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The exponential economic growth of China over the last couple of decades has triggered a potential great power competition between the two leading economies of the world the United States (US) and People’s Republic of China (PRC). Resultantly, the US has designated China’s global competing power as top US national security concern. The book China’s Rise in the Global South:  The Middle East, Africa, and Beijing’s Alternative World Order by Dawn C. Murphy, Associate Professor of National Security Strategy at the US National War College, looks at China’s foreign policy behaviour as a rising global power in two strategically important regions in the Global South  resource-rich Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa. The book comprising ten chapters provides an in-depth analysis of China’s foreign policy interaction with these regions (p. 4). The author provides an overview about the structure of the book in the first chapter, Introduction, and argues that the world is in the midst of a potential great power transition between the US and PRC, and observes China’s meteoric rise as the critical economic, political, and military phenomena of the twenty-first century (p. 1).  She adds that in spite of China’s increasing global stature, it does not seek to alter the internationally accepted geographical composition of the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa (p. 2). However, in order to facilitate interactions and increase its influence in these regions, it is trying to shape up an alternative international order by challenging the rules of the current international system. The author posits that if the current liberal economic order unravels or isolates China, then Beijing’s alternative economic order  cooperation over competition, investment over conflict, geoeconomics over geopolitics  could serve as the foundation of China’s economic, political, and military relations with the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as much of the developing world (p. 2). The second chapter, The Analytical Approach, presents various theoretical and empirical standpoints on the topic. The author suggests that according to the Offensive Realism Theory, put forward by John Mearsheimer and substantiated by Robert Gilpin, a rising power such as China, while competing with the US, will strive to make changes to the norms of the current international system to better suit its interests (p. 13). Meanwhile, the scholars of Liberalist and Constructivist schools of thought envision China cooperating with the US and Western states across broader geopolitical and economic spectrum by adapting itself to international norms (p. 13). However, some Constructivist and Liberal scholars argue that the US and the West are trying to socialize China into the current liberal international political and economic order to maximize integration (p. 18). According to Mearsheimer’s theoretical assertion that all great powers: (i) seek to maximize their power; (ii) establish hegemony; and (iii) prevent others from becoming regional hegemons (p. 14). Resultantly, lack of cooperation between the US and China and the divergence between China’s policies and the liberal norms of the current international system could potentially lead to tensions and may affect their bilateral relations (p. 21). In the third chapter, What Does China Want in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa?, the author enlists China’s post-Cold War interests in the said regions which include: (i) promoting its domestic economic growth through access to resources and markets; (ii) fostering support for it in the international arena; (iii) ensuring its domestic stability; (iv) advocating the issues pertaining to the developing countries; (v) safeguarding its citizens and businesses abroad; and (vi) protecting its territorial integrity and sovereignty from the US (p. 26).  The fourth chapter, Competing with Cooperation Forums? The China-Arab States Cooperation Forum and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, discusses how these two forums are China’s primary multilateral mechanisms to coordinate economic, political, and security relations with the Middle East and Africa (p. 56). The author argues that China’s political behaviour is competitive and encouraging South-South cooperation, in contrast to the so-called developed world which focuses on competition over cooperation. Furthermore, China’s advocacy for the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” is different from the Western liberal political order. It includes: (i) mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity; (ii) mutual non-aggression; (iii) non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; (iv) equality and mutual benefit; and (v) peaceful coexistence (p. 59).  In the fifth chapter, A Responsible Power? How China Portrays Itself as a Great Power through Special Envoys for the Middle East, Syria, and Africa, the author discusses how China created its diplomatic posts of special envoys for the Middle East, Syria, and Africa to address challenges pertaining to peace and security in these regions. According to her, the scope of the mandate of the envoys has expanded in the aftermath of so-called Arab Awakening, and the introduction of the Belt and Road Initiative (p. 119). The sixth chapter, Competing for Influence? Economic Relations, discusses China’s economic engagement with the aforementioned regions and underscores that notwithstanding China’s relatively lower investment in the two regions, as compared to other parts of the world, it is heavily involved in trade, services, and aid provision. The Author remarks that the said regions are crucial for China in terms of access to natural resources and markets for goods and services.  The author points out that China’s imports, despite showing a decline, exceeded US imports from these regions. For instance, China’s imports in 2019 stood at USD 166 billion from the Middle East and USD 87 billion from sub-Saharan Africa. Whereas, the US imports from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa were merely USD 71 billion and USD 21 billion, respectively (p. 145). In the seventh chapter, Making Friends and Building Influence? Political Relations, the author discusses China’s United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voting pattern and strategic partnerships in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. China differs from the US and other Western permanent members of the Security Council because of its emphasis on the sovereignty and territorial of the sovereign states including the Palestinians, discouraging sanctions, and its opposition to the interference into the internal affairs of the sovereign states (p. 193).  The eighth chapter, Cooperating for Peace and Security? Military Relations, examines China’s contribution to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO), conventional arms sales, anti-piracy activities, and its military base in Djibouti (p. 231). The author notes that China’s base in Djibouti is norm-neutral and in lined with the practice of great powers establishing military bases abroad for power projection and to protect their regional interests (p. 261). In the ninth chapter, “Belt and Road and China’s Relations with the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa”, the author explores what the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is and how it relates to China’s approach in the said regions. According to the author, through BRI and the foreign policy tools used for supporting the initiative, China is trying to build an alternative world order that reflects its core values and to portray itself as a driver of connectivity, development, trade, and globalization (p. 264). The tenth chapter, Conclusion, summarises the concepts introduced in the preceding chapters and underscores that there are significant gaps in the existing studies about China’s foreign policy beyond the Asia Pacific region. The book attempts to fill such gaps in the scholarly literature on China’s regional relations and its rise in the developing world by giving a comparative analysis of the investments made by the US and China in the said regions. The author points out that, in contrast to the US, China’s foreign policy of cooperation over competition, investment over conflict, geoeconomics over geopolitics has contributed significantly in making China a respected world player. Thus, it could be concluded that China’s approach of inclusive and shared prosperity and its presence across most regional and international forums has made it a country of choice for its partners in the developing world.

Tarique Ahmed Abro is Research Officer at (CISSS).

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