August 2019

China looks at the Mediterranean Region
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Rumors regarding the decreasing influence of John Bolton, the American Assistant to the President of National Security Affairs, continue to circulate as the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, flew to Beijing after a surprise visit to Biarritz—where French President Macron was hosting the G7 meeting. In light of this, the interest of Chinese scholars in the evolution of the situation between the eastern and southern part of the Mediterranean continues to build.

Indeed, in late August, the Center for Gulf Studies and the Institute of West Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences hosted some of the top experts of Middle Eastern affairs to discuss a vast array of topics, such as security trends in the Gulf and the Iranian issue, great power relations and the Gulf, and China’s relations with the Gulf. [1] Besides scholars from CASS, others from the Central Party School, the China Institute of International Studies, the Xinhua News Agency World Research Center, the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing International Studies University, Ningxia University, and Xiamen University attended the conference. Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, too, were present.

At the same time, another researcher from CASS, Yu Guoqing, published an analysis of the evolution of Russia’s security thinking in the Gulf in the always-interesting Globe, a magazine published by Xinhua News Agency. [2] In particular, Yu focuses on the Concept of Collective Security in the Persian Gulf that Russia presented at the United Nations in late July. While the use of the name “Persian Gulf” is read by Yu as a move implicitly in favor of Iran, the broader plan is interpreted as a way to consolidate Russian influence in Gulf while putting forward an alternative to US-proposed coalition to patrol Straits of Hormuz. This plan, which Yu believes has some chance of success, might also be used to justify the establishment of new outposts for the Russian military in the region. Unfortunately, Yu does not hint at what China’s position is or might be. Such silence is consistent with the relatively limited number of articles published in Chinese academic journals on Russia’s role in the Middle East and China’s approach to it.

It is also interesting to notice that Chinese commentators paid little attention to France’s mediation attempts between the United States and Iran. [3] Perhaps, as Peking University’s Wu Bingbing argues in his latest analysis, the American unilateral and multilateral initiatives to squeeze Iran have largely failed, despite the dire situation of Iran’s economy. [4] From this point of view, as it can also be seen in another article regarding the problems that plague the relations between Turkey and the United States, [5] there has not been much change in the way Chinese scholars and commentators look at the American strategy in the Middle East.

Moreover, it must be elucidated how problems in the Middle East shape China’s narrative over other issues. For example, the Ta Kung Pao, which is controlled by the Liaison Office of the Central Government in Hong Kong, published an article written by Tian Wenlin, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs at CICIR, warning Hong Kong against foreign actors’ support in “color revolutions.” [6] Tian argues that, as the Arab Spring demonstrated, American non-governmental organizations and social media can be extremely dangerous in provoking apparently non-violent revolution that damage the life of local people. This is not the first time that Western actions in the Middle East are used to show the correctness of Chinese government policies. For example, Chinese media referred to the destruction and instability caused by Western interventions in Iraq and Libya to argue that there was the same risk in China’s Xinjiang province in 2018. [7]

Finally, we close with one of the few analyses on events in the northern part of the Mediterranean region. Elite Reference, a subsidiary newspaper of the China Youth Daily, published a commentary on the fall of the so-called “green-yellow” government in Italy. [8] The journalist, with his little understanding of the origin of the Italian Constitution and of the dynamics of proportional representation in a parliamentary democracy, argues that the Italian political system has never been very resistant against strong men’s attempts to take power and/or in ensuring political stability. Moreover, he argues, the system has not been capable to create a common Italian identity. The implicit, and not surprising, message that the reader gains is that there is little hope that the next Italian government, regardless of whether it will emerge from new elections or a new coalition agreement, will be particularly effective in addressing the country’s problems.

[1] Wang Nan and Zhang Jing, “Yī hé wèntí yǔhǎiwān júshì” xuéshù yántǎo huì jǔxíng “伊核问题与海湾局势”学术研讨会举行 [The “The Iranian Issue and Trends in theGulf” Academic Workshop], Global Times, 22 August 2019, http://world.huanqiu.com/article/2019-08/15343026.html?agt=15422.

[2] Yu Guoqing, Èluósī de bōsī wān “ānquán gòuxiǎng” 俄罗斯的波斯湾“安全构想”[Russia’s Gulf “Security Concept”], Globe – Xinhua, 30 August 2019, http://www.xinhuanet.com//globe/2019-08/30/c_138320682.htm.

[3] Chen Guanhe, Fàguó yù dāng měi yī guānxì tiáotíng rén 法国欲当美伊关系调停人[France wants to be mediator of US-Iranian relations], People’s Daily,31 August 2019, http://paper.people.com.cn/rmrbhwb/html/2019-08/31/content_1944142.htm.

[4] Wu Bingbing, Wú bīngbīng: Yǔ yīlǎng duìzhì, qiānzhì měiguó duōdà jīnglì 吴冰冰:与伊朗对峙,牵制美国多大精力 [Wu Bingbing: The confrontation with Iran is consuming much of American energy], GlobalTimes, 29 August 2019, http://opinion.huanqiu.com/hqpl/2019-08/15375707.html?agt=15422.

[5] Zou Zhiqiang, “Hépíng zǒuláng” néng fǒu dài lái hépíng? “和平走廊”能否带来和平?[Canthe “Peace Corridor” bring peace?], PLA Daily, 24 August 2019, http://www.81.cn/jfjbmap/content/2019-08/24/content_241644.htm.

[6] Tian Wenlin, Yánsè gémìng huòluàn zhōngdōngxiānggǎng xū jǐngtì “dōngfāng zhī zhū” méngchén 颜色革命祸乱中东 香港须警惕“东方之珠”蒙尘 [Colorrevolutions ruined the Middle East, the “Pearl of the Orient” Hong Kong must bevigilant], Ta Kung Pao, 27 August 2019, http://www.takungpao.com/news/232111/2019/0827/341469.html.

[7]Huánqiú shíbào: Xīnjiāng méiyǒu biàn chéng “zhōngguó lìbǐyǎ” jiùshì zuìdà derénquán 环球时报:新疆没有变成“中国利比亚”就是最大的人权 [Global Times: China’s Xinjiang has not become“China’s Libya”—that is the greatest human right], Shanghai Observer, 13August 2018, https://www.shobserver.com/news/detail?id=99850.

[8] Yuan Ye, Yìdàlì: Yī chǎng chíxù 73 nián de quánlì yóuxì 意大利:一场持续73年的权力游戏 [Italy: 73 years of fightingfor power], Elite Reference, 30 August 2019, http://qnck.cyol.com/html/2019-08/30/nw.D110000qnck_20190830_1-02.htm.

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