A University Grants Commission Approved Journal
(under UGC-CARE, Arts & Humanities Citation Index)
ISSN 2582-2241


China’s Presence in the Middle East.
Edited by Anoushiravan Ehteshami and Niv Horesh.
(Abingdon: Oxon, Routledge, and New York: Routledge, 2018),
219 pages, US$ 110.

Shandong University, China


A familiar name in the subject of international relations, Anoushiravan Ehteshami, seems to have shifted his research focus from the Middle Eastern inter-state relations and the Middle East-U.S. relations to China and its role in the Middle East. Ehteshami is conversant and widely published on issues related to Middle East politics with specific focus on Iran. Ehteshami is professor of International Relations at the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University, UK, and Niv Horesh is a professorial visiting research fellow at the School of Government and International Affairs at the same university. The authors pull together this edited version utilising a wide range of academic and non-academic inputs as this book is authored by various researchers with different backgrounds. 

The book is divided into two parts; the first part is divided into four chapters, inaugurated by a chapter on “Why the Middle East Matters to China.” An assumption is made here that since the 1980s the People’s Republic of China “has desired to be seen as a global power and this has meant being considered a major player in the Middle East” (p. 9). Furthermore, “since the 1990s the region has become important to China economically, especially as a source of energy,” and that “since the 2000s there has been greater recognition that the Middle East has become an extension of China with key ethno-religious linkages that threaten its domestic stability.” The authors add that “since the 2010s there is an emerging realization in Beijing of the Middle East’s considerable geostrategic importance to China and the world” (p.9) 

This argument, while shared by the co-editor Horesh, is expanded to a large question of international relations about China’s approach to the Middle East, the question that Beijing has kept in mind the historical interests of the United States in the region. Horesh observes that the main findings of this book are that no one single framework can anticipate China-Mideast relations in the future. “If anything, China’s engagement is tripartite rather than bilateral since it is strategically grounded in American-policed regional architecture,” he states, and adds that “neither can the current People’s Republic of China (PRC) leadership under Xi Jinping be portrayed at present as actively seeking to undermine American hegemony in the region.” To the contrary, he explains that “there is a strong Sino-American convergence of interests in the Middle East that might possibly alleviate other tensions between the U.S. and China in the future, as China becomes more reliant on Middle Eastern oil and on the American security architecture that conditions free navigation across the Hormuz Straits” (p. 3).  

Chapter Eleven of the book’s second part, “The One Belt, One Road in China’s grand strategy,” identifies China’s presence in the Middle East as part of China’s overarching strategy. Ehteshami uses Simon Norton’s definition as “as an integrated and coherent set of ideas about a state’s ultimate objectives in the international system, and how it should go about achieving them”[1] (p.139). The contributors in this volume agree that the OBOR is a “positive endeavour to seek new models of international cooperation and global governance” in China’s push to achieve its objectives (p.26).

In Chapter One, “Why the Middle East matters to China,” Andrew Scobell highlights Beijing’s twenty-first century worldview and further what the Middle East means to China (pp. 10-19). Tim Summers in Chapter Two, “Rocking the boat? China’s “Belt and Road” and Global Order,” examines a range of issues such as the principles and framework of the Silk Roads idea (p. 25); connectivity, the Belt and Road vision and global capitalism (p. 27); regional development and delivering the vision and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, or AIIB (p. 32). Finally, this chapter examines geopolitics, the global political economy and the global order (p. 33).

In Chapter Three, “Vision, Revision and Supervision: The Politics of China’s OBOR and AIIB and their Implications for the Middle East,” the author examines how the AIIB incorporates the vision of the BRI and how this positively impacts upon China’s relations with the Middle Eastern countries In Chapter Four, “Viability of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s Financials and Objectives,” Sara Hsu focuses on the viability of infrastructure investment (p. 55), and cooperation with other multilateral institutions, and public-private partnerships (p. 57-58).

Part II of the book begins with Chapter Five in which Sean Foley points to the future of Sino-Saudi relations. Foley sees a tenuous, albeit cognitively strengthening, people-to-people dimension as well as a Saudi determination to wean the country off oil through state-led economic reforms not unlike those Beijing initiated three decades ago. As Saudi Arabia’s financial interests in China grow, Riyadh’s policies will have to more and more approximate China’s position on the South China Sea and a host of other hot spots, no matter how much pressure Washington brings to bear.

In Chapter Eight, Wang Yu examines economic and cultural interactions between Israel and China, and the opportunities and challenges, including Israel’s place in China’s OBOR and AIIB initiatives (p. 137). In contrast, in Chapter Nine, “How do Palestinians Perceive China’s Rise?” Guy Burton explores the Palestinian reaction to the growing ties between Israel and China and examines the various stages of Sino-Palestinian relations.

The Palestinians believe that the OBOR plan is economically orientated. The OBOR will most likely sideline the Palestinians while benefiting their neighbours, including Egypt and Israel. The former is expected to benefit from the Chinese intention to build it into a “hub” for trade while the latter already attracts growing Chinese business and hi- technology investment (p. 159). China would or had already replaced the United States as the largest economy. Perhaps as influential as its economy was its soft power, especially in the areas of scientific and technological prowess: global publics have rated these attributes as highly positive with respect to China’s rise—especially its ideas, customs, media and entertainment (p. 162). Certainly the Palestinians welcome the Chinese presence in their economy. But China does not figure highly in the minds of the Palestinian elite or masses (p. 163).

Perhaps the most important question for Palestinians is whether or not China is an important actor in resolving the conflict with Israel (p. 164). There is little Palestinian expectation that China will challenge or transform the process by becoming directly involved, either as a mediator in talks between Israel and Palestine or as an active participant in an expanded multilateral effort to resolve the conflict.

For many Palestinians, the failure of Oslo undermines any notion that another state, like China, might offer an alternative mediator to the United States in terms of transforming the “peace process.” The failure of Oslo has prompted two different directions to emerge in the Palestinians’ search for a resolution to the conflict (p. 169-170). One is to “internationalise” the conflict by encouraging diplomacy in order to introduce moral obligations on states to follow the letter of the law in relation to Israel’s occupation (p. 170). The other is the rise of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in Palestine that builds campaigns in order to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and to pressure Israel to comply with international law.

The OBOR and the AIIB do not directly relate to the challenge faced by Palestinians other than the lip service paid by policymakers that the conflict needs to be resolved (p. 170). The result therefore will continue to be what it has been until now: sympathetic support in principle for the Palestinian cause, but with no substance behind it. And with that in mind, Palestinian views and hopes concerning Beijing will be open, but tempered by reality (p. 170).

Chapter Ten comprises the major bulk of the second section of the book as it focuses on the OBOR initiative, and envisions Iran’s role in it. John Calabrese, in this chapter, observes that far from wedging China and Iran, the lifting of Western nuclear-related sanctions against Iran may have actually removed a major obstacle to the broadening and deepening of China-Iran relations. Yet, considering the recent changes in U.S.-Iran relations during the Trump administration this argument could be invalid.

In the final chapter, Ehteshami researches the OBOR strategy in China’s grand strategy, focusing on the OBOR as a common destiny (p. 196), and explaining that OBOR has given Asia’s new regionalism centre stage (p. 207).

 Wang Xiaolan is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Theory, School of Political Science and Public Administration, Shandong University, China. Xiaolan earned her Master’s degree in Western Political Thought at Anqing Normal University in Anhui, China. Her PhD research focuses on Western Political Thought, specifically on the Writings of Lord Acton and theories of Nationality and Liberty. Xiaolan’s recent publications are: “Analysis of Lord Acton’s Government” [浅析阿克顿政府观], Journal of Honghe University, 2013; “The Dilemma and Transcendence of American Democracy” [试析美式民主的困境与超越], Journal of Jiangxi Normal University, 2014; “Analysis of Lord Acton’s Constitutional View” [浅析阿克顿宪政观念], Journal of Chifeng College, 2015, and “The Study of Lord Acton’s Christian Nationality [浅析阿克顿基督教民族主义], Journal of Jiangsu Second Normal University, 2016). Xiaolan is currently researching the subject of government management and policy implementation.


[1] Simon Norton, “China’s Grand Strategy,” China Studies Centre, University of Sydney, November 2015, p. 4.