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Chinese troop infront of warship

No. 1, February – July 2017

China's foreign and security policies are changing dramatically, with the focus shifting from the regional angle to a more globalized outlook. The government in Beijing wants to become a key player in the international security arena. China has started to project its military power far beyond the Asia-Pacific region, it shapes the security agenda in international organizations, and it forges its own security partnerships in different parts of the world. These activities increasingly affect core European interests. Monitoring and assessing China's endeavors thus becomes ever more important for decision makers in Europe. 

With their joint project "China as a global security actor," MERICS and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) have embarked on systematically observing, monitoring and analyzing Beijing's ambitious strategies. The semi-annual online publication will summarize current developments of China's defense and security policy, diplomatic initiatives, military operations as well as domestic drivers of Beijing's expansive policies. Monitoring is based on a quantitative collection of data from different sources. Security experts from both institutions will regularly provide in-depth analysis and insights on select aspects of China's changing global security strategies.

China's expanding security footprint in the Middle East

In her analysis of the first half of 2017, MERICS researcher Helena Legarda focuses on China's increased presence in the Middle East, a region with which Beijing has traditionally had very limited ties. As the United States scales down its presence in the region under President Donald Trump’s America First agenda, Beijing is moving to fill the power vacuum by intensifying security diplomacy, mediation efforts, and a more regular military presence. China has also increased its investments in the region’s ports and infrastructure.  

According to Legarda, the rationale for these activities lies in Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Beijing is investing heavily in BRI-related infrastructure, and a growing number of countries have signed up to the initiative. The Middle East is located at the heart of this megaproject of maritime and overland transport links between Asia, Europe and Africa and thus requires China’s attention and involvement. China's huge infrastructure push – mainly aimed at boosting its own domestic economy – could be hampered by instability in the regions involved. 

A growing presence in the Middle East has many upsides for Beijing but also comes with increased risks. Beijing has little experience in international conflict resolution in the region and could become enmeshed in complex and politically charged disputes. These geopolitical risks can trip up efforts to turn China into an important global player.

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