WASHINGTON – When thinking of China, Americans naturally tend to focus on the Asian giant’s complex relationship with the United States.
But China’s geopolitical positioning incorporates all corners of the globe, with an increasing emphasis on the Middle East and Muslim majority nations. On Sunday, Jan. 13, Dru Gladney, an author and nationally known expert on China who teaches anthropology at Pomona College, will discuss China’s relationship with the Middle East during a lecture at the UNM Continuing Education Center.
“Most of our discussion has been preoccupied with the U.S.-China relationship – the enormous debt and other issues in the U.S. relationship with China,” Gladney said in a Journal interview. “But China’s focus over the past few years has been its relationship with the Middle East, which has a long history.”
Gladney’s lecture is part of the Albuquerque International Association’s series of public talks entitled “Bubble, Bubble, Boil and Trouble: Critical Countries, Critical Issues We Need to Understand.” The lecture series’ January-June presentations will cover new protest movements, emerging generations and political change, especially in the U.S., Russia, China and the Middle East. The July-December sessions will examine the different facets of political Islam and why it matters to the United States.
In the Journal interview, Gladney said he would examine the growing economic trade between China and countries in the Middle East. That trade is, not surprisingly, heavily dependent on energy – such as oil and gas – as well, as Chinese exports, such as Chinese-produced halal foods that are allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines.
“I hope to paint a larger picture about this important relationship that China has sustained for more than 2,000 years with the Middle East,” he said. “The relationship that China has with Eurasia and (central Asian countries) along the Silk Road that connected China with the Middle East are still active today and perhaps more active than they have been in a millennium.”
Like Tibetans, Muslims in China have struggled under Chinese rule to maintain their cultural and religious identity because they are regularly portrayed as terrorists, jihadi extremists and separatists. Gladney also said he will discuss this dynamic.
He also said the U.S., which has notoriously rocky relations with some Middle Eastern countries – especially Iraq and Iran – might be able to learn something from China.
“China has had a very interesting and positive relationship with all of the different countries of the Middle East, including Iran,” Gladney said. “Iraq and Syria were some of the earliest countries to recognize China … and the relationship has been rather extraordinarily well managed compared to our own difficult relationship.”