The Chinese Belt and Road Project in the Middle East and North Africa
The Middle East and North Africa (or, following the Chinese nomenclature, Western Asia and North Africa) region has been of growing importance to Beijing for the past two decades. This has been predominantly due to China’s need to ensure its energy security. However, as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) expanded, so did the strategic importance of the land and sea routes connecting East Asia and Eurasia with Europe via the Persian Gulf, and the Red and the Mediterranean Seas. The need to protect these economic interests resulted, in turn, in the expansion of Chinese involvement in the region into political, military and cultural realms.The BRI, inaugurated in September 2013 by the Chinese President Xi Jinping, initially excluded most MENA countries. As the initiative evolved, however, more and more countries were incorporated by virtue of signing relevant Memorandums of Understanding. The foundations for a closer relationship with countries in the region had already been laid in the mid-2000s, when the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF) and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) were established. By the end of 2010, the China-GCC Strategic Dialogue had also been founded. Since the BRI was launched, bilateral relations between China and individual countries in the region have evolved further, with comprehensive strategic partnerships (China’s highest level in diplomatic relations) signed with Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and strategic partnerships with another eight states in the region. As its geographical scope expanded, so the BRI’s goals evolved, which currently encompass the enhancement of trade, connectivity, financial integration, political coordination and people-to-people relations.
This article was published in the IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook 2020
Photo: People work at the construction site of the 385-meter-high Iconic Tower in New Administrative Capital, about 45 km east of Cairo, Egypt in 2019. Carried out by China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), the project is a landmark for the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Wu Huiwo / Zuma Press / Forum