Submit a Manuscript to the Journal

Middle East Critique

For a Special Issue on

China and the Middle East: Then and Now

Abstract deadline
15 October 2023

Manuscript deadline
30 April 2024

Cover image - Middle East Critique

Special Issue Editor(s)

Linda Matar, Sun Yat-sen University
[email protected]

Submit an ArticleVisit JournalArticles

China and the Middle East: Then and Now

Since time immemorial, the Middle Kingdom has been connected to the Middle East. According to Iraqi historian Hadi al-Alawi, ever since pre-Islamic times, when ancient trade exchange was carried out by caravans and merchant fleet, the interconnectivity between East and West Asia was born. The old Silk Road lasted for about 1,500 years, before it fell slowly into abeyance, starting in 1600s when Europeans controlled global trade through their monopoly of East India companies. By then, global trade was no longer the protection of caravans from the East hauling luxury goods, but rather the West seized it. According to Palestinian poet, Tamim al-Barghouti, it was European colonization that acted as the main barrier between the Arab World and China. As he argues, there is no need to build bridges to reconnect the two civilizations because there are no oceans or seas that separate East from West Asia. What we actually need is the removal of artificial barriers that were forcefully imposed by Western imperialists, who came from behind the seas to intervene with battleships and guns, and disrupt intra-Asian connectivity. European colonization—through late 19th century till the mid-20th century—became the dominant form of globalization, which played an essential role in subordinating Middle Eastern states to Western hegemony. Colonialism and neo-colonial intervention—especially the US empire’s meddling in the past 50 years—in countries of the Global South have been anything, but developmental. In West Asia, dire human suffering accompanied the ill-fated development resulting from Western consistent bombardment, illicit plundering, exploitation of resources, unilaterally imposed sanctions, waste accumulation, and war profiteering. In this regard, the tragic history of Yemen stands as perfect example to Western domination and repression, becoming one of the world’s poorest nations.

Since their independence in the mid-20th century, Arab countries have struggled to attain a modicum of sovereignty amidst post-independence political instability. Starting with imperialistically designed treaties and conventions, moving to armed conflicts and Arab defeat to Israel in the 1967 and 1973 wars, these events represent a fraction of the Arab region’s embattled post-independence history. Furthermore, Western meddling has penetrated the Arab region through the Bretton Woods institutions’ propagation of its ideologies—neoliberalism and the free-market paradigm. One cannot underestimate the power of the structural adjustment programs, which normally stands at odds with the socioeconomic realities of many states, in succumbing national institutions. Imperialist interception has reached its zenith through the prolonged proxy wars on the lands of Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as the looting of their agricultural and hydrocarbon resources. However, China’s rejuvenation of the old Silk Road has represented a window of opportunity to Middle Eastern states—as well as other developing nations in the Global South—motivating them to look East rather than West.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has captured international attention and academic and non-academic research interests since its inception in 2013. China’s BRI project has so far interlocked China’s model of nationalist development—socialism with Chinese characteristics—with nascent development experiences around the world. China’s economic success on the national level has established the launchpad for it to connect itself with the rest of the world through its foreign policy initiative, known as “Building a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind.” Its outward investment in developing nations nurtures national productive capacities, mobilizing idle, labour, and natural resources to infuse new technology into the production process and enhance the productive abilities. BRI seeks a more peaceful, integrated, and culturally promoting path through China’s recently-advocated initiatives—the Global Development Initiative, Global Security Initiative, and Global Civilization Initiative. Over the past 10 years, China has managed to build and share its economic clout by strengthening its partnerships with states in the Global South. By releasing part of its production overcapacity (technology, knowhow, and resources), China has boosted physical investment and cultural exchange in host economies (see, for instance, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Laos, Malaysia, and Cambodia). From a political standpoint, it has enabled countries of the Global South to build a stronger voice in the international community, eventually transforming the global geopolitical scene. China’s BRI mega-project with its all-around improvement in host countries, runs counter to the US neoliberal market-oriented model that has impoverished the Third World. From the diplomatic standpoint, China’s mediation in the 2023 rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia has initiated the biggest geopolitical shift in the Middle East in the 21st century without the direct involvement of the US. This represents a window of opportunity for de-escalating other conflicts in the region, particularly those in Syria and Yemen. It also reveals that Gulf countries are willingly steering toward Eurasia’s new powers—Russia, Iran, China (RIC)—away from the US. There is no doubt that the reduction in political instability in the Middle East serves China’s commercial interests in the region. Afterall, political stability in West Asia acts as a necessary prerequisite for the success of China’s BRI.

Exchanges between China and Middle Eastern countries have become more frequent; examples include “Arab-China Business Conference”, “China-Arab States Cooperation Forum”, and “China-Arab States Expos.” All these initiatives have strengthened cooperation between all parties. Recent statistics reveal that the Arab region stands as the 8thtrading partner with China, while the latter is considered the Arab region’s first international trading partner. As of late, Chinese BRI-investment has targeted energy and other sectors, including infrastructure, logistics, telecommunication, transport, maritime and industrial sectors that can boost the diversification plans of Arab countries.

In the current scheme of international events and the strengthening of the multipolar world order, BRICS economies have been moving away from the hegemony of the dollar, as the US weaponized it via its levying of sanctions on other countries. More recently, Iran, Iraq and the UAE have partially ditched the US dollar in their bilateral trade with China. China has opened doors for any hydrocarbon producer—via the Shanghai Petroleum and Natural Gas Exchange in Shanghai—to execute oil and gas transactions in yuan rather than dollar. This implies that that the pricing system in the hydrocarbon market is already shifting from the US dollar to the yuan. Yet, the overall implications of weakening the dollar's grip on world trade and deposing the US financial market remains to be seen.

In such a context, the majority of Western research has so far presented a one-sided or biased perspective of analysis, presenting China as an authoritarian threat to the MENA region and the world, more broadly. In response to this mainstream literature, this Special Issue aims to analyze BRI’s multi-faceted outcomes, challenges, and potential in the Middle East from an even-handed perspective. Of course, no single academic discipline can fully elaborate on this topical theme in a comprehensive and incisive manner. For these reasons, this Special Issue will draw upon a variety of disciplines that range from history, geopolitics, geoeconomics, political economy, international relations, culture, and political science, with the attempt to provide an interdisciplinary contribution to the analysis.

Topics of interest include:

  • The ancient Silk Road and the historical connectivity between China and the Arab World;
  • The role that non-governmental exchanges between China and the Middle East can play in facilitating the building of civilizational connectivity and social cohesion between the peoples of the two regions;
  • How can China’s BRI projects in Middle Eastern countries—ranging from maritime projects, port-building, transport and telecommunication development, ventures in industrial cities, oil and petrochemical exploration—help the latter overcome their underdevelopment traps?
  • Critical analyses of Western concepts employed to assess China’s BRI investment in the Middle East, i.e., “String of Pearls,” “debt trap,” and “debt default;”
  • How can China’s trade and investment deals and exchanges with the Middle East enable countries, like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya, overcome sanctions and its debilitating impact?
  • The effect of prolonged political instability in the Middle East in terms of hindering the acceleration of Chinese developmental investment in the Arab region;
  • The importance of China’s diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, as evidenced by its mediation in the 2023 rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran on: first, accelerating Chinese security infrastructure in West Asia (based on international law) that, in turn, can renegotiate many of the security/trade treaties and conventions existing since 1945; and second, on shifting the regional geopolitical balance of power towards the East away from the West which, in turn, can help in resolving other regional conflicts, like those in Yemen, Syria and Palestine.
  • What impact can the recent practice of de-dollarization by some Persian Gulf countries, settling oil transactions with China in Yuan, have on the international financial markets?
  • Analysis of BRI’s overland connectivity corridors—such as the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor, the Middle Corridor (along Iran and Turkiye), and the Five Seas Strategy—in fostering Arab regional integration and development.

Submission Instructions

Interested authors should submit a 250-word abstract by email to the journal's Editor, Dr. Matteo Capasso, at [email protected] and SI guest editor, Dr. Linda Matar, at [email protected].

We aim for a special issue of 7-9 original articles, preceded by an introduction by the editors.

Selected authors are expected to submit an original article of 8000-9000 words.

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article