CHINA INCREASES INFLUENCE IN ARAB WORLD
By Andrew Richards
China will provide Arab states with $20 billion in loans for economic development, President Xi Jinping told top Arab officials Tuesday [10 July], as Beijing seeks to build its influence in the Middle East and Africa. The money will be earmarked for “projects that will produce good employment opportunities and positive social impact in Arab States that have reconstruction needs,” said Xi, without providing further details. (AFP)
By the end of 2016, China was the largest foreign investor in the Arab world, investing more than $29 billion, surpassing the United States and the United Arab Emirates and representing 31.9 percent of the total market share of the region. The major driving force behind China’s large investment is the Belt and Road Initiative, with special economic zones being developed that will bring economic transformation to poorer countries and closer industrial cooperation between the oil-rich Arab nations and China.
For economic and industrial development, China aims to export a Chinese labour force to the region, together with the technological know-how in order to make sure there is good return on their investment. Companies like Huawei and ZTE are already operating in several Arab countries and will consequently increase their footprint elsewhere, due to China’s investment.
China has a lot to gain from investing in countries like Syria, Yemen and Iraq, whose infrastructure has been gravely destroyed by wars and terrorist activities. A good return on investment would be for Chinese companies to be allocated contracts to help rebuild once the wars are over. In the case of Palestine, however, there is little hope of financial return since Palestine is unable to pay back the loan. This has not stopped China from extending financial aid to Palestine, which it recognises as a sovereign state.
Apart from economic investment and development projects, China has also ‘invested’ in poorer Arab countries in the form of humanitarian and food aid. During the recent China-Arab forum held in Beijing, Mr Xi promised aid worth $15 million to Palestine, and a further $91 million to Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
China’s influence in the Arab world took a significant step forward when it opened its first foreign military base in Djibouti in July 2017. The building of the base, according to Chinese officials, forms part of its Belt and Road Initiative and cost $590 million to build. China’s Belt and Road maritime route goes through the Gulf of Aden that borders Yemen, Somalia and Eritrea, which are all considered unstable, and there is an added danger of pirates from Somalia who have been known to hijack cargo ships. China’s base in Djibouti is said to provide naval support for its cargo ships going through the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea and European ports.
Under the Belt and Road Initiative, China also plans to build and operate five additional ports: in Tanzania (providing easier access to the southwest Indian Ocean around Mozambique), Pakistan (providing access to the Arabian Sea), Maldives (opening up access to the Indian Ocean from where it can challenge Indian influence over the same waters), Sri-Lanka (adding to their influence in the Indian Ocean) and Myanmar (providing access to the Bay of Bengal).
China may choose to station military troops at each of these ports, giving China the economic influence it needs to topple the United States as the largest economy in the world as well as political power (through military presence) in regions of the world where Western mediation has often failed to bring peace. China’s recognition of the Palestinian State hints at this possibility. In July 2017, Mr Xi hosted several high-ranking Israeli officials and their Palestinian counterparts for a two-day symposium to promote international efforts to advance peace talks.
For many people, Chinese investment throughout the world is viewed as a way for China to either control the world economy (by flooding developing countries with financial aid and ‘pulling them away’ from the West) or a means to ‘export’ Communism. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi claims that “world domination” is not the goal, saying: “China sees the world as equally shared by all, that well-being of people from all countries is intertwined.” This idea is shared by President Xi, who at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China put forth his vision of building a community “with a shared future for humanity”.
The Belt and Road Initiative plays well into the idea of a “shared future” and as an intentional result, the Chinese government has encouraged people-to-people and culture-to-culture interaction between China and the more than seventy countries worldwide that have signed into the Belt and Road Initiative. In the words of Xi Jinping: “Our friends in Southeast Asia say that the lotus flowers grow taller as the water rises. Our friends in Africa say that if you want to go fast, walk alone, and if you want to go far, walk together. Our friends in Europe say that a single tree cannot block the chilly wind. And Chinese people say that when big rivers have water, the small ones are filled, and when small rivers have water, the big ones are filled. All these sayings speak to one same truth, that is, only through win-win cooperation can we make big and sustainable achievements that are beneficial to all.”
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
China’s economic ambitions with respect to the Belt and Road Initiative have opened up previously closed doors to Chinese missionaries who now have the ability to serve outside China, with some referring to these new opportunities as the “One Belt, One Road, One Mission” initiative. Many Chinese workers have already made use of China’s new relationships with countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Qatar, but there is a concern that the Church in China might be moving too fast into this new mission field. Several Chinese pastors have commented on the obvious pitfalls that actually slow down missionary work, rather than speed it up: “The biggest problem is that many missionaries do not understand how to adapt to a different culture. Many missionaries go to other places and simply establish Chinese-style churches, instead of churches that are integrated into the local culture.”
Pray for Chinese missionaries to overcome this tendency towards cultural isolation so that they may be able to immerse themselves in their host cultures, and promote a more indigenous Church.
> For the pledged aid to reach those most in need
> For increased opportunities for Chinese Christian business people in the region
> For Chinese missionaries as they endeavour to plant indigenous churches