BRI brings development of China and Middle East closer than ever
11 May 2023


Middle East countries have always admired China's economic development and its successful transition from a planned economy to a market economy while maintaining political stability, increasing its GDP many-fold, expanding its exports and attracting more and more foreign capital.


China's rapid economic development has influenced the agenda of economic reforms not only in Middle East countries but also in many developing countries because the conditions in China are similar to those in the rest of the developing world.


The specificity of the Middle East in this context is clear given its historical ties with China through the ancient Silk Road. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the two sides have been making efforts to deepen economic cooperation in light of their increasing common interests and interdependence. Especially, the rise of China as a major economic power with increasing influence in the United Nations Security Council gave most Middle East countries hope that the country will sincerely fulfill all its global responsibilities. After all, China upholds multipolarism and has been helping build a global community with a shared future.


In this context, the Belt and Road Initiative put forward by President Xi Jinping in 2013 is of great importance to the Middle East countries, especially to the Arab countries. Many countries in the region see the initiative a project that will define the new global balance of power, because it reflects a development strategy that links global trade networks across Asia, Africa and Europe.


The Middle East countries hope China will play a bigger role in global economic relations alongside the European Union, thus limiting the dominance of the United States in the global economy.


The Arab countries, especially the Gulf countries, are aware of their importance to China because of their geostrategic locations in global trade.


The supervision of the Arab countries over the Strait of Hormuz (Oman and Iran), the Bab el-Mandeb Strait (Yemen and Djibouti) and the Suez Canal (Egypt) accords the region unique importance as a point of intersection of three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe). That China is aware of this fact is reflected in its efforts to deepen cooperation with the region under the Belt and Road Initiative framework and increase investments in the Gulf countries. Also, these countries constitute a cornerstone of China's energy security.


The Middle East countries were among the first to support the Belt and Road Initiative, which is aimed at improving communication infrastructure between Asia, Africa and Europe. The Middle East countries have signed many agreements and memorandums under the initiative's framework, because they want to become important regional and global strategic, logistical and economic centers.


Perhaps the volume of trade between China and the Middle East countries, which reached $507.15 billion in 2022, reflects the interest of the region for China's initiative. In fact, China has established strategic partnerships in several fields with many Middle East countries in order to enhance mutual benefit.


To be precise, China has established comprehensive strategic partnerships or strategic partnerships with 12 Arab countries, and signed cooperation agreements under the Belt and Road Initiative framework with 21 Arab countries and the Arab League. Also, 17 Arab countries have supported President Xi's Global Development Initiative, 15 have joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and 14 have joined the "China-Arab Cooperation Initiative for Data Security".


The Belt and Road Initiative has many advantages that can benefit the Middle East countries. For example, it can help them to increase investment cooperation in many projects to develop infrastructure, improve transport services and build commercial logistical hubs.


In addition, the joint China-Arab projects will strengthen commercial, customs and financial linkages between the two sides and benefit both, commercially and politically, leading to deeper security cooperation.


Arab countries support the strengthening of trade relations with developing countries, especially China, not least because they want to transform into important regional and global strategic and economic centers. And they know the Belt and Road Initiative can help them do so.


In short, the Arab countries are enthusiastic about Belt and Road projects, because they can facilitate the economic integration of Asia and the Middle East, and further strengthen the bonds of friendship and cooperation between the Middle East and China.


The author is a professor in the Foreign Affairs Department of Qatar University. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.


Source: China Daily