Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

China's Middle East Foreign Policy and the Yemen Crisis: Challenges and Implications

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

China's Middle East Foreign Policy and the Yemen Crisis: Challenges and Implications

Article excerpt

This article examines the broad implications of the 2015 Yemeni civil war on Chinese foreign policy in the Middle East. The findings show that the ongoing crisis in Yemen presents a challenge to the key element of non-intervention guiding Chinese foreign policy in the region and may force Beijing to gradually abandon its low-key strategy in managing its relations with the countries in the region.

INTRODUCTION

The Yemeni civil war, which began in 2014, is one of the more complex events to have emerged since the start of the Arab Spring. There are numerous factors at play in this conflict, including economic interests, religious extremism, proxy war, sectarian tensions, terrorist activity, and great power politics. The ongoing crisis in Yemen, and the series of civil wars that have erupted in the region since the Arab Spring (Iraq, Syria, and Libya), has presented a challenge for Chinese foreign policy in the Middle East. Beijing, which has traditionally adhered to a policy of non-interference in the region, may be forced to abandon this policy in order to maintain relations with the Middle Eastern countries. China may thus be slowly moving towards a more sophisticated, flexible, and pragmatic approach to these regional changes.1

Given the complexities of the sectarian conflict in Yemen and clashing national interests in the region, this article seeks to examine the broader implications of the Yemeni civil war on Chinese foreign policy in the Middle East. Will the ongoing crisis in Yemen have a significant impact on China's non-interference policy in the region? What are the challenges and implications of the war in Yemen on Chinese foreign policy in general in the Middle East? Is there a noticeable development in China's foreign policy in the context of the conflict in Yemen? The answer to these questions will have far-reaching implications, not only for China's Middle East foreign policy but also for its principles and practices in global politics.

CHINA'S NON-INTERFERENCE PRINCIPLE AND THE YEMENI CIVIL WAR

Generally, Chinese foreign policy in the Middle East is driven by broader national interests, namely, to continue its economic growth, preserve its political system ruled by a communist party, defend its sovereignty from foreign threat and other interferences into its internal affairs, and expand its global influence as a rising global economic and political power. However, China's engagement with Middle East countries is driven primarily by its efforts to achieve energy security.2 These wider national interests are reflected in China's main objectives in the region: enhancing economic ties; supporting its efforts to achieve energy security; fostering friendly relations with all the Middle Eastern countries; and promoting regional stability that supports its own economic, political, and security interests.3

While there are many aspects of continuity in China's foreign policy, it has also changed in many important respects since the end of the Cold War. Most notable has been China's evolving attitude and practice with regards to its non-interference policy.4 This policy was part of a Chinese grand strategy designed to defend the country from foreign interference during and after the Cold War. In general, China's attitude toward intervention has never been uncompromising and has evolved in accordance with international and regional changes. To be sure, China opposes the idea of intervention, but it has participated in various intervention actions in the Middle East for different reasons.5 For instance, China's vote approving the United Nations Security Council resolution on Libya represents a deviation from its principle of nonintervention in the "internal affairs" of other countries.6

China's non-interference policy in the Middle East and elsewhere is implemented in a flexible, pragmatic, and sometimes creative way. China does, in fact, involve itself in the affairs of other countries, unless it would be detrimental to its own national or economic interest. …

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