Relations between Asia and the MENA region have significantly deepened in recent years, also as a result of the growing global weight of Asian economies, particularly China, India, Japan and South Korea. While Asia’s need for hydrocarbons has been the main driver of its increasing interactions with the Middle East (especially with the oil-exporting Gulf countries), new factors have also contributed to shape mutual ties over the past fifteen years. Beyond energy flows from the region to flourishing Asian markets, the involvement of Asian countries in the Middle East includes trade, investments, tourism and as well as a large presence of Asian workers in Gulf countries. Also, China’s Belt and Road Initiative and infrastructure investments have significantly increased the country’s economic footprint in the Mediterranean region. In this context, questions arise whether deepening economic ties – in addition to larger structural changes like US disengagement and the emergence of a both global and regional multipolar order – will prompt an era of increased geopolitical engagement of Asian powers in the MENA region. Moreover, the unexpected economic, reputational, and ultimately geopolitical impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to influence Asia-MENA relations on the short and medium term.
What are the strategic implications of the projection of Asian countries in an unstable, fragmented and volatile region? What geopolitical role are Asian countries able/willing to take on? How do they interact with each other and with other international players in the region? To what extent does Asia’s increased presence affect Europe’s role and interests in the MENA? How will Middle Eastern countries look at Asia after the Covid-19 crisis?
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