By Bilal Hafeez 21-08-2019

Chinese Interests and Policies in the Middle East: A Conversation with Jon Alterman (Economics – Audio, 25 mins

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(You can listen to the podcast by clicking here)

In this episode, Dr Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at Center for Strategic and International Studies, explains how for China, being the world’s largest importer of crude oil has an edge in building economic partnerships with MENA states. This includes exporting billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese infrastructure and hedging energy supply risks by striking balances between both non-US (Iran) and US allies (Saudi Arabia, the UAE) around the Gulf area. Alterman also speaks about the Sino-Israel relationship, where Israel sought to ‘remain interesting’ to China by exchanging military technologies and China responded by making tremendous investments in the Israeli economy. All this is causing concerns regarding US national security despite China’s claim to adhere to its ‘non-interference’ policy and stay out of the political disputes. China’s Belt-and-Road initiative also appeared lucrative to many MENA state governments, leading a surprising number of UN ambassadors from the area to support China’s recent mass detention of Uighur populations in its Xinjiang Province.

Why does this matter? East Asia and the Middle East have been quietly getting closer over the past few years and energy trade is part of the story. With the US trade tensions escalating, China is clearly seeking new partners – it has signed a number of strategic partnership agreements since Jinping’s first visit to the region in 2016. But we see concerns about the terms of loans and investment, which other states have found difficult to navigate. In the case of Sri Lanka, for example, having taken out large loans for ambitious infrastructure projects, it was unable to service its debt to China. Read more on the topic in this recent report.

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