CHINA’S GEO-ECONOMIC INTERESTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
China is a relative newcomer to the Middle East region. Indeed, as it is not in China’s immediate neighbourhood, for a long time its importance to Beijing remained low. This began to change in the early 2000s. Due to its impressive economic expansion, marked by joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, China’s energy consumption growth rate accelerated, making the energy-rich region increasingly crucial to China’s energy security. Thus, the destabilization that came to the Middle East with the Global War on Terror declared by the United States as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attack, endangered its interests. At the same time, however, having significant Muslim minorities of its own, China was keen to maintain the security of its Muslim-majority provinces and used the GWOT as justification for curbing the threat of its internal, separatist “Islamic terrorism”. Eventually, then, to accommodate its growing interest in the region, China expanded its “greater neighbourhood” to include the Middle East as well. Presently, while still not a key partner for Beijing, the region is one of the main suppliers of China’s gas and oil, an increasingly important export destination, a territory of continuous construction activity of Chinese companies under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and an object of a large-scale Chinese charm offensive. Slowly, it is becoming an object of Beijing’s security interests as well.