chapter  2
32 Pages

A five-dimensional paradigm: energy, trade, arms sales, cultural relations and political co-operation

The rapid pace of China’s involvement in the Middle East in the areas of energy, trade, arms sales, culture and politics has generated substantial research interest. Scholars scramble to explain such involvement, matching it with existing theoretical frameworks, developing their own representations and attempting to predict its future course vis-à-vis the dominant powers in the region, i.e. the United States and Western powers. They also wonder if such vigorous involvement aims at dislodging the US and its allies from the Middle East, or if it is pure business transactions that seek a steady source of energy to sustain China’s economic prosperity. The objective of this chapter is to examine the depth of China’s involvement in the Middle East and, in so doing, I develop a five-dimensional approach that takes into account the complexity of China’s presence in the Middle East in terms of oil imports, trade relations, arms sales, political co-operation and cultural relations. These five dimensions are inextricably intertwined. Theoretically, three schools of thought are competing to analyse China’s involvement in the region: the realist, the liberal institutionalist and the constructivist. Some of China’s policies in pursuing its goals, or at least some of them, in the region allude to the fact that China might be following a realist approach in defending and promoting its interest in the Middle East. However, China also seems to be working within the existing ‘Western liberal’ system and institutions to meet its energy needs and pursue a wide agenda of bilateral and multilateral relations with Middle Eastern countries. From a constructivist point of view, the region and its people are much more attuned to China’s narrative, historical experience and deep-rooted civilizational contacts with the Middle East than to Western powers, as we will see in the subsequent sections.