Attitudes to Chinese Economic Investment in the Middle East and North Africa

Do Arab publics prefer Chinese economic investment to Western alternatives? How do these attitudes vary by different demographic characteristics? A body of literature suggests that China is an increasingly popular partner for Arab governments, especially when financing infrastructure projects; however, we know very little about how these initiatives are perceived by citizens. To answer these questions, I draw on Waves V-VII of the Arab Barometer survey. Aggregate statistics suggest that survey respondents (n=72,535) generally prefer strengthening economic ties with China as compared to the United States, although this difference varies over time and across countries. A multilevel bivariate probit analysis paints a more nuanced picture: religious Muslims are more likely to oppose strengthening economic ties with China – and this opposition is statistically similar to levels of hostility shown to increased economic investment from the US. Younger males, the university-educated, and higher income groups, are equally likely to support strengthening economic linkages with both China and the US. The findings suggest that attitudes are keyed to how individuals perceive investment from actors external to the region, rather than a specific preference for Chinese investment. Placebo tests on attitudes to economic investment from within-region actors supports the intuition.