Following China’s emergence as a critical actor on the international stage in recent years, there has been a sharp increase in scholarly research and interest in numerous Chinese-related topics. While most studies have focused on China’s rise and its role in world politics, comparisons between the U.S. and China are increasing. Dawn C. Murphy’s book differs from previous works by evaluating a different conceptual framework and purpose and proceeding with official documents and interviews.
The book consists of ten chapters. The first three chapters are designed to explain China’s foreign policy strategies in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, it forms the conceptual and theoretical basis of the book by introducing the analytical approach and talking about the interests and situations that may be threatened. Murphy compares how China shapes its behavior in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa regarding interests and threat perceptions and compares U.S. behavior with the prevailing rules and norms in the liberal international order. This is an essential issue for the creativity of the work. At the same time, this insightful book attempts to contribute to the existing theoretical literature by analyzing China’s relations with the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
In addition, the study includes many reasons to examine China’s rise in these regions and tries to fill the gaps in both the theoretical and empirical literature on China’s global rise. It is broader than previous studies to provide a more in-depth understanding of China’s rise.
The author argues that China’s economic interests in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa have expanded significantly. China’s economic interests were limited in the 1980s and early 1990s, and economic growth in the post-Cold War era was export-driven. The author, who aims to provide an analysis of the role of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa in China’s economic development, stated that if China has regional stability, it can also ensure the region’s economic security.
The author mentions that China seems to be most concerned about the intervention of the U.S. and Western Europe in the Middle East but does not consider the same situation for sub-Saharan Africa and considers that it has a stable structure due to the low influence of the U.S. Getting international support is also seen as China’s primary political interest. For this support, China defines some foreign policy changes and expanding cooperation with developing countries as essential foreign policy activities. Another issue of interest discussed is ensuring internal stability and territorial integrity, currently perceived to be threatened by the activities of the Uyghurs in China, which are described as separatism in Xinjiang. It is stated that China sees the Middle East as the source of Muslim fundamentalism and seeks support from the Middle Eastern governments to suppress Uyghur separatist activities.
The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, two essential mechanisms for China, were also examined in the book, and how China showed itself as a great power in these regions and how it expanded its spheres of influence was discussed. Murphy underlines that China has built an institutional order to facilitate interaction with these regions. At the same time, the author evaluated that China is in competition with the U.S. in terms of economy, politics, and foreign aid through cooperation forums in the Middle East and Africa, and it is considered to be one of the tools China uses to expand its sphere of influence in these regions. The author also evaluated that China differed from the liberal order with its strong emphasis on the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence (mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality, and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence) and its attitude towards the U.S. on foreign intervention.
On the other hand, an evaluation has been made by focusing on three elements: economy, political and military relations. In the post-Cold War period, China’s need for resources and markets to ensure its economic growth in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa increased, and the trade in goods and services increased in parallel. One of the most striking arguments of the author is that China’s economic approach to these regions is neo-mercantilist, unlike the liberal order, and it is stated that it is a behavior that competes with the U.S. The author also examines how China used its bilateral economic relations to establish spheres of influence in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa and states that it acts differently from the liberal economic order.
China’s political relations with the regions through United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voting and strategic partnerships were analyzed comparatively as to the competition in these regions. China provides bilateral political, economic, and security relations through strategic alliances to ensure domestic economic growth and seeks stability in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa to ensure continuous access to resources and markets. It also seeks to promote stability through the UNSC voting. At the same time, the author evaluated that China is voting at the UNSC to oppose the U.S. and the West, competing with the U.S. on some issues, and that the rivalry arises from China’s desire to support itself in the international arena.
Security and military topics are also included in the book. China’s desire to protect Chinese businesses and citizens in the focus areas and increase its support in the international order is evaluated, together with its military and security strategies. It carries out joint work with the U.S. at the and the West to ensure that most of its military behavior is based on cooperation with the U.S. and the West and to prevent piracy activities. The Djibouti base was evaluated as an individual move for China. The Chinese base in Djibouti is explained as an opportunity for China to protect its sea routes in this region. One of the remarkable comments is that China considers itself a great power that cooperates with other countries in security.
Murphy has analyzed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one of the important projects of China, and how it strategically takes an approach toward the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa and its interactions. The BRI strategies section discusses how it uses this strategy, unlike the other sections. While making a detailed analysis of foreign policy instruments, it is discussed how China incorporates specific instruments into this strategy. The author assumes that China is competing with the U.S. in economic, political, and foreign aid, using the BRI as a strategy to balance its interests.
The book argues that as China increases its power in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, it competes with the U.S. and the West, challenges international rules, and evaluates this with its spheres of influence. It compares China’s policies in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, along with several important reasons, to understand the aims and intentions of China-U.S. relations. China may try to create an alternative international order (political, economic, and foreign aid) in these regions. The author thinks China broke away from the liberal order by advocating the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. China has not been active in all countries in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, with competition and changes in its interests by leaving the liberal order. It would have been more helpful if the book had also mentioned how China had impacted the regions where the U.S. is acting as a security provider and how it has followed by integrating the five principles into its policies.
One aspect that makes the study significant is that the book examines the subject comprehensively with more than 200 interviews and original documents. This work has become much more valuable as primary sources support it. The book also includes shaping China’s behavior in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa with a threat perception, apart from just interests. It has been evaluated that it moves away from the national system, exhibits a competitive attitude in places where the external threat is high, and has a cooperative attitude in places where the external threat is low. At the same time, when its interests advance in parallel with the norms of the liberal order, it gains influence by competing in the region with political, economic, and foreign aid tools. However, it does not want to get involved in any unilateral military operation, especially in problematic areas. While the order that China has built in the regions generally tends to include economic, political, and foreign aid, it does not fully cover security institutions. These evaluations are a positive contribution to the academic literature and a guide for future studies.