Dr. Hoh is an independent researcher in Middle Eastern Studies and a program specialist in the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress. The opinions expressed here are her own and do not represent those of the Library of Congress.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in the Middle East first struggled but soon stabilized. This article studies the why and how by examining the cases of Iraq and Syria to observe the ways China handled its international business operations in the time of Covid. Prior to that, despite international criticism and doubts, China's BRI had continued to thrive. In the Middle East and North Africa, China had been forming partnerships under BRI with many countries and sought to connect with national development plans such as Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, Kuwait's Vision 2035, and Qatar's Vision 2030. After the Covid-19 outbreak in December 2019, in anticipation of a resultant global economic recession, China's economy experienced a 6.8 percent contraction in the first quarter of 2020. Recently, China reported 2.3 percent overall GDP growth in 2020 and an 18.3 percent growth spurt in the first quarter of 2021. These developments prompt one to ask, what impact has Covid-19 had—or what effects will it have—on China's BRI projects in the Middle East?
To search for an answer, this study zooms in to two of the hardest-hit Arab countries: Iraq and Syria. Both represent an investment environment entirely different from those of the affluent Gulf Arab states. Throughout Covid-19, Iraq and Syria have been facing insufficient public-health facilities and a lack of medical equipment, on top of political instability and economic challenges. This study looks at how China managed its BRI operations in Iraq and Syria during this crisis.
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