Yu Jie on What China Wants from the MENA Region
Dr. Yu Jie is the head of China Foresight and a Dahrendorf senior research associate at LSE IDEAS, London School of Economics and Political Science. At the 16th meeting of GMF’s Mediterranean Strategy Group in Rome, she sat down with Charlotte Brandsma, program officer at GMF, to reflect on the outlook for China's engagement with the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Q: What will be the number one challenge to watch in MENA region in 2018?
Dr. Yu Jie: Throughout last week’s discussion at GMF’s Mediterranean Strategy Group meeting, as well as the policy planning conversation, participants made it clear that regional security remains a vital challenge for the MENA region. In particular, none of the established powers, such as the United States and the European Union, have found the panacea for curbing Islamic radicalization and managing the flow of refugees. Nor an emerging player, such as China, is willing and ready fulfil the vacuum to police the region. And China is still in a long, and perhaps even painful, learning to become a global power.
Q: What is the outlook for the China's engagement with the MENA region?
Dr. Yu Jie: China’s policy objective vis-à-vis the MENA region is representative of the fundamental characteristics of Chinese foreign policy. China is a country with “dual identities,” combining a developing country reality with the power ambitions of a great global power. Therefore, this particular identity has created issue-oriented national interests. These dual identities have influenced Beijing’s foreign policy, which focuses on satisfying immediate economic needs rather than attaining long-term strategic goals.
This distinctive characteristic has not only limited China’s roles in the MENA but also constrained Beijing’s ambition to be a true global power. There are three things China wants from the MENA region: chiefly, a secure energy supply to generate its astronomical economic growth; a reliable trade route to substantiate its planned Belt and Road Initiative; and a small military presence to safeguard its enormous state assets and hard-earned infrastructure investments within the region — a hard lesson learned the after the Libya crisis in 2011.
These three objectives are as much about economics as they are about regional security. China is merely an emerging player within the MENA region compared with established powers such as the EU and United States. Beijing has yet to be equipped with sufficient capability, both at policy planning and implementation levels, to fulfil its objectives. China’s usual mercantilist approach to its diplomacy has encountered suspicions and will continue to raise some doubts from both regional players and established powers.
China’s engagement in the MENA region should not only be a question in dollars and pounds, but more importantly to win the hearts and minds of regional players. In doing so, China must make a good attempt to establish itself as a reputable newcomer in the Mediterranean.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.