Prior to the October 7th terrorist attack by Hamas in southern Israel, China had positioned itself as a new power broker in the Middle East. Chinese officials were brimming with confidence after they finalized a détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia earlier this year, hinting they could do the same in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But in the wake of a full-scale war that’s now underway, those same Chinese officials are much more circumspect.
In this week’s episode, CGSP Middle East Editor Jony Essa and Eric speak with three of the world’s leading China-Mideast scholars to discuss China’s response to the war between Israel and Hamas.
First, Gedaliah Afterman, head of the Asia Policy Program at the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel, and Jonathan Fulton, associate professor of political science at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, discuss how the war has impacted China’s foreign policy towards Israel and Persian Gulf countries.
Then, Bill Figueroa, one of the world’s foremost experts on China-Iran relations at the University of Groningen, joins the conversation to talk about whether Beijing can leverage its influence with Iran to sway Hamas.
- The Wall Street Journal: Can China Help in the Middle East? by Walter Russel Mead
- Bloomberg: China Hosts Mideast Diplomats to Discuss Israel-Hamas War
- The Conversation: Israel-Hamas war puts China’s strategy of ‘balanced diplomacy’ in the Middle East at risk by Andrew Latham
About Gedaliah Afterman, Jonathan Fulton and William Figueroa:
Gedaliah Afterman is the head of the Asia Policy Program at the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy at at Reichman University (IDC Herzliya). He previously served as an Australian foreign service officer working on Asian regional security issues and a diplomat at the Australian Embassy in Beijing, where he focused on issues related to China’s foreign policy, including the Middle East.
Jonathan Fulton is a nonresident senior fellow for Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs and the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative. He also serves as an associate professor of political science at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. An expert on Chinese policy toward the Middle East, Fulton has written widely on the topic for both academic and popular publications. He is the author of China’s Relations with the Gulf Monarchies and co-editor of External Powers and the Gulf Monarchies.
William Figueroa is an Assistant Professor of History and Theory of International Relations at University of Groningen, where he teaches and carries out research on China in the Middle East and Sino-Iranian relations. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s History program (Dec 2020) and formerly a Postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania Middle East Center. His dissertation, “China and the Iranian Left: Transnational Networks of Social, Cultural, and Ideological Exchange” is a historical survey of Sino-Iranian relations from the early 1900s to the foundation of the Islamic Republic, with a focus on the impact of Maoist politics on the Iranian left.
Eric Olander: Hello, and welcome to another edition of the China Global South Podcast. I’m Eric Olander, coming to you today from beautiful Johannesburg, South Africa. When I say beautiful, I mean beautiful — not a cloud in the sky. The weather here is just amazing. And today, for the first time, as my co-host, I’m thrilled to have the China Middle East Editor for the China Global South Project, Jony Essa, joining us from Jerusalem. A very good afternoon to you, Jony.
Jony Essa: Great afternoon. Thank you for having me, Eric.
Eric: It’s great to have you on the show. We’re really excited to talk about China’s response to the Israel-Hamas war, China’s Mideast diplomacy, and what’s going on. This is a very, very difficult subject to tackle because we just don’t know what’s going on. A lot of it’s happening behind the scenes. A lot of it is being clouded by misinformation, different expectations, frustrations in some countries, excitement in other countries. We just saw, for example, last week in San Francisco, U.S. President Joe Biden is the latest American official to call on Chinese President Xi Jinping to see if he can use his influence with Iran to be able to somehow ease the hostilities and the fighting in Gaza.
Again, we’ve seen no indication whatsoever that they have that kind of pull, but that’s there. And so, before we get into this too much, and we’re going to dive into it today in detail with some of the world’s top experts on China-Mideast policy and diplomacy, Jony, you’re sitting there in Jerusalem looking at this. I mean, obviously, on the Israeli side, there’s been lots of frustration about China’s response, but you’ve also been monitoring the Arab press, and there’s a very different perception of China’s role. Give us a layout of some of the different perceptions and feelings about what the Chinese are doing and how they’re responding to the war.
Jony: Yeah, so first of all, I will start with the Israeli reaction or the Israeli absolute frustration of the Chinese reaction to the war. So, on the Israeli side, they believe that China’s increasing role in the Middle East would have led it to come out from the beginning and support the Israelis and condemn Hamas. But instead, what the Israeli side have saw, on the other hand, is Chinese neutral stance that, in the end, comes to supporting and reiterating and reemphasizing the two-state solution as the permanent political solution and not condemning Hamas from the outright. This sates the Israelis. But on the other hand, it makes sense strategically on a larger scale
Eric: And the larger scale is with the rest of the Arab world. So, what was with the reaction from Cairo, Riyadh, the Emirates, and some of the other players in the Middle East?
Jony: So the reaction that I saw from the most Arab countries that they see China as like a major player that doesn’t want to get involved in the conflict like other European or other Western powers. So, it has stuck to the idea of the political correctness. Like we have to support the Palestinians, we have to support the Palestinian cause because this is the correct political thing to do. And the correct thing to do is to find a practical, ongoing political solution that extends the actual managing of war. So, on the Arab side, I think there have been neutral stances to the Chinese reaction, but I think, all in all, they think the Chinese have reacted in the correct responsible way.
Eric: And just to give a little bit of an update on that, starting on Sunday this week, the foreign ministers from Nigeria, the Palestinian Authority, and five Muslim-majority countries, along with the Secretary Generals of the OIC and the Arab League are in Beijing, and they’re kicking off a five-country tour of each of the members of the permanent members on the security council going to their capitals. And they started with China. And there was some symbolism there. But I think that speaks Jony to what you’re talking about in terms of this broader alignment in terms of how China has responded to the war and the street’s view from the Arab Street. So that’s very interesting.
What we’re going to do today, because this issue is far too complicated, far too nuanced for even just one or two guests, we’re bringing you three experts today to give you different perspectives on the Chinese diplomatic response. We’re going to bring you a perspective from Israel, we’re going to bring you one from the Gulf, and then one specifically about China Iran relations. So, our show’s divided into two parts. We’re going to talk to Gedaliah Afterman, who is head of the Asia Policy Program at the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. He’s going to be joined also by Jonathan Fulton, who is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and an Associate Professor of political science at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.
Longtime listeners to our show will be familiar with both of these gentlemen. And in many respects, if you’re not familiar with who they are, they are widely regarded as among the leading scholars in the field of China-Mideast diplomacy. Then after that discussion, I hope you’ll stay with us. It’s a little bit of a longer show today because we felt that we needed to give this subject time to breathe. And so we basically have two shows in one. We’re also going to speak with Bill Figueroa, who is an Assistant Professor of History in Theory of International Relations at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. He is widely regarded as one of the top China Iran scholars in the field today. So, you’re going to want to wait to hear that discussion. So let’s start now with our discussion with Gedaliah and Jonathan about China-Israel and China-Mideast relations.
Gedaliah Afterman, Jonathan Fulton — thank you both for joining us today. It’s wonderful to have you on the show again.
Jonathan Fulton: Great to be back, Eric.
Gedaliah Afterman: Happy to be here, Eric.
Eric: So, what I want to try and do with both of you, because you are among the leading thinkers in this space, is try to understand what’s happening here on a number of different levels. Let me just go back over the timeline of what’s happened since October 7th with regard to the Chinese. And Gedaliah, I’d like to start with you to get your reaction and to channel what’s going on in Israel and to get your perspective on this. The events of October 7th unfold and China is quiet for the first week. That is not out of character. We saw the same reaction in Ukraine as well, where it took the Chinese a week or two just to get their policy and their statements in line. Then that following Friday, Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, comes out with a statement, and it’s a statement that I think took a lot of Israelis by surprise.
Whereas the United States and Europe came out immediately and condemned Hamas and labeled Hamas as a terrorist organization, the Chinese took much more neutral language, tried to assert that they are not taking sides in this, refused to label Hamas as a terrorist organization. And that set in motion some dismay in Israel as to the role that the Chinese, and I think there was an expectation that the Chinese wanted to play the role of a big power mediator. And here was this disappointment. From that, what we’ve seen now is the Chinese really aligning their reaction to the war now with the OIC, the Organization of Islamic States, the Arab League, most of the global south at the United Nations, and all of the Arab world. And in many ways, it’s put some distance between themselves and Israel and seeing this conflict as part of the bigger great power struggle with the United States.
Gedaliah, tell us a little bit about the reaction in Israel and what the thinking in Israel that you’ve seen by your conversations with various stakeholders to the Chinese response to the events that unfolded beginning on October 7th.
Gedaliah: First of all, I think I agree with your description, Eric, of the way things unfolded. I think it’s important to remember that from a Chinese perspective, this reaction, at least to date, was pretty much in line with the way it’s reacted in previous rounds between Israel and Hamas, especially one, two years ago in 2021. I think what was different this time, from an Israeli perspective, was the fact that for Israel, this wasn’t just another round, this was Israel’s 9/11. And the shock, combined with the lack of empathy that China has shown in its refusal or failure to denounce Hamas, as you said, lead to quite a bit of disappointment and even anger in Israel, especially because it was contrasted by the very active and very real support that Israel got from the United States.
Now, I think if you want to take a step backward and remember the background to this, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was meant to be in Beijing later in October. His visit was canceled because of the war, of course, but the context of that visit was that that was meant to be a visit by the Israeli Prime Minister to be, the first visit in six years, and this was meant to happen before Netanyahu was invited to the White House. So, I think the gap there between the fact that some people in Israel were looking forward to perhaps a positive bump in the relationship before the war, to the way China responded, and especially its failure to denounce Hamas, and it hasn’t done so until now, has left an impression on Israeli policymakers.
Eric: Jonathan, there’s a very different impression elsewhere in the region about China’s response. And again, going back to the timeline here, within a couple of weeks of the events of October 7th, the Chinese foreign ministry dispatched Special Envoy Zhai Jun to the Cairo Peace Summit, where he took a very low-profile role, and then he embarked on what can only be described as a listening tour throughout the region. Again, another very low-profile visit where he sat with various stakeholders in Jordan, in Qatar, in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt. Very little news came out of it. He goes back to Beijing, and he recedes. And this is an interesting contrast between the shuttle diplomacy of the U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, who is zipping around from capital to capital.
Wang Yi then starts to take over the primary messaging to the rest of the region. So maybe tell us a little bit about the politics that you saw unfold elsewhere in the Middle East with a particular emphasis on the states in the Gulf.
Jonathan: Well, it’s been pretty interesting to watch. I mean, like you said, I guess in the intro, Eric, I think the regional events have to also be taken into consideration with these bigger global dynamics and the fact that the U.S. and China relationship has been so bad for so long now. I think when China looks at the Middle East, I’ve said this I think on your show before, I think they’ve primarily looked at the Middle East as a place to do business, right? To buy energy, to sell goods, to contract, basically to make money. But it’s also a place to play a bit of politics. And since the relationship with a lot of the developed world has really gone south for China over the past few years, they’ve been looking at the developing world as a place to make some gains, right?
And you see with all these initiatives, the GSI and the GDI and the GCI, and all these new projects are focused on the developing world, the global south, and presenting itself as a contrast to the U.S. So, I think when this happened on October 7th, you could see the statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the refusal to even name Hamas, let alone condemn it. I think China was kind of playing politics with this, and it wasn’t a good look. At the same time, it really underscored the thing that a lot of us have been saying for a long time that China’s role here on the political side or on the security side is still pretty minimal, right? Like nobody was saying, what’s Beijing going to do? That Zhai Jun came here, and there were hardly any headlines is quite telling, right?
And of course, China does this often. They’re often behind the scenes, it’s a little more quiet. They’re not splashy. They’re not in front of the cameras. But I think, in this case, really, this was a result of really not having as much bigger role to play. I’ve said this in a bunch of different media engagements over the past month or so. Like if you go to the U.S., if you go to most European capitals, if you go to Canada, you’re going to find that there’s an immigrant population with a lot of connections to this region, whether they’re Jewish populations or Arab populations, and those democracies, you can’t be neutral on this. You’ve got to have a position, you’ve got to have a policy. To the average Han Chinese who’s never going to, to engage with an Arab or a Jew, this couldn’t be more abstract for a lot of people’s lives. So, it’s far away.
And so for the Chinese government to not really have an in instrumental role on something that’s far away, where you don’t have a deep pool of talent in your ministry, it’s not as urgent a crisis, I think, in Beijing as it would be in a lot of other places.
Eric: Certainly their campuses at taking Peking University or Fudan University are not going through anywhere near the trauma that U.S. and European universities are going on this issue. So you’re right, there’s no political price domestically being paid for the policy that they’re taking Gedaliah, Jonathan talked about some of the broader politics here, and I’d like to kind circle back a little bit to how Israel factors into the competition with the United States. And I think the calculation that the Chinese made was that the United States, Biden came out very, very quickly and endorsed Israel. China has been pro-Palestinian at the United Nations for decades.
And I think the Chinese calculation was probably like, there’s nothing in it for us to take a strong stance on this and potentially risk alienating the global South coalition, particularly the Arab and the Gulf States. What do you think the politics were in that week leading up, before the Wang Yi statement, they were factoring in into how they were going to respond and how they were going to position Israel in all of this?
Gedaliah: Again, I think when China looks at the Israel-Palestinian conflict, it doesn’t really care much about Israel or the Palestinians, to be honest. I think, as we’ve been discussing already, it’s about the region and about China-U.S. relations. I think when China was deciding how to respond to this, it very much had this in mind: A, how does it keep its momentum in the region? Can it win any political points? And two, how can it position itself vis-à-vis in U.S.? I think it also reached a conclusion that the relationship with Israel isn’t that important and that any damage that will be caused to the relationship with Israel, if any damage will be caused, would be acceptable collateral damage. So, and in that sense, I think China’s been also very open. It’s, as you said, fairly quickly said openly that it’s aligning with the Arab position on this and didn’t do the minimum to show the Israelis that it might have empathy toward its own position.
So I think China did make a clear calculation that it’s going to bet against the United States, against Israel, but this is part of a trend that we’ve been seeing for a few years. I think basically China has decided to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts to gain points in the superpower competition, which means basically using Israel as a punching bag to get to the United States. And I think so far, actually, if you ask me, just connecting to what Jonathan said previously, if you ask me, I think China would be fairly happy with that calculation so far, especially given the growing anti-American sentiment we’ve seen in some of the Arab countries.
Eric: I talked to some scholars in Tel Aviv the other day, and I asked them, I said, “What would be the downside for the Chinese, what you call collateral damage?” China and Israel do about $21 billion in trade. And I said, “Do you think that the Israelis will stop trading with the Chinese after all of this?” They may carry a bruise, but will they take retribution against the Chinese? And there was a consensus that said no because they can’t afford to alienate the Chinese economically. They just won’t like the Chinese very much. And I thought, okay, I mean, if you’re a policymaker in Beijing, I think you can live with that.
That’s an equation that says, yeah, the downside of all this is not going to be that significant. So, in many ways, this wasn’t an irrational approach from the Chinese, if they wanted to achieve the objectives of punching the Americans in the nose with very little downside with the Israelis, why not take this position? It seems to be from their geopolitical strategic point of view, the most optimal way to go.
Gedaliah: Exactly. I think it does make sense from a Chinese perspective. It is consistent with their previous stance on this issue, especially over the last two years. And, as you said, they don’t have much to lose. Even if trade with Israel drops a little bit, and we should remember that 2022 was a record year in Israel-China trade, that’s something that the Chinese can live with, especially considering the interest that they have in the Gulf and other parts of the Middle East. So, for China, Gulf countries, Iran, and other countries in the region are much more important than Israel. And that’s something I think that Israelis should understand. What does that mean? Again, it’s a matter of atmospherics, I think, at this stage because Israel never really took China seriously as a mediator or as a political actor in the region anyway.
So, there’s not much to lose there. And because of the superpower dynamic between the U.S. and China, then we’ve seen the relationship between Israel and China become more bumpy over the last few years. I think we’ll just see a continuation of that moving forward, at least in the short term.
Eric: Jonathan, Gedaliah talked about the bigger priorities that China has in the region. There is no bigger priority for China than Saudi Arabia. One of the key tests, though, for the Chinese, and this was what I was looking at earlier, and I’d like to get your take on this, is whether the Saudi-Iran détente that China brokered earlier this year would hold. And there was a lot of interest as to whether or not Saudi Arabia, recognizing that Iran may have played a role either indirectly or directly in supporting Hamas in this attack, and that could have rekindled the Sunni-Shia tensions that divided Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The Crown Prince, MBS, he leaned away from the normalization talks with Israel and the United States and leaned towards the Iranians. That certainly was something of comfort for the Chinese who saw their deal hold in place. Talk to us a little bit about the Saudi diplomacy and all of this, and what conversations do you think were going on between Beijing and the Crown Prince? And that’s pure speculation, of course, because You have no insight into the kingdom of being able to sit inside the Crown Prince’s calls there.
Jonathan: Nobody from the Crown Prince’s court is calling me and nobody from Zhongnanhai is texting me.
Eric: But speculation, informed speculation.
Jonathan: Well, yeah. Okay, so first, I would shy away from just the characterization of it being China’s deal. And I understand why he’d refer to it this way, but…
Eric: Well, they brokered it at the end. That last 5% was brought home by China.
Jonathan: Right. And the optics of it were certainly much greater than 5%. But I think your audience, and we all know that other actors were much more consequential. And I think the bigger picture is just why Saudi and Iran were open to this at the time, right? And I think it’s because of those domestic pressures, those economic pressures that both countries were facing and this need to ratchet down temperatures made them amenable to this. And I don’t think that’s gone away. As you know, Eric, I have a podcast that I do, the China-MENA Podcast, and I recorded an episode with a local think tanker, Mohammed Baharoon, who’s got a great shop in Dubai.
He published an article last month with an outfit at Stanford University about the de-escalation being the new buzzword in the Middle East and how local governments, actors are just all about investment, development, creating jobs, creating conditions that would draw in foreign capital to make for a more prosperous region. So, we recorded this episode, I think on October 3rd or 4th, and then it went to post-production. We sat on it, and it was scheduled to drop, I think, on the eighth. So, of course, we’ve got this remarkably optimistic episode that comes up the day after October 7th.
I mean, it sounds bad at this point because, obviously, you’d look at what’s happened in the region, but I think it’s an important point. That really is the underlying premise that’s driving a lot of actors here is they want to see a region that can draw capital and talent and nurture their own talent. I think what you’ll see is a lot of diplomacy that’s not going to be reactive like we might’ve seen in those 10 years after the Arab uprisings where there’s a lot of geopolitical jockeying for supremacy in the region and beating your enemies. I think the focus right now is how can folks really try to lower the temperature? And I think we’ve seen this in the current crisis, in the current conflict, the initial reaction of everybody was, “Oh my God, Iran’s going to get involved and Hezbollah’s going to be activated, and the Houthis are going to jump in and it’s going to turn into this World War I like barroom brawl.”
That’s not happened, right? I think a lot of cooler heads are prevailing, saying what people are trying to achieve, it’s really undermined here if it escalates. So, I imagine when the Saudis are talking to the Iranians, I imagine, for the speculation, they’re saying, “Look, let’s not blow this right now.” Right? And I think for China, when the Chinese are talking to Iran, or when they’re talking to the Saudis, I think they’re saying the same thing. Look, I’ve brought this example up several times, I think on your show, Eric, but when Abqaiq, when Saudi Aramco was hit in the fall of 2019, and the price of oil spiked up shortly, but China ended up spending about an extra $97 million a day on importing the same volume of energy from the Gulf, that was Iranian behavior that was hitting China right in the pocketbook. And I can’t imagine Beijing is willing to absorb $100 million a day because of Iran.
Eric: Especially now with the economy the way it is in China.
Jonathan: Exactly. And because of the political economy, the domestic situation in China, for all of the pressures they’re facing, what they need more than ever is a stable, well, I, I mean there is no stable global situation at all, but you can’t throw more gas on the fire right now, right?
Eric: Yeah. So their motivation right now in the Gulf and the rest of the Middle East is to try and maintain some sense of stability and encourage the parties not to have this conflict expand regionally because that will cost them.
Jonathan: Right? And I think, again, with the bigger picture of the U.S.-China, the fact that Xi’s meeting Biden, we’re recording this on November 14th, right? And they’re going to be meeting later today, I believe, in San Francisco, right? So, that’s the bigger prize, I think, for China, and for the U.S. too, by the way, to get that bilateral back on track. And while they’re bashing each other in the Middle East, it’s not going to work very well.
Eric: Yeah. Well, let’s kind of shift the conversation now, because as I talked about earlier, the diplomacy started in Beijing, went to Zhai Jun, then went back to Wang Yi, and now it has moved to New York City. The Chinese have taken over the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council. China’s ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, has been very outspoken in advocating for humanitarian pauses and also aligning China with Brazil, United Arab Emirates, and other global south countries in a much more forceful critique of the Israelis than we’ve seen previously on this. Gedaliah, when you watch those statements coming out of the United Nations, does any of this surprise you or is it really consistent with China’s longstanding support of the Palestinians and really opposition to the U.S. support of Israel? Or is something different in the tone that you’re seeing coming out of the UN statements, in the general discourse that’s happening at the UN on this issue?
Gedaliah: First, Eric, if I could just add something to your earlier point with China, I think from an Israeli perspective, this kind of role for China, this kind of discussion between China and Iran about keeping things calm and, and not letting the conflict escalate to the region is something that’s very important. And that’s something I think that Israelis might be thinking about when it comes to a Chinese role in the conflict. About the UN, I don’t think it’s something unexpected or not consistent with the past. I think China will use its very visible position as president of the Security Council to, again, as you said, to position itself as a representative of the global south, as a alternative to the United States, as a country that’s calling for peace, for cease-fire. But basically, we’ll see a lot of talk and not a lot of action if the past is anything to go by this time as well.
So I think while Israelis are not happy about this Chinese position in the UN, and they’re probably expecting more action, more perhaps resolutions, calls for cease-fire. Last time, 2021, there was also a call for an investigation into human rights violations, or we might see things like that. The question is from an Israeli perspective, whether we could see because of, Jonathan mentioned a meeting between Xi Jinping and Biden today, could we see China use its position in the UN to do something more positive? And I think that’s something that so far, the trend doesn’t seem to be indicating that, but it’s something that might be possible.
Eric: So, let’s wrap up our discussion with two questions that I’m going to ask back to back is, number one, what do you think people are getting wrong about China’s approach to this conflict? What’s the big misunderstanding? So, in the U.S., on conservative media now, we’re seeing a lot of talk about this axis of evil between Iran, Russia, and China. And they’re really influencing everything together and coordinating everything. And that, again, I think most experts agree, is not what’s happening. We’re seeing a lot of conflicting narratives that are out there. So number one is what are people getting wrong? And number two, help us understand what you think is next for the Chinese position. How does this evolve? And of course, it’s going to depend on events on the ground, but based on your understanding of Chinese diplomacy and their reaction to date, where do you see it going? Gedaliah, let’s start with you, and then we’ll close with you, Jonathan.
Gedaliah: So, I think the biggest mistake on the Israeli side was to expect more from China. I think it might be having a realization or a wake-up call in terms of what the relationship with China could look like. As we discussed earlier, it’ll be economy-based, trade will continue, but it’ll be difficult to promote any kind of real political partnership, especially given the contrast between the way the U.S. behaved and the way China behaved. I think Israelis need to understand that they’re not perhaps as important as they thought, especially in Chinese calculations, and that other countries in the region are much more important in that sense. And one last point, I think that Israelis will have to see the relationship with China, not only for the prism, not only for the bilateral prism, and not even for the U.S.-China-Israel prism, but also for the regional prism, which I think will continue to develop moving forward.
And just regarding your second question, I think the most likely scenario is that China will do nothing, will continue to make these statements, will continue to talk the talk and to enjoy the U.S. being discredited in the region to try and bank on that as much as it can. But on the other hand, if you want to consider a more positive or perhaps a different scenario, then you could think about a scenario where China, perhaps, together with the U.S., takes some action on the humanitarian front. For example, China can join U.S. efforts with Qatar to try and release the hostages and to provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees in Gaza.
And as a possible scenario that we might think about is China does nothing now, but reappears as a more active player in the day after in the reconstruction efforts in Gaza, especially that’s led, for example, by the GCC or the Arab League.
Eric: Jonathan, what are people getting wrong and where do you see this going in terms of Chinese foreign policy?
Jonathan: Well, in terms of getting wrong, I guess just to your point about this view of a China-Iran-Russia geopolitical axis, I mean, for obvious reasons, I think that simplifies things. But I think the bigger issue is China’s foreign policy motivation, I don’t think it’s all about replacing the U.S. I think the PRC remains, I should say the CCP, the Communist Party remains tremendously inward focused, right? It’s so overwhelmed with its own domestic political situation right now that I think it’s foreign policy is, how can we make ourselves look better at home? I don’t think they’ve got some kind of grand chessboard mentality where they’re saying, “Let’s beat America in the Middle East.” I think they’re just saying like, “How can we make things look better to our domestic constituents who think that we’re not doing a very good job?”
Because frankly, the CCP has been horrible at foreign policy for the past few years. I think that, just to take more of that kind of broader perspective of what is they’re trying to achieve, I think they’re trying to achieve domestic goals, first and foremost, and they’re using the Middle East either to deflect attention from their shortcomings at home or as a way to promote themselves as a useful actor. And I kind of agree with Gedaliah, going forward, I don’t expect much. I mean, I keep saying over and over and over again, China’s interest in the region, this is a place to make money and do business. It’s not a place where they want to really be a political leader.
They don’t want that responsibility. They don’t have that deep bench. This is all new, right? It’s interesting that the BRI was rolled out 10 years ago, and the idea was geoeconomics. And it’s just been the past couple years that they’re saying global initiatives, right? The Global Security, Global Development, Global Civilizational. It’s just recently that they’ve had this ambition to portray themselves as a global actor, global power, and that’s going to take a long time to build those muscles. And clearly, what we’ve seen in the past six weeks or so is that they’re not in shape for it yet. So, I expect we’re not going to see much out of Beijing and in the Middle East for a while.
Eric: Jonathan Fulton is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. He is also the author of the Routledge Handbook on China–Middle East Relations. Never has there been a more timely opportunity to read this book of all books. So, I encourage you to go out there and get it. It’s a little on the pricey side.
Jonathan: Hey, paperback now.
Eric: Paperback, there you go. And it’s on Amazon. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. And he’s also host of the indispensable China-MENA Podcast. We’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well. And Gedaliah Afterman is the Head of the Asia Policy Program at the Abba Eban an Institute for International Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. Gentlemen, thank you both for your insights and for your time. It’s been an absolutely fascinating discussion.
Jonathan: Thanks a lot, Eric.
Gedaliah: Thank you.
Eric: Jony, absolutely fascinating insights from Gedaliah and Jonathan. One of the most interesting points that I felt that Gedaliah made was that maybe the Israelis overestimated their importance to China. What’s your take on that as somebody who often interacts with a lot of Israeli stakeholders on these issues?
Jony: So, I think from the Israeli perspective, I agree with Gedaliah 100%, and I think the Israelis just don’t understand why the Chinese haven’t backed them entirely. I think there is a blindside at this moment, but in the end, when things pass, I think things will go on, and the relations will continue economically, and we will see the ongoing debate of countries interacting with either China or the United States based on their specific interests, more trade with China, more security issues with the United States. So, I think this is an important factor to take into account. So, the Israelis, for some reason, thought that the Chinese will get involved security-wise as the United States would. But in the end, China doesn’t want that.
Eric: Yeah, that was a pretty severe misreading of the Chinese response. And it seems to be a consensus in the Israel-China scholarly community that the Chinese are going to come out of this in terms of the Israel-China relationship rather unscathed. That the economic relationship will continue while there may be some chilliness in the diplomatic relationship, but all in all, economically, that $21 billion trade relationship will likely remain intact. Let’s now shift gears to look at the situation with Iran. Iran is a very different piece of this puzzle because of the relationship that China and Iran have. And again, this goes all the way back to the beginning of the conflict when a U.S. congressional delegation was in Beijing and met with Xi Jinping. Senate minority leader, Schumer, actually made a direct appeal on camera to Xi Jinping, which apparently he did not appreciate, what we were told afterwards.
Nonetheless, though, it really speaks to this idea that China and Iran have a close relationship and that China may have some influence that it can leverage in this. So, we thought let’s bring in an expert on this, and Bill Figueroa is, by far, the best person to talk to about this, to find out about what kind of leverage, if any, does China have, and what will happen to the China Iran relationship as the war progresses? Let’s take a listen now to Jony and my conversation with Bill Figueroa.
Bill Figueroa, thank you so much for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to join us. It’s great to have you back on the show again.
Bill Figueroa: Always great to be here.
Eric: Well, Bill, the reason I wanted to have you is because we just had this really dynamic conversation with Jonathan and Gedaliah about the Middle East and the Israeli views on the China aspect of this chaos, this war that’s now unfolding. Iran is a separate entity in all of this, and the relationship that China has with Iran, in many ways, is unique from that of other countries in the region. A lot of people are saying that Iran is a liability to China in this conflict. China doesn’t seem to be responding that way. The Chinese have been engaging with senior Iranian officials, and they’ve been very public about it. And there’s been quite a bit of activity in the Sino-Iranian relationships since the war has begun on October 7th. Let’s start with your take on how Iran fits in China’s vision and foreign policy as this war is unfolding.
Bill: Well, the biggest thing that I can say about how the war has affected the Iran-China relationship is really just to say that it hasn’t. that’s been the most, I don’t want to say surprising, but I mean it’s been very striking to me that it’s very much business as usual when it comes to Iran. And there’s a few reasons for this. First of all, if you look at the larger picture in terms of what is the place of Iran in China’s strategy to begin with, China has a kind of comprehensive approach to the Middle East in the sense that they have established good relations with basically all parties in the region. But those relationships are not all equal. So, there’s countries like Saudi Arabia where there’s a very strong, very high-level relationship. And by high-level, what I basically mean is that they’ve put a lot of money into it.
And then there’s places like Iran where the level of diplomatic support and rhetorical support is high, but the actual amount of money that’s being invested is relatively speaking low. Just to give a quick example, last year I think the total amount of Chinese investment in Saudi Arabia was over $10 billion. And I can’t remember the exact number, but the amount for Iran was in the low millions. That shows you the level of difference that they have there. And the main thing is that it’s not so much that there’s too many problems with private companies, the steadily rising aspects of Iran and China’s relationship. And there is a decent, I think it’s like $15 billion roughly of trade every year, but it’s mostly driven by private contracts.
The oil is mostly sold to private oil companies or oil refineries in China. And the public aspect of things, the state-level investment really hasn’t materialized. I often say that China is very important to Iran, but it’s clear from their activities that Iran is not as important to China. It plays a role in its diplomatic strategy, but the center of gravity of China’s approach to the Middle East is much more focused on places like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf and Iraq, mostly due to the fact that there are political reasons that it’s difficult to invest in Iran in terms of working in the country can be difficult for all kinds of reasons. But the number one reason is just the sanctions. Sanctions make it a risky proposition for the Chinese government to get involved in Iran directly.
So, since the war has broken out, there really just hasn’t been much change. China has supported both sides, or I should say China has taken a relatively neutral stance that has leaned more towards the Palestinians. And as time has gone on, they’ve increased their criticism of Israel, slightly, moderately, I would say, but they really haven’t linked the situation to Iran. I mean, people, for example, the United States is consistently saying China should try to temper Iran and should try to urge calm. Well, they really haven’t done that. They haven’t really said anything to Iran about how it reacts to this situation. And I think that they, A, they don’t see it as their place to do so. So, there’s a lack of will to do that. But also, given the situation I just described, I mean, what could they really do? Are they going to threaten to cancel what little contracts that there are?
Are they going to threaten to not come through with investment that they’re already not coming through with? I mean, the amount of leverage that China has over Iran, I think, is lower than most people think that it is. So, for all of those reasons, things have kind of just proceeded as usual. If anything, they’ve been getting a little bit better. I think last week, a number of Iranian officials were in China for the Shanghai International Trade Expo or something along those lines. And they did the usual thing. They said, “We’re implementing the second step of the implementation of the 25-year agreement.”
Eric: Yeah, the Iranians got very excited about that. The Tehran, the official media was all over that saying, “Look at this, this is great.” And then there was a photo with Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Guoqing, who’s a member of the Central Committee with Iranian first Vice President Mohammad Mokhber. And I think that took a lot of people by surprise too, just to show that the normalcy of the relationship, this is everyday statecraft diplomacy in the midst of a war. Just very quickly before, I know Jony’s got a bunch of questions for you, you talked about the influence, and at the very, very early stages of this conflict, Chuck Schumer, who’s the senate minority leader in the United States, he was in Beijing, and he confronted Chinese President Xi Jinping with the notion and the suggestion that China should use its relationship with Iran to pressure Hamas.
And you’ve just indicated that maybe they don’t have as much influence as a lot of people think. Is that something we should take seriously? And is that something that China would actually entertain?
Bill: You mean entertain the idea of pressuring Hamas through Iran?
Eric: That’s right.
Bill: Yeah. I mean, to me, it’s almost like, it almost requires several layers I think of fundamentally misinterpreting the relationship between all the parties. I don’t think that the Hamas attacks were done completely without the knowledge and support of Iran. And certainly, they were done with the material support of Iran, but they were certainly not done at the instigation or at the behest of Iran. Hamas did what Hamas decided to do because that was the decision that they took. They were perhaps enabled in doing it by the fact that they had support. But there isn’t a kind of direct relationship in which I think Iran can very easily hold Hamas back if it’s decided to take a course of action like this if indeed it wanted to. And it’s very clear that for its own domestic political reasons, you’d have to put a great deal of pressure on Iran to get it to not do that, especially because leveraging its networks is a very easily deniable activity.
They don’t have to officially say that they’ve done it. They just say that the axis of resistance is kind of involved and officially deny that they’ve had any hand in what’s going on. So, there’s that layer of it. And then on top of that, you have China, which actually has weak influence over Iran to begin with, as I just said. So to answer your question, I don’t think the Chinese entertain it seriously as an idea when the West brings it up. I think they tend to respond with, “Look, we have our approach to this. We are trying to cultivate relations with all sides so that we can be part of the negotiating process just like we did with Saudi Arabia and Iran, for example.” So yeah, I mean there’s like two layers here, or I guess you could say Hamas is almost two or three degrees removed from China, and I don’t think that there’s really any meaningful mechanism through which they could get Iran to pressure Hamas, at least not with the levels of influence that they have over Iran.
Jony: Bill, thank you for joining us again. And I just wanted to ask, there were reports last week on Iran helping releasing hostages from Thailand. So, this kind of fits in the story you have been telling us. So, I wanted to ask, do you think Iran may have a role in helping release other hostages from other countries? And if yes, do you think Iran wants to play a more active role in this conflict diplomatically?
Bill: Yeah, no, it’s a difficult question. Like I said, the easiest thing for Iran is for it to exert its influence obliquely, I suppose you could say, indirectly. I do think that Iran could potentially play a positive role. I mean, once you get to the point where a negotiation can happen, I mean, right now, Israel is not really interested in negotiating any kind of hostage release situation until they’re satisfied with the operation. But in terms of — can Iran play a role because it has relations with Hamas and with Hezbollah and with all of these parties that could be involved? — yes, it could play a very constructive role. It would just have to be in a situation where doing so would not be viewed as a betrayal.
For example, it would have to be in a situation where it’s helped, kind of similar to the way that China got involved with the relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, right? It was a goal that both parties had to establish relations, but there was a lack of trust. And so, having someone mediate there was a helpful thing. If you had a situation where both Israel and Hamas had an agreed upon place that they were trying to get, Iran could potentially facilitate there because certainly they’re not going to negotiate direct. But I’m not sure yet that Iran wants to sort of throw itself in wholeheartedly. I think they’ve been very cautious so far.
Jony: My question is, if Iran wants to join in, to join in diplomatically, and how might it leverage more from this conflict, and if it might join in, what are the advantages or disadvantages that might come with its relations with other Arab countries, for example, let’s say Saudi Arabia?
Bill: So I think that while the siege and while the military activity is going on, it’s very difficult to get involved in any kind of negotiated settlement. But once things have calmed down, I think everyone knows that the future is going to have to look different. And if that means more occupation, for example, that could create a very volatile situation. And I think Israel even recognizes that. You saw a few days ago where they floated the idea of occupying or having a security presence in Gaza, and they’ve kind of walked it back continually since then. Once you are in a position where negotiations are feasible, I think it would be very good for Iran diplomatically to be involved with them, because ultimately at this point, you would be negotiating a new status quo. And hopefully, I think everyone is hopeful that the new status quo will have less potential for violence and hopefully be a little bit more equitable to the Palestinians or else something like this could happen again.
If Iran were able to be involved in negotiating something, this is getting into the realm of guessing about the future, but like you have to look at the way that the situation is now. Netanyahu is certainly struggling politically as a result of some of this. So, he may not come out of the conflict with the strongest of hands as he likes to portray now while there’s an act of war going on. So, the future may look very different and more negotiable. And if that is the case, then I think Iran being involved in any kind of improvement of the Palestinian situation or anything that they could at least portray as having been involved in that matter would be a win for them. And I think in terms of Saudi Arabia, look, I mean, Saudi Arabia is very angry with Israel right now, there’s no question about that.
They’ve kind of stopped in their tracks, the discussions about normalization, but they’re not over. I mean, there’s been reports that they’re still willing to proceed with that and at some unspecified point in the future when the situation is not as sensitive as it is now. So I think in the long run, Iran being more willing to be part of a kind of group negotiating effort and engage with Israel in some way would probably benefit its relationship with the other Arab states just because that’s also the direction that they’re going in, even though tensions are very hot right now. Assuming that things eventually go back to a similar situation where they were before, which, at least in the case of Saudi Arabia, seems possible, I think that Iran would be very likely to try to get involved at that point.
Eric: Well, speaking of the Saudi relationship, one of the turn of events that occurred is that the Crown Prince abandoned the discussions between Israel, the United States, talking about normalization with the Israelis. And one of the most interesting parts of all this is that soon after the fighting started, he leaned into the relationship with Iran and started opening conversations with the Iranians. And the Chinese took that as a real sign of success of the détente that they helped to broker earlier this year. And there was really a concern that if this Saudi-Iran relationship was going to face pressure, that could be a major setback for the Chinese, who really used the Saudi-Iran normalization as a showcase of their diplomatic strategy in the region. Talk to us a little bit about the politics that you see there among the Chinese, Saudis, and Iranians about the settlement and how it’s holding.
Bill: Yeah, I mean, I think that China’s impression is that, specifically, the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia is going great. And I think that they’re not wrong about that. I mean, I would say that, if anything, this crisis has put Iran and Saudi Arabia closer in terms of their political orientation towards Israel. Right now, they’re both united in opposition to what Israel’s doing. And whereas previously, Saudi Arabia was in the process of normalization. And so that’s no longer the case. So, it’s easier for them to cooperate than it was before. And Saudi Arabia was also, I think, very eager to kind of flex its chops. I don’t know if you want to say revolutionary chops, so to speak, but it’s, certainly, it’s pro-Palestinian, and to position itself as also a country that can resist Israeli policy, I suppose.
In that respect, I think that they’ve seen Iran and Saudi Arabia move a little bit closer, and they’re very happy about that. What I’m sure that they’re not happy about is just the fact that there is the possibility for wider regional strife to begin with. I mean, if you read Chinese newspapers right now, that’s what they’re very much focused on is the possibility of the conflict expanding. And whether U.S. policy makes that more likely or not, both because it would harm their investments, but also because they’ve really invested in this idea of a wave of reconciliation, as they call it, sweeping through the Middle East, that they never directly say, but strongly imply has been either set off or strongly helped along by Chinese brokering of the Saudi Arabia Iran normalization deal.
It’s really changed the tone of the coverage of the questions people are asking. Now, it’s not, is the deal going to hold, but can China repeat this trick, for example, in Israel and Palestine? And they’re going to the region and they’re trying to attend peace conferences and they’re supporting regional initiatives, but fundamentally, they can’t be involved in the same way that they were with Saudi Arabia and Iran. So, it’s also a little bit taken the shine off of China’s diplomatic efforts in the region. But that’s, I think, a little bit more in the perception of the West rather than in reality. It’s sort of given the lie to the idea that China could solve the Israel-Palestine conflict, for example. But I don’t think anyone in the region ever actually took that seriously, to begin with.
Eric: So, talking about this Iran-China relationship in the wake of the conflict, certainly in the United States, it’s caught a lot of people’s attention. And Fox News, who, again, I don’t look at as necessarily a credible source of news, but they are part of the zeitgeist, if you will, and they are picking up on a lot of the mood among people on Capitol Hill, and then certainly among conservatives in the United States that now see this axis, this unholy alliance is what they call it among Russia, China, and Iran. And this feeds on this notion that the Chinese have lots of influence in Iran, and there’s some coordination going on and whatnot. In terms of the United States response and how it will impact their approach to China and Iran and how they see it, what do you take away from this emerging discourse in the United States about China and Iran in the context of the conflict in Gaza?
Bill: I mean, they’ve been seeing an axis of evil between China, Iran, and Russia for years. Sometimes I don’t know whether it’s the right thing is to say that it’s bolstered that conception that they have.
Eric: It certainly seems that way. I mean, the rhetoric has just intensified a lot.
Bill: Yeah, really, it’s just that I often question how often if it sincerely held opinions or if it’s just something that can easily be put in the service of a narrative that they are trying to put forward. But that’s neither here nor there. Either way, it’s certainly been used to push forward that idea that China and Iran have this incredibly close relationship. What I’ve noticed is that there is this kind of indirect linking, if you will, so that when it comes to China’s response to the crisis, that it immediately goes back to Iran, and they say, “Okay, well, what’s the most important thing that China could do here?” Well, it could temper Iran’s behavior. And it kind of creates this situation where, okay, well then if Iran behaves badly, then it sort of implies that China was not willing to do that and therefore is supportive of whatever it is that Iran is doing or Russia has chosen to do, when, as I just laid out, the reality is often that they either don’t care because it’s considered more not really a part of their business, or they just can’t.
I think part of it is a kind of linking of China to these other nations that are configured as official enemies of the United States or as bad actors, and trying to make China responsible for them by virtue of the fact that they are supportive of them. And I mean, let’s be honest, the United States is the main supporter of Saudi Arabia. I mean, there’s definitely a bias or a blind spot when it comes to how this relationship is portrayed in the West. I think that the most interesting thing to me has been the response to how, and not even just Iran, but to China’s response to the whole conflict. The U.S. approach has largely been that China is exceptionally pro-Palestinian and that the United States, or at least insufficiently pro-Israeli, and Israel’s had a similar reaction. Just from my reading of it, I think it’s actually their initial reaction was quite neutral. And if anything, the subsequent reaction has leaned towards Palestine, has leaned toward the Palestinian cause and has been more critical of Israel, but certainly balanced enough that one could say that there is not a direct condemnation of either side.
And I think that ultimately, in the last couple of days, you’ve seen it’s actually the United States that has leaned closer to Beijing’s line and become more critical of Israel rather than the other way around.
Eric: It’s fascinating. But on Capitol Hill, though, the issue where this is kind of coming together is the fact that they’re zeroing in on Chinese oil buys from Iran. Iran now depends almost exclusively on China to buy the bulk of its oil. And we’re looking at now record amounts that are going even amidst the sanctions, and that is really infuriating a lot of the hawks in Washington who want the U.S. to start cracking down on these sanctions. So that rhetoric coming out of Fox News feeding into Capitol Hill may manifest itself in tighter sanctions. ‘May’ is the operative word. How does that fit in altogether?
Bill: Yeah, I mean, that’s exactly correct. I think that where it’s interesting to me is that those sales, as I said before, are not pushed forward by the Chinese state, but rather are primarily to private, they call them teapot refineries in the South, and they’re purchasing them largely because they are the cheapest oil on the market. If you follow the purchases of oil from Iran to China, you’ll see that very often there are moments where the purchases dip quite substantially. And I don’t just mean because they are officially at zero because I’m talking about the people who watch what is the level of illicit trade that’s happening. A couple of, I think about a year ago, it dropped quite substantially because Russia, in the wake of its war in Ukraine, had substantially slashed the prices of its oil.
So, Chinese refineries started buying Russian oil, and now Iranian refineries have had to significantly discount their oil. I think I was reading somewhere that it was close to like a hundred dollars a barrel lower than it should be in order to get the Chinese business back. So, again, it just goes to show you the degree to which this is less a Chinese policy of supporting Iran and more just, I mean, you create a situation where you have sanctions, you’re also going to create a black market. So, to some extent, I would say that, you know, I do think they’ll probably go in that direction, but I think they are reacting more to their idea of how the relationship between Iran and China functions than to how it actually functions. But which is not to say that the oil sales are not critical to the Iranian state. They certainly are. As I said before, China is very important to Iran. Iran’s just not as important to China.
Jony: Yeah. So Bill, going back to what you said before, so this conflict has emphasized basically two camps — the Western-backed camp by the United States, and let’s say the more global south-backed camp by China and Russia. So, I wanted to ask you, in your opinion, how might Iran leverage this conflict when it eventually ends? A lot of people assume that Israel is going to be in diplomatic trouble after the conflict ends and will be some sort of pariah for the years to come. So, how do you think, strategically and diplomatically, Iran should use this for its advantage, also with its relations with China as well as its relations with other Arab countries and with the entire world?
Bill: Yeah, I mean, like I said, it really depends on how things happen going forward. I think one opportunity, one major opportunity for Iran right now is the fact that a few days ago, I forget exactly who it was, but there was a member of a Israeli government that basically admitted, through musing on the scenarios in which it might be permissible to do so, that the Israeli state possesses nuclear weapons. Now, that’s something that Iran has been very much pushing for, for a number of years, the idea of establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, which has always faced a lot of diplomatic opposition from mainly the United States. So that’s because I think that the discussion will likely turn back to that point, at some point after the conflict has ended, or at least has reached a more stable phase, I guess you could say.
There are definitely opportunities in which Iran might be able to advance certain agendas that it has. Fundamentally, though, I mean, I don’t think it’s going to, for example, enable Iran to break out of its diplomatic isolation, mostly because it’s not going to fundamentally, I think, impact the United States. The United States has… We’re making a lot of noise right now about calling for ceasefires and things like that, but it’s after funding the war effort. I don’t think that anyone is A, going to take it seriously if the United States tried to position themselves in a kind of different way after the fact, and B, I just don’t really think they’re going to. I think that the general shape of the regional diplomacy is going to stay largely the same, especially if, afterwards, Saudi Arabia, for example, returns to the possibility of normalizing with Israel.
I guess I would say I don’t see any major openings for Iran. But again, I’m also not a complete expert on all of Iran’s foreign policy, so there certainly might be something I’m missing there.
Eric: Yes. And no one’s a clairvoyant in these uncertain times. Bill Figueroa, thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights on this. We really appreciate it. Bill, if people want to follow what you’re reading and writing these days, you do have the best X handle out there. Where can people find you on X?
Bill: Oh my god, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these podcasts. I don’t think I’ve done one since it’s turned into X.
Eric: Oh, really? So, you’re not doing X anymore?
Bill: No, no, no. I mean, I am doing X, so to speak. I’m still not used to it not being called Twitter. This is the first time I’ve had to say yes, my X handle is @IranChinaGuy, and yes, I am very proud of that.
Eric: I love that — @IranChinaGuy. There we go. You got that one early. That was great. Bill is an Assistant Professor of History and Theory of International Relations at the University of Groningen. Did I get that right?
Bill: You did.
Eric: Oh, my gosh, that’s it. My Dutch in-laws will be so thrilled that I said that. Well, so Bill, thank you so much. We really appreciate it.
Bill: It. Yeah, great to be here. Thanks for having me. Always very happy to be on the show.
Eric: Jony, I’m so glad that we had the chance to really let these experts express themselves and lay this out because it is, as I said at the beginning of the show, an incredibly complicated topic that I think few people in the discourse seem to fully understand. And so I hope that all of these inputs from Gedaliah and Jonathan and Bill really do help to clarify some of the misconceptions that are out there in terms of the Chinese strategy and their approach. As you look back on the conversations that we had with all three, what was your main takeaway?
Jony: So, my main takeaway from the conversation was that China is a major power and it has a role in the Middle East, but we have to take into account that its role in the Middle East is strategically different than other major powers. And sometimes, for different reasons, we as analysts or researchers forget that, that the Chinese strategy in the Middle East is different than other major powers.
Eric: I think that’s very important. And a lot of people assume that because the United States influence, relatively speaking, may be diminishing, that China was somehow going to fill that vacuum. And I think, as we’ve heard today, that is not the case. China is playing a very aggressive game in the Middle East, but it’s not the same game as what the United States is doing. So, I think that is the important takeaway. Jony, thank you so much for joining us and helping us to explain everything and to better understand what’s going on. You are in charge of our Arabic-language service, and you’re doing a fantastic job. For those people who are listening to the show, who speak Arabic and would like to get the work that you’re doing, maybe you can tell everybody where they can find our work.
Jony: So, they can find us at alsin-alsharqalawsat.com, where we have daily analysis and daily news feeds in Arabic. And you can sign up for our weekly newsletter in Arabic.
Eric: Wonderful. I’ll put the link to that in the show notes. And also, if you want to sign up for that newsletter, again, it’s only in Arabic, but you can sign up on the website, and right at the top bar, you just put in your email address, and you’ll get Jony’s excellent recap of the week’s news. We’re also going to launch, some time next year, an English-language edition of the China-Middle East newsletter that Jony puts out because there’s just so much great work being done by the team and by Jony that we want to talk about it. And this, again, is so important in the work that we’re doing to talk about China and the broader global south. Nowhere is it more important than in the Middle East.
Let’s leave the conversation there. Jony, myself, Geraud, Cobus will all be back next week with another edition of the China Global South Podcast. I’m Eric Olander in Johannesburg, for Jony Essa in Jerusalem — thank you so much for listening.
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