January 7, 2019

April 2019

The Mediterranean Region looks at China
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The debate about how to balance the risks and the opportunities produced by China’s growing engagement with the region was the main topic in the Mediterranean media in April, although with important differences in terms of depth of reporting and attitude toward China.

We begin this month’s review with Southern Europe. In Italy, there are still doubts and concerns about the choice made by the government to sign the MOU for cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative with China. Despite the efforts of the government to highlight the economic opportunities that a closer relationship with China could bring and, at the same time, Italy’s commitment to its traditional allies and partners in the West, Italian media published a series of articles about the presence of backdoors in the Huawei-provided equipment to Vodafone (one of Italy’s telecommunication companies), the combination of extreme right-wing political preferences and univocal pro-China attitude of some of the members of the so-called “China Task Force” of the Ministry of Economic Development, and the damage to the relations with the United States and other European countries. [1] American diplomats and officials, too, intervened in the debate to add further pressure on the government. [2]

Chinese investments are also a contentious issue in Greece. The Mayor of Piraeus, Mr. Yiannis M. Maralis, reportedly complained about the delay of eight months to the expansion of the port in his city due to the decisions taken by the Central Archaeological Council and the Port Planning and Development Committee. [3] While the Council ordered that it must be verified that there are no archeological artifacts in the area where the new facilities may be built, the Committee rejected some of the proposals made by COSCO. Instead, Syriza’s candidate in the local elections, Nikos Belavilas, supported the decision of the Council. Yet, as the declaration of a Greek diplomat and the comments of experts from the Institute of International Economic Relations shows, the Syriza-led government remains strongly in favor of continuing to strengthen relations with China despite or, as the diplomat declared because, because of tense relations with the EU. [4]

Meanwhile, we can already see how the recent turn in Sino-Italian relations is affecting other European countries. The Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia reported that the government in Madrid is planning to make more difficult for non-EU investors to enter strategic sectors of the economy, especially the energy industry. [5] The target is China and Italy, the energy giant ENI in particular, is portrayed as the potential bridge for the Chinese state-owned energy company CNPC to gain control or share of Endesa, which is the largest electric utility company in Spain and is controlled by ENI. Reportedly, the Spanish government is acting also because China Three Gorges, which owns 23% of the Portuguese energy company EDP, asked to eliminate the limits to the voting rights of shareholders that have less than 25% of the shares (a request that was denied). Yet, media also continue to write on the importance of the Chinese market for Spanish exports. [6]

Differently from the other three European countries, French media are more focused on Chinese presence in Africa, although they made no reference to France’s role there (as happened in March). Le Monde published an article arguing that this is a crucial moment for China’s Africa diplomacy. [7] As many African countries went to Beijing for the second Belt and Road Forum to renegotiate their debt, China will have to decide whether to consent and face other debtors that will want to do the same, or accept the potential damage to its relations with Africa. At the same time, China is not the only country that is expanding its presence there. Russia, Turkey and India, too, have significantly expanded their presence in Africa. [8] All this attention, wrote Sebastien Le Belzic, serves to remind us that Africa is at the center of today’s international politics. The presence of investors from China and other countries is, therefore, presented as a positive factor for the development of Africa, under the condition that African people are able to seize this opportunity.

The same kind of distance is impossible to find in Israeli media. This is especially true as the newspaper Maariv published a very interesting backstage story related to Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States on March 25-26, 2019. [9] President Donald Trump signed the presidential proclamation that recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights on March 25, and it seems that was not a gift. Rather, it came with a clear demand for the Israeli leader: Israel cannot let China enter its strategic infrastructure. According to persons that were present at the meeting, Trump did not give an ultimatum but he wanted to know what Netanyahu was doing to address the concerns that had been repeatedly expressed by American officials. Israeli officials told the journalist that the Israeli leader told his American counterpart that all the necessary regulatory tools will be in place soon but, the officials also pointed out, it is likely that it will take some time because of division within the government.

Finally, we close with issue with news from Iran and Arab countries, which, despite the tense relations with each other, are quite similar in terms of national narratives about China. For example, the words used by Iranian officials to comment on the second Belt and Road Forum and those used by Bahraini officials to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the relations between Beijing and Manama are very similar: China is an important economic and diplomatic player in the Middle East for their respective countries. [10] Emirati and Kuwaiti media limited themselves to talking about the pavilions of their country at the International Horticultural Exhibition 2019, that took place in Beijing in April. [11]

[1] Cristina Cucciniello, Ex fascisti e a processo per truffa: chi c'è nel gruppo del ministero per i rapporti Italia-Cina [Ex fascists and on trial: who is in the ministerial-level group in charge of the Sino-Italian relations], L’Espresso, 23 April 2019, http://espresso.repubblica.it/palazzo/2019/04/15/news/neo-fascisti-italia-cina-1.333779; Michele Pierri, Che cosa insegna il caso delle backdoor Huawei in Italia. La scoperta e l’analisi di Mensi [What the case of backdoors in Huawei’s equipment in Italy can teach to us. The discovery and the analysis by Mensi], Formiche, 30 April 2019, https://formiche.net/2019/04/huawei-backdoor-cyber-security-reti-cina-dati-italia/; Gerardo Pelosi, Via della seta: l’Italia ha un posto d’onore, ma quanto ci costerà con Ue e Usa? [The Silk Road: Italy’s has a special place in it but how much does it cost to us?], Sole24Ore, 27 April 2019, https://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/notizie/2019-04-27/via-seta-l-italia-ha-posto-d-onore-ma-quanto-ci-costera-ue-e-usa-203210.shtml?uuid=ABY7QTsB.

[2] Michele Pierri, Sul 5G made in Cina l’Italia saprà fare la scelta giusta. Parla Rob Strayer [Italy will make the right choice about the 5G network. A comment by Rob Strayer], Formiche, 10 April 2019, https://formiche.net/2019/04/5g-cina-huawei-sicurezza-usa-alleati-rob-strayer/.

[3] To archaiologikó parelthón tou Peiraiá empódio se ependýseis Το αρχαιολογικό παρελθόν του Πειραιά εμπόδιο σε επενδύσεις [The archaeological past of Piraeus is a barrier to investment], Neokosmos, 5 April 2019, https://neoskosmos.com/el/212521/to-archaiologiko-parelthon-tou-peiraia-empodio-se-ependyseis-2/.

[4] Evrópi kai Kína: Sti mési i Elláda Áskisi isorropías se tentoméno schoiní i symmetochí stous 17 + 1 Ευρώπη και Κίνα: Στη μέση η Ελλάδα Άσκηση ισορροπίας σε τεντωμένο σχοινί η συμμετοχή στους 17 + 1 [Europe and China – Greece in the middle: A difficult balance in the participation in the 17 + 1], naftemporiki, 26 April 2019, https://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1469421/europi-kai-kina-sti-mesi-i-ellada; Éllinas diplomátis sto Politico: Díchos dytikés ependýseis stin Elláda den boroúme na aporrípsoume tin Kína Έλληνας διπλωμάτης στο Politico: Δίχως δυτικές επενδύσεις στην Ελλάδα δεν μπορούμε να απορρίψουμε την Κίνα [Greek diplomat in Politico: Without Western investment in Greece we cannot say no to China], Mikrometoxos, 28 April 2019, https://www.mikrometoxos.gr/ellinas-diplomatis-sto-politico-dichos-dytikes-ependyseis-stin-ellada-den-mporoyme-na-aporripsoyme-tin-kina/.

[5] Conchi Lafraya, España quiere imponer límites a las ventas en sectores estratégicos [Spain wants to impose limits on investments in strategic sectors of the economy], La Vanguardia, 29 April 2019, https://www.lavanguardia.com/economia/20190429/461921909415/espana-limites-ventas-sectores-estrategicos.html.

[6] Sergio García, La peste porcina pone en jaque a China dando alas a España y su jamón [Swine fever puts China in check by giving wings to Spain and its ham], Bolsamania, 28 Aprile 2019, https://www.bolsamania.com/noticias/economia/peste-porcina-jaque-china-dando-alas-espana-jamon--3867622.html.  

[7] Sébastien Le Belzic, La Chine cherche un second souffle pour ses « routes de la soie » en Afrique” [China looks for new impetus for its "silk roads" in Africa], Le Monde, 18 April 2019, https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2019/04/18/la-chine-cherche-un-second-souffle-pour-ses-routes-de-la-soie-en-afrique_5452210_3212.html?xtmc=route_de_la_soie&xtcr=2.

[8] Sébastien Le Belzic, Sans la Chine, nous n’aurions pas obtenu autant d’argent des pays étrangers [Without China, we would not have gotten so much money from foreign countries], Le Monde, 1 April 2019, https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2019/04/01/sans-la-chine-nous-n-aurions-pas-obtenu-autant-d-argent-des-pays-etrangers_5444376_3212.html?xtmc=chine&xtcr=10.

[9] Trump yiem al Netanyahu: Im lo tagbilu et Sin ha-situf ha-bitchoni yipaga טראמפ איים על נתניהו: אם לא תגבילו את סין – השיתוף הביטחוני ייפגע [Trump threatened Netanyahu: If you do not limit put distance with China, our security cooperation will be harmed], Maariv, 14 April 2019, https://www.maariv.co.il/news/politics/Article-694369.

[10] Wazir alkharijyah : alalakat altarikyah been albahrain wa alseen tahtha bi ehtimam almalek وزير الخارجية : العلاقات التاريخية بين البحرين والصين تحظى باهتمام الملك [Bahrain Foreign Minister: the Historic Relationship between Bahrain and China attracts the King's Attention], Al-Watan, 18 April 2019, https://alwatannews.net/article/825722/Bahrain/%D9%88%D8%B2%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AC%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%AE%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D8%AD%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%B8%D9%89-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%84%D9%83; Reise sazmane sarmayegozrie iran: kamarbande rah forsate mohemi baraye jazbe sarmayegozarane khareji ast,  رئیس سازمان سرمایه گذاری ایران: 'کمربند - راه' فرصت مهمی برای جذب سرمایه گذاران خارجی است, [Chief of the Iranian Investment Organization: The "BRI" is an important opportunity to attract foreign investors], IRNA , 28 April 2019, http://www.irna.ir/fa/News/83294631.

[11] Hussien Alhamadi, Altejara been alseen wa alemarat tatadhaaf khelal thalath sanawat التجارة بين الصين والامارات تتضاعف خلال عشر سنوات [Trade between United Arab Emirates and China is expected to double within three years], Al-Ittihad, 30 April 2019, https://gulfdailynews.net/emirates/emirates-news-agency-uae-pavilion-at-expo-2019-beijing-officially-opened/; Alnashet albeey Khalid Alhajiri: al Kuwait be haja ela alkhebrah alseeniyah wa altoknologia le mawajahat motatalbat aledarah albeeyah الناشط البيئي خالد الهاجري : الكويت بحاجة الى الخبرة الصينية والتكنولوجيا لمواجهة متطلبات الادارة البيئية [Ecologist Mr. Khalid Alhajiri: Kuwait needs Chinese experience and technology to cope with ecological management requirements], Sabr.cc, 29 April 2019, https://www.sabr.cc/2019/04/29/425877/.

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