China has started to make its presence felt in the Middle East. Most commentators assume this to lead into the destabilisation of the already fragile region. This article will show, however, why China’s economic interests and identity will prevent it from dangerous intrusive political manipulation in the Middle East.
Competition for power and global dominance that often comes with it have often been belligerent in world history. This is particularly true during times of power transitions. Jia Qingguo and Richard Rosecrance1 have reminded that out of seven such hegemonic competitions,2 only the US-British hegemonic competition in the 1940s was peaceful. This makes many political scientists worried about the rise of China,3 not the least in the Middle East. Chinese new investments for 2017 in Saudi Arabia alone were worth more than US$70 billion. Furthermore, the country finished the construction of a major naval base in Djibouti. Should we be worried? Will China challenge US dominance in this precarious and dangerous region? Will the Chinese rise destroy Pax Americana in the Middle East?
China’s increasingly globalised economic interests has made it more interested in developing its global power. On 7 September 2013, President Xi Jinping initiated an ambitious global infrastructure plan later dubbed “One Belt, One Road”. The plan aims to create a physical infrastructure to support China’s economic interaction with the world. This vast infrastructure project has merged with the development of financial infrastructure that in turn supports the financing of global economic activities crucial for China’s growth. China has also started ensuring, through military means, that its assets and trade routes are secure. The Chinese “logistics and fast evacuation base” in Djibouti is the first clear example of this tendency.
By competing China will undoubtedly challenge US commercial interests, and its growing financial infrastructure may eventually challenge the dollar’s position as the world’s reserve currency. But how will this affect politics and security? The United States will not intend to disrupt Chinese trading routes or harm Chinese investments. Chinese security infrastructure is not there to attack US military interests. So, Chinese military installations should not be a direct threat to US security interests or US security order in the Middle East. Will Chinese political power turn US allies against the Pax Americana that harm the US interests in the expansions of democratic peace?
About the Author
Timo Kivimäki is Professor of International Relations, and Director of Research at the Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies at University of Bath. In addition to purely academic work, he has been a frequent consultant to the Finnish, Danish, Dutch, Russian, Chinese, Indonesian and Swedish governments.
1. Jia Qingguo and Richard Rosecrance, 2010, “Delicately Poised: Are China and the US Heading for Conflict”, Global Asia 4, no. 4, 72-81.
2. Spain versus Holland in the 16th century, Holland versus England in the 17th century, Britain versus France in both the 18th and 19th centuries, France and Britain versus Germany in the 20th century, Germany versus Russia in 1914, Soviet Union vs. Germany 1941, US vs. Great Britain 1940s, The Soviet Union versus the US 1950-1990.
3. John J. Mearsheimer, 2001, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. (New York: W.W. Norton).
4. Andrew Kohut, June 23, 2014, “America’s Global Image Remains More Positive than China’s,” Pew Global Attitudes Project, July 18, 2013, http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/07/18/americas-global-image-remains-more-positive-than-chinas/; Timo Kivimäki, “Soft Power and Global Governance with Chinese Characteristics,” The Chinese Journal of International Politics 7, no. 4, 421-47, https://doi.org/10.1093/cjip/pou033.
5. Thomas J. Prusa, 2007, “Economic Sanctions Reconsidered, 3rd Edition, Gary Hufbauer, Jeffrey Schott, Kimberly Elliott, Barbara Oegg. Peterson Institute for International Economics”, September 2008, Journal of International Economics 76, no. 1,135-37, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jinteco.2008.06.002; Gary C. Hufbauer et al., 2007, Economic Sanctions Reconsidered, Third Edition: Database (Washington D.C.: Peterson Institute for International Economics)
6. Timo Kivimäki, 2012, “Democracy, Autocrats And U.S. Polices”, Middle East Policy XIX, no. 1, 64-71; Timo Kivimäki, July 3, 2013, “The United States and the Arab Spring”, Journal of Human Security 9, no. 1, 15-26.
7. Murtaza Hussain, April 15, 2016, “Young Iraqis Overwhelmingly Consider U.S. Their Enemy, Poll Says”, Global Research, http://www.globalresearch.ca/young-iraqis-overwhelmingly-consider-u-s-their-enemy-poll-says/5520310; Sean Rayment, October 23, 2005, “Secret MoD Poll: Iraqis Supports Attacks on British Troops,” Telegraph, https://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/168/37188.html.