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Middle East (298)
Chinese leaders have made a concerted effort to expand diplomatic and commercial relations with the Middle East and North Africa since the mid-1990s. As in other regions, growing commercial ties facilitated the development of closer political relationships between China and many of its Middle Eastern counterparts. State-owned and private Chinese firms have signed billions of dollars of construction, infrastructure, and technology contracts with regional counterparts over the last ten years, and Chinese leaders and diplomats have carefully cultivated a wider array of political relationships based on perceived mutual interests. While the United States remains the dominant external political and military actor in the Middle East, the decline in public support for U.S. policies in many Arab states and Chinese efforts to establish broad commercial linkages across the region have strengthened China's position relative to the United States in some non-official channels.
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Today, observers in the Middle East, Asia, the United States and Europe are increasingly referring to renewed ties between China and the Middle East as a revival of the old Silk Road, anchored by the long-term logic of Chinese demand for energy resources and desire in the Middle East for domestic and foreign investment opportunities. A shared focus on commercial development has helped stabilize these renewed ties in spite of potential political differences; as one analyst has observed, the governments of China and many of its Arab counterparts have demonstrated an "absolute lack of interest in interfering in one another's domestic policies." (299) China's non-interference approach has provided a stark contrast to the reform-oriented and at times interventionist policies pursued by the United States since 2001. Tang Zhichao, a researcher at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, has argued that "China's development model is very popular in the Middle East and [Chinese] investment has helped lessen the region's dependence on the US." (300)
Cultural and Educational Exchanges
China's Cultural Diplomacy. As noted above, a long history of Chinese cultural and commercial interaction with the Middle East has given participants on both sides of the recent revival a rich selection of precedents and symbols to draw on when framing new relationships. The idea of a revival of the ancient Silk Road has proven to be the most popular of these symbols, but others, such as the 15th century naval voyages to the Middle East by a Muslim Chinese imperial explorer named Zheng He, also have reemerged as common reference points. (301) In order to build on these symbolic and historical linkages, Chinese and Arab leaders have incorporated cultural and educational programs into their broader commercial and diplomatic outreach efforts. The China-Arab Cooperation Forum (see below) has provided an umbrella for many of these programs, including Chinese efforts to train Arab managerial and technical personnel (302) and a three-week Arab Cultural Festival that was held in Beijing and Nanjing in 2006. (303) At the 2008 Forum ministerial meeting in Bahrain, China and its Arab counterparts announced plans to expand existing training programs and to alternate hosting arts festivals in the future. A series of follow-on conferences are planned through 2009. (304) In addition to the educational training offered under the auspices of the Forum, China also has offered scholarships to hundreds of Arab students studying computer technology, agriculture, medicine, and social sciences. (305)
Arab governments have made similar efforts to strengthen cultural and educational links to China. Saudi Arabia has created Chinese language study programs to prepare Saudis to work in the Jizan Economic City, where planned Chinese investments in aluminum production and other industries will create thousands of new jobs (see below). Saudi Arabia also has offered loans to support Chinese government education projects. (306) Arab television stations regularly feature Chinese documentaries, and prominent Arab television networks like Al Jazeera have signed cooperation agreements with China's Central Television network (CCTV) covering training and program sharing.
U.S. Education Programs. (307) The U.S. government has long supported educational programs across the Middle East. There is no single U.S. government agency or office responsible for coordinating educational outreach in the Middle East. Instead, several agencies and initiatives both at the …