MER 270: China in the Middle East

by The Editors | published May 8, 2014 - 10:40am

For immediate release May 8, 2014

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.

The commerce at the heart of those interests has led to migration and new types of social and cultural interchange. Jacqueline Armijo visits the sprawling DragonMart in Dubai. Roschanack Shaery follows traders in the market town of Yiwu, China back home to Lebanon, where she also finds Chinese cultural diplomacy in full swing. Jessica Winegar traces the “moral panic” occasioned by the increasing number of Chinese in Egypt. Daniel Large examines China’s relations with the two Sudans.

Also featured: Kevan Harris sends his fly-on-the-wall observations of Immanuel Wallerstein’s lecture tour in Iran; and more.

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Middle East Report is published by the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), a progressive, independent organization based in Washington, DC. Since 1971 MERIP has provided critical analysis of the Middle East, focusing on political economy, popular struggles, and the implications of US and international policy for the region.

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