02 Dec 2020

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.

By Katarzyna Sidło


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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