July 2023

China looks at the Mediterranean Region
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Like June, July was not a particularly eventful month for Chinese coverage of the wider Mediterranean region. The prevailing theme within the commentaries by and interviews of Chinese analysts revolved around the growing importance of the Middle East, especially of the Gulf, at both the regional and global level.

Those arguing in favor of the region gaining increased international relevance point to two main pieces of evidence. The first is the influence of Gulf sovereign wealth funds. [1] While rising interest rates in Europe and the United States have limited the presence of Western capital around the world, Gulf countries are instead eager to find new investment opportunities and, at the same time, use their funds to support their diplomatic ambitions. Quoting The Economist, the Global Times refers to the Gulf as being the “banker of the world.” Against this background, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations’ Niu Xinchun and Zhejiang International Studies University’s Zhou Lie argued that Beijing has much to gain from this phenomenon, especially as policymakers from both China and the Gulf have made efforts to strengthen economic relations beyond energy.

The second piece of evidence are the numerous visits by foreign leaders to the Gulf. [2] Among these visits, a notable one was that by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, which was the subject of an Global Times article by Shanghai International Studies University’s Ding Long. [3] According to Ding, Kishida’s primary objectives were to secure oil supplies and strengthen cooperation in the realm of renewable energy technologies. Nonetheless, Ding also believes that Kishida’s Gulf trip could likely be in reaction to China’s growing influence in the region, especially since the Saudi Arabia-Iran talks in Beijing. While the scholar is of the opinion that China has no reason to interfere with or hinder the development of Japan-Gulf relations, he however warns Tokyo that if it attempts to join the United States in trying to contain Chinese influence and companies in the Gulf, or instigates the United States or India into exerting pressure on China while reaping the benefits, China’s ambivalence would quickly change.

This concept – the growing importance and autonomy of the Middle East – also serves as the lens through which the visit of Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Algeria’s President and Minister of Defence, to Beijing is being analyzed. [4] While highlighting particular facets of the bilateral relationship, particularly the role of Chinese construction companies in Algeria and the two countries’ historical reciprocal support during the Cold War, the reports emphasize the broader context within which Tebboune’s visit is taking place: ever expanding South-South relations. Unsurprisingly, there is no reference to Algeria’s domestic economic and political situation.

Algeria is not the only country in the region with which China is strengthening ties. As emphasized by a journalist from the Shanghai Observer, Wang Yi’s visit to Türkiye – the only non-African country he visited during this recent diplomatic tour – is noteworthy, especially given that it occurred right after Erdogan’s (unexpected) electoral victory in May. [5] As highlighted in past issues of the ChinaMed Observer, Chinese commentators were pleased by the outcome of the Turkish elections, seeing it as positive for the continued development and stability of Sino-Turkish relations.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent declarations that he might travel to Beijing are, in the eyes of Chinese commentators, a further sign of the changes taking place in the region. Niu Xinchun implied in a Global Times article that the Israeli Prime Minister’s statements should not be considered simply as a byproduct of the worsening relations between Israel and the United States. [6] Rather, they should be “critically seen against the background of new developments in the geopolitical situation in the Middle East. A series of new changes have enabled Netanyahu's visit to China to transcend bilateral relations and have regional and even global political significance.” The changes in the region, however, are not only pushing Tel Aviv’s foreign policy to evolve. Israeli domestic politics has also been shaped by these changes, according to Yang Yang, director of the Israel Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University. [7] According to Yang, societal cracks are widening in Israel and becoming more serious as the external environment improves, thereby decreasing the need to show unity in the face of a threat.

Against this background, it is interesting to read one of the articles published by Liu Zhongmin in his regular column in The Paper. [8] Liu argues that the barycenter of the Middle East’s economic and political foreign relations is in Asia. The region is increasingly “Asianized.” Hence, China should look at it as part of what used to be called “Western regions,” together with Central Asia and South Asia. He argues that Chinese scholars and policymakers need to think in terms of “Great Asia” (with the Middle East being part of it under the name of “West Asia”). Otherwise, he warns, it will be difficult for Beijing to seize fully the opportunities, or tackle the threats, that emerge from those growing ties and connections.

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[1] Huang Peizhao, Xin Bin, and Wang Dong, Rì tǔ yìn zhāduī fǎngwèn, zhōngdōng zīběn wèishéme chéngle shìjiè de “qián dài”? 日土印扎堆访问,中东资本为什么成了世界的“钱袋”?[Japanese, Turkish, and Indian leaders visit the Middle East, why has it become the world’s “money bag”?], Global Times, July 19, 2023, link.

[2] Qian Xiaoyan, Shíyóu bù zài shì wéiyī zhòngdiǎn! Wàiguó lǐngdǎo rén zhēngxiānkǒnghòu dào fǎng hǎiwān guójiā wèi nǎ bān 石油不再是唯一重点!外国领导人争先恐后到访海湾国家为哪般 [Petroleum is no longer the only focus! Foreign leaders are scrambling to visit Gulf countries], China Business Network, July 20, 2023, link.

[3] Ding Long, Dīng lóng: Àntián gāodiào dì hǎiwān zhī xíng, bùzhǐ wèi “xún yóu” 丁隆:岸田高调的海湾之行,不止为“寻油” [Ding Long: Kishida’s high-profile trip is not just about “oil hunting”], Global Times, July 22, 2023, link.

[4] Wu Na, Zhōng ā gè lǐngyù hézuò jiāsù fāzhǎn yíng lái xīn qǐdiǎn 中阿各领域合作加速发展迎来新起点 [Sino-Algerian cooperation accelerates in every field, welcomes a new beginning], Beijing Daily, July 19, 2023, link; Huang Yuqin, Cóng sān chù xìjié gǎnzhī zhōng ā shì “zhēnchéng péngyǒu, tiānrán huǒbàn” 从三处细节感知中阿是“真诚朋友、天然伙伴” [Looking at three details, we can tell that Algeria and China are “true friends and natural partners”], Chinanews.com, July 19, 2023, link; Huang Huixin and Zhu Ping, 蓝厅观察丨阿尔及利亚总统特本首次中国行 两国关系提质升级 [Blue Room Observer丨The Algerian President comes to China for the first time, the relations between the two countries are upgraded], CCTV, July 22, 2023, link.

[5] Liao Qin, Shēndù |wáng yì xià zhōu chūfǎng, xià bànnián kāijú zhī jì wèihé zài fǎng zhè piàn rètǔ?深度|王毅下周出访,下半年开局之际为何再访这片热土?[In-depth | Wang Yi is going abroad next week, why is he going again to that hot land in the beginning of the second half of the year?], Shanghai Observer, July 7, 2020, link.

[6] Niu Xinchun, Niú xīnchūn: Zhōngdōng zhèngzhì xīn biànhuà cù yǐsèliè qiú biàn 牛新春:中东政治新变化促以色列求变 [Niu Xinchun: The new developments in Middle Eastern politics push Israel to seek change], Global Times, July 4, 2023, link.

[7] Huang Peizhao, Chen Zishuai, and Wang Xiaoxiong, Huán shí shēndù | “guójiā línghún zhī zhàn” lìng yǐsèliè “míháng”? 环时深度| “国家灵魂之战”令以色列“迷航”?[Global Times In-depth | Is a “battle for the soul of the country” making Israel drift off course?], Global Times, July 31, 2023, link.

[8] Liu Zhongmin, Zhōngdōng ruì píng |dāngzhōng dōng guójiā jījí xiàng yàzhōu huíguī, zhōngguó xūyào zuò shénme zhǔnbèi? 中东睿评|当中东国家积极向亚洲回归,中国需要做什么准备?[Middle East Insight|Middle Eastern countries return to Asia, what preparations should China make?], The Paper, July 21, 2023, link.

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Published with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation pursuant to art. 23-bis of Presidential Decree 18/1967. The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Published with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation pursuant to art. 23-bis of Presidential Decree 18/1967. The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
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