October 2022

China looks at the Mediterranean Region
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October was a politically crucial month for China because of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. The Congress reduced the level of attention paid by Chinese media to foreign events, including those in the wider Mediterranean region. This, however, is not the only reason why this month’s ChinaMed Observer is shorter than previous issues. Protests broke out in Tehran in late September and quickly spread across the country in reaction to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Despite this crisis’ importance for Iran and the future of the current regime, we could not find any article or comment on it in Chinese media. The only article by a China-based scholar was published in the Turkish Daily Sabah. Similarly, we did not find any article regarding Iranian drones in Ukraine. Though not surprising, this silence stands out because, as shown below, Chinese commentators did discuss both the role of other Middle Eastern countries in the Ukrainian conflict as well as their domestic problems in October.

Against this background, it is interesting to read the comments made by Liu Zhongmin, a senior scholar at Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), on the Saudi decision to push OPEC+ countries to cut oil production and on President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan’s visit to Russia. [1] According to Liu, it is evident that Gulf countries are doing their best to boost their autonomy and their international influence by playing a role in the Ukrainian crisis. Zou Zhiqiang of Fudan University made a similar point as well. [2] This push for greater influence, Chinese commentators pointed out, can also be seen in the efforts made by Gulf countries to host large sport and cultural events, such as the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, as they also provide important opportunities for these countries to strengthen their diplomatic clout and to create new business opportunities with other regional and extra-regional powers. [3]

The situation is vastly different in Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq – four countries that are at the center of another long article published by Liu Zhongmin in The Paper. [4] Liu writes that there are four types of countries in the region. (1) Countries that face “transition pressure,” like the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey, and Iran, which are confronting the serious task of “enhancing national governance capacity through reforms.” (2) Countries affected by the “second Arab Spring” of 2019, like Sudan and Algeria, which are still in a difficult political transition process. For these states, the most pressing issue is to build a new political system after the fall of the previous regime as well as ensuring political and social stability. (3) Countries that are undergoing a critical political and economic transition, such as Tunisia and Egypt. Their situation has improved, but they are far from finding a suitable development path for themselves. (4) Countries that are stuck in long-term war and turmoil as result of the "Arab Spring" and external interventions. Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq belong to this category. Liu’s article pays special attention to the situation in these countries, reaching the conclusion that none of them are going to stabilize in the foreseeable future due to significant domestic divisions and/or foreign interventions. Yu Guoqing, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, expressed similar concerns regarding Iraq. [5] While his assessment is not particularly surprising, it is important to keep in mind that, as far as the available data shows, Chinese economic and energy interests in Iraq are far from negligible. Yet, Liu and other Chinese commentators usually do not discuss the implications of Iraq’s growing instability for China.

The only positive news came from the US-mediated maritime demarcation deal between Israel and Lebanon. In a short article published in the People’s Liberation Army Daily, SISU’s Wen Shaobiao argued that the importance of this outcome is not to be underestimated, given the enmity between the two countries. [6] Beyond the possibility of exploiting the energy resources of the Eastern Mediterranean, Wen wrote that this deal might finally produce some amount of political trust between Lebanon and Israel, thereby contributing to regional stability.

We conclude this issue of the ChinaMed Observer with two articles written by Sun Yanhong and Dong Yifan, two scholars affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations, respectively. [7] These articles revolve around the recent elections in some European countries, including Italy and France, where right-wing parties performed well. Dong’s assessment of the situation is not different from those of other scholars and experts: while those parties might be successful during elections, they have very little government experience. Therefore, it is unlikely that they will be able to fulfil any of their promises and address the economic and social problems that plague their countries. Sun focuses on Europe’s withering industrial capabilities as a key issue that policymakers should address but that will probably continue, thereby weakening European economies further. Finally, it is interesting to notice that Dong used the term “political turmoil” (政局动荡), the same one used when countries go through moments of intense political confrontation or even civil war, to explain why Italy held early elections this year.

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[1] Li Zhiwei, Huang Peizhao, and Chen Zishuai, Bùmǎn “ōupèikè +” jiǎnchǎn juédìng, měi zīshēn yìyuán fàng hěn huà yào bàofù shātè! 不满“欧佩克+”减产决定 ,美资深议员放狠话要报复沙特! [Dissatisfied with the OPEC+’ decision to cut production, senior U.S. lawmakers speak harsh words against Saudi Arabia!], Global Times, October 12, 2022, link.

[2] Qian Xiaoyan, Shātè “shāmò dá wò sī” wèihé bùjiàn měiguó guānyuán shēnyǐng? Huá'ěrjiē què qūzhīruòwù 沙特“沙漠达沃斯”为何不见美国官员身影?华尔街却趋之若鹜 [Why is there no US official in Saudi "Desert Davos"? Wall Street is going en masse instead], China Business Network, October 27, 2022, link.

[3] Qian Xiaoyan, Shìjièbēi zuìxiǎo zhǔbàn guó kǎtǎ'ěr: Rénkǒu 200 duō wàn jiēdài bǎi wàn qiúmí, ānbǎo kào wàiyuán 世界杯最小主办国卡塔尔:人口200多万接待百万球迷,安保靠外援 [Qatar, the smallest host country of the World Cup, has a population of more than 2 million and receives millions of fans, the security is provided by other countries], China Business Network, October 19, 2022, link.

[4] Liu Zhongmin, Zhōngdōng ruì píng |zhànluàn hé dòngdàng sìguó: Zhōngdōng dìqū guānxì huǎnhé rào bù guòqù de kǎn 中东睿评|战乱和动荡四国:中东地区关系缓和绕不过去的坎 [The Middle East Review|Four countries in the middle of war and turmoil: The obstacle to the improvement of the situation in the Middle East that cannot be eliminated], The Paper, October 19, 2022, link.

[5] Xie Lian, Dàxuǎn yī nián hòu, yīlākè xīn zǒngtǒng wèihé réngrán “nánchǎn”? 大选一年后,伊拉克新总统为何仍然“难产”?[One year after the election, why is the formation of a new Iraqi government so difficult?], Beijing News, October 13, 2022, link.

[6] Wen Shaobiao, Yǐsèliè yǔ líbānèn dáchéng hǎishàng huà jiè xiéyì 以色列与黎巴嫩达成海上划界协议 [Israel and Lebanon reach maritime demarcation agreement], People's Liberation Army Daily, October 11, 2022, link.

[7] Dong Yifan, Ōuzhōu zhèngzhì yòuqīng huà yìngshè “zhìlǐ chìzì” rìqū yánjùn 欧洲政治右倾化映射“治理赤字”日趋严峻 [The rightward shift of European politics casts light upon its increasingly serious "governance deficit"], China.org, October 5, 2022, link; Sun Yanhong, Sūnyànhóng: Ōuzhōu “qù gōngyèhuà” shìtóu yǐngxiǎng shēnyuǎn 孙彦红:欧洲“去工业化”势头影响深远 [Sun Yanhong: The trend of "de-industrialization" in Europe has a far-reaching impact], Global Times, October 27, 2022, 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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