul, Bağlam Yayınları, 2001, p. 297-308
[5]BicharaKhader, La percéechinoise dans lesmarchésarabes et méditerranéens, IEMed,Annuaire 2018,p.42
[6]Abid, p.308
[7]Çağdaş Üngör, Çin Ve Üçüncü Dünya, İ.Ü. Siyasal Bilgiler Fakültesi Dergisi, No 41, 2009, p.34
[8]Ben Simpfendorfer, La nouvelleroute de la soie, Études, 2012/5 (Tome 416), p. 595- 604
[9]Ben Simpfendorfer, La nouvelleroute de la soie, Études, 2012/5 (Tome 416), p. 595- 604

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Continents ( 5 Fields )
 Contents ( 411 ) Actiivities ( 173 )
Africa 66 136
Asia 75 211
Europe 13 29
Latin America & Carribean 12 30
North America 7 5
Regions ( 4 Fields )
 Contents ( 167 ) Actiivities ( 45 )
Balkans 22 92
Middle East 19 56
Black Sea and Caucasus 2 15
Mediterranean 2 4
Identity Fields ( 2 Fields )
 Contents ( 172 ) Actiivities ( 66 )
Islamic World 51 143
Turkish World 15 29
Turkey ( 1 Fields )
 Contents ( 204 ) Actiivities ( 54 )
Turkey 54 204

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