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Is China appealing to Arabs?

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Dr. Fares Braizat, a former minister of youth, is currently the chairman of the Amman-based NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions and Cluster, where he directs public policy-related projects. He was appointed by His Majesty as a member of the Royal Committee to Modernize the Political System where he served on the Election Law subcommittee.
Although China does not appear on the “top of the mind list” of Jordanians when asked open-ended questions about which country is the largest economic supporter or the closest ally of Jordan, interestingly, 38 percent of Jordanians describe political relations between the Jordanian and the Chinese governments as “very good” and 54 percent as “somewhat good”, according to the foreign relations survey conducted jointly by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions and KAS last fall.اضافة اعلان

Moreover, 61 percent would like to strengthen these relations and 29 percent would like to keep them as they are. Those who would like to “limit” these relations constituted 8 percent of those surveyed. This means Jordanians, largely, have a positive predisposition toward China. What will happen to it in the in future, depends on how that “shared future” may turn out to be.

Consequently, when asked which country they would like Jordan to cooperate with more in the future, only 5 percent of the Jordanians surveyed mentioned China, improving from 1 percent in the 2018 survey. When asked which non-Arab country Jordan shares most foreign policy interests with, only 2 percent, mentioned China, while 63 percent mentioned the US, followed by Turkey, 9 percent, and the UK, 8 percent. Although China is climbing, it has a very long way to go when compared to traditional “allies” and “frienemies” of Jordan.

Despite the perception of 37 percent of Jordanians that China’s policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict is “pro-Israel”, of 9 percent that it is pro-Palestinians and of 45 percent who believe it is either balanced or indifferent, over half of adult Jordanians, 54 percent, would like China to play “a much larger” role, and 25 percent “a somewhat larger” role in the region.

There are reasons for such preference for a larger role for China in the region. In the most recent wave of the Arab Barometer Surveys (AB) 2018-9, 70 percent of Jordanians expressed a preference for “closer economic ties with China” and 73 percent want “more foreign aid” from China.

Most positions expressed on China by Jordanians are driven by economic reasons, which are of significant importance for them.

Although there is not much of a “shared past” between the Arabs and China, there might be plenty of a “shared future”. But reaching there will not be a smooth ride. China is moving aggressively on the economic front globally through many projects, and the “one belt one road” is only one of them; the region is not an exception to this global Chinese momentum.

Illustratively, despite the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) historical strategic relations with the US and the West broadly, China is building strategic partnerships with all GCC countries and their neighbors. To that effect, China’s 25-year strategic partnership with Iran, which is said to be worth $400 billion to be invested in Iran’s oil, petrochemicals, gas, infrastructure, business, services, telecoms, and technology transfer, is a case in point.

Iraq, Egypt and Algeria are building similar partnerships although their publics are less excited than Jordanians and Tunisians about closer economic ties with China, according to the AB surveys.

These developments make the region a more contested ground for spheres of influence. While regional and international players are blamed by Jordanian public opinion for instability in the region, namely Israel 54 percent, US 19 percent, and Iran 6 percent, China is not even mentioned. It is expected that the showdown is going to intensify over the next five years as China increases its economic presence and strategic partnerships in competition with the US and/or at its expense.

China has not yet weighed in politically, but its economic ties will dictate such an eventuality. When asked “which of the following non-Arab actors will have the strongest influence in the Middle East in 10 years”, the US came on top, at 42 percent (no change from 2019), but China came in second, at 13 percent, up from 8 percent in 2019.

So what does China want in the region? It is likely that China wants to: a) promote its model of assertive-authoritarianism by deals with governments, not peoples of the region; b) open and expand markets, c) ensures energy supply. In such a formula, China will appeal to like-minded governments in the region and if its economic projects deliver solutions to the chronic unemployment problems, it will appeal more to the peoples of the region. Its arch rival, the US, ought to reexamine its policies on governance, conflict and peace, and strategic alignments.

Perhaps a new regional security order has never been more relevant than now.

Dr. Fares Braizat, a former minister of youth, is currently the chairman of the Amman-based NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions and Cluster, where he directs public policy-related projects. He was appointed by His Majesty as a member of the Royal Committee to Modernize the Political System where he served on the Election Law subcommittee.


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