China is strengthening ties in the Middle East and Africa as US influence diminishes
China is strengthening ties in the Middle East and Africa as US influence diminishes

China is strengthening ties in the Middle East and Africa as US influence diminishes

Perceptions of US global influence are in decline, according to a report by the Eurasia Group Foundation, as the number of global respondents who gave a “very positive” assessment of US influence fell by 20% between 2019 and 2021.

These declines in sentiment are most pronounced in Middle Eastern and African states, which have opened their doors to Chinese dealmakers to expand their global influence.

Chinese President Xi Jinping suggested this trend at the recent Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, where he told a group of legislators: “We are both in favor of a development path that suits our national conditions and are both committed to upholding the rights and interests of developing countries. We both oppose domestic interference, racial discrimination and unilateral sanctions. “

The last decade in these regions has seen a significant decline in American popularity and an increase in Chinese investment. In 2010, 81% of respondents in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, had a positive view of the United States, compared to only 62% in 2019.

During the same period, trade between China and Africa increased from $ 114.81 billion in 2010 to $ 254 billion in 2021.

Studies conducted in the Middle East reveal a similar trend. Negative views of the United States in the region have risen sharply, primarily as a result of interventionist policies in places like Afghanistan and a sense that U.S. foreign policy is increasingly “hypocritical.”

“In Algeria, only 13% think China’s investment is a threat, while 31% think US investment is an internal threat,” said Sarwar Kashmeri, an adjunct professor and fellow at the Foreign Policy Association. Newsweek, caiting studies from Pew Research and the Arab Barometer.

In Jordan, another US ally, only 15% think China is a threat compared to 26% who think the US is, “he said.” Finally, in Lebanon, 26% think China’s investment is a red flag. , compared to 47% when asked. on US investment. “

“The last three decades of US involvement in the world have been of a provocative militaristic nature,” Kashmeri added, noting that this approach has alienated many and discouraged the spirit of international cooperation.

While America remains an important trading partner for many African and Middle Eastern nations, these changing trends are a cause for concern as the United States relies on regional exports of agricultural products, crude oil and other strategic raw materials.

“Our engagement in Africa is not about China or any other third party,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said during an official visit to Nigeria in November. “It’s about Africa.”

“Our purpose is not to get our partners to choose, it is to give them choices,” he said in Senegal. “And when people have choices, they usually make the right move.”

The declining reputation of the United States in both regions has created opportunities for competition. China has moved rapidly to seize these opportunities as many regional stakeholders express an appetite for a new era of international diplomacy.

“The people of the region share a desire for freedom from imperialist or colonial domination and for the affirmation of their different religious, ethnic or cultural identities,” said Charles W. Freeman, former president of the Middle East Political Council.

Compared to Western nations, which often stigmatize and limit cooperation with African and Middle Eastern governments, the Chinese government has shown willingness to proactively engage in both economic and cultural exchange.

“China itself is not very far from having been in the same state of poverty,” said W. Gyude Moore, a former Liberian official and senior politician at the Center for Global Development. “Our situations may seem strange to Europeans, but the Chinese are far more familiar with the context.”

While most of the US trade with the Middle East and Africa is driven by exports of raw materials and resources, Chinese cooperation in these regions tends to exchange raw materials for infrastructure projects and cheap consumer goods.

Chinese trade with Africa totaled $ 254 billion, while trade with the Gulf Coast states approached $ 240 billion in 2021. These numbers have only increased year on year, while U.S. trade numbers in the regions are seeing steady declines.

Both regions have large infrastructure and technological gaps to fill, and China offers better deals to do so, Moore said.

Western governments and corporations are typically reluctant to invest in regions and nations that they see as “high-risk,” he said. On the other hand, the Chinese have a “non-interference” approach, which allows them to invest over longer periods.

“There is a perception of Africa as risky for business and investment from the West,” Moore said. “That perception of risk has meant that the West has been tired of making large infrastructure investments.”

“But over the last two decades,” he added, “China has had an appetite for African risks and has provided the things Africa needed, especially infrastructure.”

Unlike the United States, China practices capitalism without the requirement of liberal democracy and therefore has no reservations about regimes that have dubious results in protecting core democratic values.

“Unlike the United States, which wants trading partners to be part of the liberal world order – free press, elections, democracy – China does not care,” Kashmeri said. Newsweek. It sees that a large part of the Middle Eastern population is young and thinks mainly, ‘How can we sell to them?’

“The Chinese are helping to build bridges and roads and are not interfering in any of their political or military aspirations,” he added. “China’s main business is business, and that’s a big reason for their rapid expansion.”

While partnerships between African states, Middle Eastern nations and the Chinese are not perfect, many on the ground prefer this new approach to the old ways.

“Chinese agreements are not ideal in the universe of all sorts of agreements,” Moore said. “However, they were usually the only sensible things on the table, and as long as there were no competitors for funding, we took what the Chinese presented.”

He said this is the first time in recent times that the African people have seen direct results from their exports.

“When the Chinese came in and started building roads and water filtration, for the very first time you could see a direct connection between your resources leaving your country and a physical benefit accruing to the people,” Moore said.

“Most Westerners do not appreciate this,” he added.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) greets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) during an inspection tour of the new Kipevu Oil Terminal in Mombasa Port in Mombasa on January 6, 2022.
Photo by AFP via Getty Images

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