August 2022

China looks at the Mediterranean Region
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The most interesting articles published in Chinese media in August revolve around the future of the Iranian nuclear deal and, more broadly, Iran’s role in the Middle East. Chinese experts also commented on the end of France’s Operation Barkhane in Mali, as well as the rising great power competition in Africa.

As we reported many times in the past, Chinese scholars continue to complain about the marginalization of the Palestinian issue within Middle Eastern politics. They note how the Abraham Accords – a joint statement between the State of Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United States, reached on August 13, 2020 – have been crucial in paving the way for an improvement in relations between Israel and many Arab countries despite them not providing any solutions to the problems of the Palestinians. Indeed, Chinese experts consistently criticized the Trump administration’s approach to the Palestinian issue, including its “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People” plan. At the same time, they have long argued that the rationale behind the US’ promotion of the Abraham Accords was to increasing isolate and pressure Iran.

Reflecting on how those events have changed the region, Liu Zhongmin and Ding Long, two scholars at Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), have each published an interesting article in The Paper and in the Global Times, respectively. [1] According to Liu, it is time to revise the idea that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is the main contradiction of the region. The decline of the conflict’s relevance, which can be traced back to the 1979 Egypt–Israel peace treaty, has slowly become more evident, especially with the Trump administration which clearly pushed to decouple Arab-Israeli relations from Palestinian-Israeli relations. Today, President Joe Biden is somehow trying to both revive the Iranian nuclear deal and promote a two-state solution along 1967 lines. However, as Chinese scholars have already pointed out following his recent trip to the region, the focus and energy of Biden’s foreign policy lies in East Asia. Therefore, he will not be able to reverse the trend of Iran’s status and role in the region becoming the main issue that drives regional politics. As to Ding Long, he made a similar argument pointing out that the “rise of Iranian power is one of the most important variables triggering geopolitical changes in the Middle East,” and that it is largely determining the actions of the other regional players.

It is against this background that, unsurprisingly, the majority of the articles published in August focused on the fate of the Iranian nuclear deal. Li Weijian, a senior Middle East expert at SISU, declared that “the restart of the Iranian nuclear deal is a major trend,” and that the more or less overt attempts to undermine the negotiations are evidence that an agreement has almost been reached. [2] Fan Hongda, another frequent commentator on Iran-related issues, also expressed a cautious level of optimism. [3] According to him, Iran is showing great flexibility though issues related to the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency are likely to still be a problem for American negotiators. [4] That said, Chinese commentators remain extremely critical toward the United States, blaming it for creating a humanitarian crisis in Iran through sanctions, and for the looming energy crisis in Europe due it keeping Iran outside the energy market and its attempts to put pressure on Russia. [5] Similarly, Chinese experts continue to single out Turkey as an example of how Washington is failing to win the support from the countries in the region against Moscow, highlighting that Russo-Turkish trade has grown significantly as Turkey has started to sell to Russia many of the goods that Moscow once used to purchase from European countries. [6]

At the same time, Chinese media also discussed the instability that continues to plague Iraq and, in the southern quadrant of the wider Mediterranean region, Mali. Niu Song, a researcher at SISU, told to China Business Network that Iraq’s political life has reached a pivotal moment in its post-Saddam era. [7] According to him, the current conflict in Baghdad’s "green zone" reflects the growing incompatibility between the country's deepening sectarian politics and its current political system, which further weakening the legitimacy of Iraqi electoral politics. While the Chinese embassy in Iraq has already warned all Chinese companies and organizations to be extremely cautious and to strengthen security measures, Niu believes that the situation will not improve in the foreseeable future. As to Mali, the People’s Daily interviewed Yu Wensheng, a scholar at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. [8] Yu is also very pessimistic. The withdrawal of French forces will create an obvious security vacuum that risks being filled by terrorist forces, and it will also create significant challenges for the UN peacekeeping missions in the country as they have long benefitted from French logistical and air support. The regional situation, Yu concludes, will continue to get worse.

Chinese commentators see another threat to regional stability also in the publication of the new “US Strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa.” Both Zhang Yongpeng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Science, and Zhong Sheng, the pen name used by the International Department of the People’s Daily, were extremely critical of the United States. [9] Differently from China’s approach, the new American strategy, they argue, only pays lip service to Africa’s problem. As such, the United States not only has the same goals in Africa as in the Middle East, i.e. putting pressure on China and Russia, but its actions in the continent are also as equally doomed to fail.

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[1] Liu Zhongmin, Zhōngdōng ruì píng |cóng bā yǐ dào yīlǎng: Zhōngdōng héxīn wèntí biànhuà bèihòu de fùzá bóyì 中东睿评|从巴以到伊朗:中东核心问题变化背后的复杂博弈 [Middle East Review | From Palestine and Israel to Iran: The complex dynamics behind the changes in the core issues of the Middle East], The Paper, August 1, 2022, link; Ding Long, Dīng lóng: Zhōngdōng dìyuán zhèngzhì zhèngzài fāshēng nǎxiē biànhuà 丁隆:中东地缘政治正在发生哪些变化 [Changes in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East], Global Times, August 24, 2022, link.

[2] Qi Xu, Měijūn kōngxí zài xù “yīlǎng shèshī”, chóngqǐ yī hé xiéyì tánpàn yào huáng? 美军空袭在叙“伊朗设施”,重启伊核协议谈判要黄? [The U.S. strikes “Iranian facilities” in Syria, will the restart of the Iranian nuclear deal fail?], Xinmin Evening News, August 25, 2022, link.

[3] Fan Hongda, Fùhuó yīlǎng hé xiéyì tánpàn zàiqǐ 复活伊朗核协议谈判再起 [The dialogue on the Iranian nuclear deals restarts], Dazhong Daily, August 5, 2022, link.

[4] Li Yao, Yī hé xiéyì zuìzhōng wénběn miànqián měiguó wèihé chíyíle? 伊核协议最终文本面前 美国为何迟疑了? [Why is the U.S. hesitating in front of the latest version of the Iranian nuclear agreement?], Kankanews, August 23, 2022, link.

[5] Niu Song, Měiguó chénmí yú jiāng zhìcái dàng zuò gōngjù, duì yīlǎng shíshī xīn yī lún zhìcái—— “wéizhuīdǔjié” zhùdìng túláowúgōng 美国沉迷于将制裁当作工具,对伊朗实施新一轮制裁—— “围追堵截”注定徒劳无功 [The United States is addicted to using sanctions and wants to impose more on Iran – The siege is doomed to fail in any case], PLA Daily, August 11, 2022, link.

[6] Qian Xiaoyan, Dǔ zhù duì é zhìcái lòudòng? Měiguó shī yā “tè lì dúxíng” de tǔ'ěrqí hé yìndù 堵住对俄制裁漏洞?美国施压“特立独行”的土耳其和印度 [Closing the loopholes in the sanctions against Russia? US pressures 'maverick' Turkey and India], China Business Network, August 23, 2022, link.

[7] Qian Xiaoyan, Yóu shì zài tiān biànshù! Yīlākè shǒudū xiàn bàolì chōngtú, huì fǒu bōjí shíyóu gōngyìng 油市再添变数!伊拉克首都陷暴力冲突,会否波及石油供应 [More uncertainty in the oil market! Violent clashes in Iraqi capital could affect oil supplies], China Business Network, August 30, 2022, link.

[8] Gao Qiao, Fàguó chèjūn, xīfēi fǎnkǒng xíngshì gèng yánjùn 法国撤军,西非反恐形势更严峻 [The French military leaves, the problem of terrorism in West Africa worsens], People’s Daily, August 20, 2022, link.

[9] Zhou Ying, Měiguó wèihé jízhuó hé fēizhōu “tàojìnhū”? 美国为何急着和非洲“套近乎”? [Why is the United States trying to chum up with Africa?], People’s Daily, August 18, 2022, link; Zhong Sheng, Fēizhōu bùshì dàguó bóyì de jìngjì chǎng 非洲不是大国博弈的竞技场 [Africa is not an arena for great power competition], People’s Daily, August 18, 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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