As the United States reassesses its involvement in the Middle East, China is stepping up its economic engagement with the region. In this podcast, Paul Haenle spoke with Marwan Muasher, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Jordanian deputy prime minister, on the difficult transitions Middle Eastern countries face following the Arab Spring, as well as the challenges for China as its grows its presence in the Arab world.

Muasher said the Arab Spring in 20, followed by the decline of oil prices below $100 per barrel in 2014, unraveled the social contracts between Middle Eastern governments and their people. In past decades, many Middle Eastern countries followed the Chinese model of development, pursuing economic reform without political reform. However, the majority of countries failed to adequately implement economic reforms that benefitted all, instead making changes that fueled corruption and only benefitted a small layer of society, Muasher argued. Muasher said that today, the Arab world holds a negative view of the United States due to its support of Israel and the war in Iraq. China, Muasher said, is still a newcomer to the region and is focused on flexing its economic power while maintaining a neutral political stance. However, as China’s presence in the region grows, it will be difficult for Beijing to maintain strong economic ties while avoiding taking sides on political issues. Whether or not it can remain a neutral party is an open question going forward.

Paul Haenle

Paul Haenle holds the Maurice R. Greenberg Director’s Chair at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy based at Tsinghua University in Beijing. His research focuses on Chinese foreign policy and U.S.-China relations.

Marwan Muasher

Marwan Muasher is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he overseas research in Washington and Beirut on the Middle East.