February 2018

China looks at the Mediterranean Region
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In February, several events captured the attention of the Chinese media. While Chinese commentators and analysts were mainly bystanders to the events in Syria, they were directly involved in pushing back against Europe’s accusations of China "infiltrating" the Balkans (for a regional perspective about this issue you can read the previous issue of the ChinaMed Observer).

The Chinese media focused mainly on the US, Russia, Turkey, and Israel while discussing the still-ongoing war in Syria. Their general assessment of the situation did not change because, as emphasized this month by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Middle East expert Tang Zhichao, they continue to see a strengthening of Russian influence in the region. Meanwhile the Trump administration’s strategy remains unclear and largely ineffective, even following attempts made by former Secretary of State Tillerson.

While in January, the Chinese media highlighted the challenges faced by Turkey following its "Olive Branch" operation, in February however, it was Israel that came under scrutiny (though it must be noted that seemingly no consensus about it has yet emerged). According to a regular commentator on Middle Eastern affairs for The Paper, the loss of US influence in Syria, Russia's unwillingness to extend its support to Israel, and the mounting threats caused by Iran through its Syrian proxies have put Israel in an "awkward " situation. Yet, Tian Wenlin of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations argued that Israel has been quite successful in seizing opportunities that have emerged since the so-called Arab Spring of 2011. The chaos in Syria has weakened its regional competitors and recent changes in Hamas’ leadership have allowed Israel to strengthen its grip on Gaza and the Palestinians.

Vis-à-vis the growing uncertainties caused by the war in Syria, the foreign affairs team of the People's Daily  published an article proposing China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and the economic development it is meant to generate, as the only real solution for the continuous problems that plague the region. Tian Wenlin , in another article for the Guangming Daily, argued in favor of the construction of a "Community of Common Destiny". The retreat of the United States and the subsequent arrival of other actors to fill the void are simply creating a repetition of history. China, Tian wrote, while having no geopolitical ambitions, sees itself only as a constructive partner that can boost regional stability by contributing to economic development.

Following the accusations leveled by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the EU Commission President Juncker, on February 21 and 22 respectively, against Chinese influence in the Balkans, Chinese media and commentators reacted fiercely. The People's Daily  interpreted the accusations as a sign of the West’s general aggressiveness in its approach to China. Liu Zuokui , who is in charge of the East European Studies Office of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, specifically targeted Juncker’s visit to the Balkans to promote the EU's "Strategy for the Western Balkans". According to Liu, the new EU strategy offers no guarantees to the Balkans and does nothing to address the problems faced by those countries. The EU is simply putting on a show of strength following the undermining blow dealt by the Brexit vote in 2016.

Chinese media also reported on the progress of the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative in the Mediterranean region. In particular, recent news related to PetroChina signal the improvement of China's energy security.

Indeed, oil production of PetroChina's Middle East branch broke the 4 million barrels /day ceiling for the first time. Once the three projects that PetroChina is currently working on are completed, crude oil production in early 2018 should grow by 10,8 million tons. According to Xinhua , PetroChina's operations have been particularly successful in Iran. PetroChina's efforts in Iran are largely due to Cheng Zhongliang, who is the leader of a group of "veterans" that previously spent 10 years in Sudan before moving to Iran. PetroChina’s main project in the country is the North Azadegan oil field, which started producing crude oil in October 2015. By October 2016, 3 out of 4 million tons of oil from the field had been shipped to China. Cheng and his team were personally greeted by the Iranian President Rouhani for their contribution to Iran's oil exports.

For their efforts in strengthening the energy security of one of the countries of the region, a high-level delegation from the China National Nuclear Corporation  received an award from the Saudi Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources during the 12th International Geoscience Conference in Jeddah. Wang Yiren, the Vice Director of China's National Atomic Agency was present as well and presented the Hualong One reactor to the Saudi Minister. The delegation was composed of representatives from China's nuclear industry and research community.

At the same time, the Sino-Algerian  working group on cooperation production met in Algeria to discuss how to improve the trade and investment relationship between the two countries. In Egypt, Jushi Group, one of the key actors in the China-Egypt TEDA Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, worked with the Confucius Institute of the Suez Canal University to organize a training camp aimed at reducing the existing cultural gap between locals and Chinese corporations, which has led to many problems.

● Aiji suyishi yunhe daxue kongzi xueyuan qiye tuozhan xunlian ying shunli juxing 埃及苏伊士运河大学孔子学院企业拓展训练营顺利举行 [The Confucius Institute of the Suez Canal University successfully expands training for companies], People's Daily, 24 February 2018, http://world.people.com.cn/n1/2018/0224/c1002-29833021.html.

● Chen Jianli, Jinyutui: mei e zai zhongdong de boyi ji yanbianluoji 进与退:美俄在中东的博弈及演变逻辑 [Moving forward and retreating: the logic of the competition between the USA and Russia in the Middle East], Southern Metropolis Daily, 11 February 2018, http://3g.oeeee.com/nis/201802/11/544783m.html.

● Hu Jigong, Xifang de shenshifeng du qunaer le? 西方的绅士风度去哪儿了? [Where did the good manners of the West go?], People's Daily, 27 February 2018, http://world.people.com.cn/n1/2018/0227/c1002-29836846.html.

● Liu Yue, Shate guoji dahui zhonghejituan huo biaozhang: quan chanyelian zhongguo fangan shou guanzhu 沙特国际大会中核集团获表彰:全产业链中国方案受关注 [China National Nuclear Corporation receives an award during an international conference in Saudi Arabia: the Chinese proposal for the entire production chain is taken into consideration],China National Nuclear Corporation, 6 February 2018, http://www.cnnc.com.cn/cnnc/300555/300557/501211/index.html.

● Ma Xiao, Tongxun: zai yilang zhumeng "yi dai yi lu" de zhongguo shiyouren 通讯: 在伊朗筑梦"一带一路"的中国石油人 [Report: The man of PetroChina who is building the Belt and Road dream in Iran], Xinhua, 15 February 2018, http://www.xinhuanet.com/world/2018-02/15/c_1122421242.htm.

● Shi Chun et al., Lianxu gaofang nan yan meiguo zhongdong kunjing 连续高访难掩美国中东困境 [High-level meetings cannot hide the problems of the USA in the Middle East], Xinhua, 23 February 2018, http://www.xinhuanet.com/2018-02/23/c_1122441943.htm.

● Tian Wenlin, Biansi zhongdong luanju qiusu fazhan chulu 辨思中东乱局求索发展出路 [Thinking about the chaos in the Middle East, looking for a development-based way out], Guangming Daily, 12 February 2018, http://epaper.gmw.cn/gmrb/html/2018-02/12/nw.D110000gmrb_20180212_1-12.htm.

● Tian Wenlin, Yiselie yuanhe shendu juanru zhogdong luanju 以色列缘何深度卷入中东乱局 [Why has Israel entered the chaos of the Middle East?], Dazhong Daily, 22 February 2018, http://paper.dzwww.com/dzrb/content/20180222/Articel05005MT.htm.

● Wang Jin, Zhanji bei jiluo he yiselie de "ganga", xuliya jushi hui shikong ma 战机被击落和以色列的“尴尬”,叙利亚局势会失控吗 [A fighter shot down and Israel's "awkwardness", is the situation in Syria going out of control?], The Paper, 11 February 2018, http://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1993816.

● Yu Xiaoqing, Oumeng "kuorong" chutai xin zhanlve, rongke jiang bianfang baergan guojia cu qi rumeng 欧盟"扩容"出台新战略,容克将遍访西巴尔干国家促其入盟 [A new EU "expansion" strategy becomes public, Juncker will visit the Balkan countries to push them to join the Union], The Paper, 7 February 2018, http://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1988734.

● Zhong Sheng, Yingdang naqi pojie zhongdong kunju de yaoshi 应当拿起破解中东困局的总钥匙 [It is necessary to pick up the key to solve the difficult situation of the Middle East], People's Daily, 2 February 2018, http://world.people.com.cn/n1/2018/0201/c1002-29798781.html.

● Zhongguo he aerjiliya liang guo zhengfu channeng hezuo di yi ci lianhe gongzuo zuzhi huiyi shunli juxing 中国和阿尔及利亚两国政府产能合作第一次联合工作组会议顺利举行 [The first meeting of the Sino-Algerian working group on cooperation production is successfully held], PRC MOFCOM, 4 February 2018, http://www.mofcom.gov.cn/article/i/jyjl/k/201802/20180202708110.shtml.

● Zhongguo shiyou: zhongdong zigongsi 1 yuefen rijun shengchan yuanyou chaoguo 400 wan tong 中国石油: 中东子公司1月份日均生产原油超过400万桶 [PetroChina: the production of crude of the Middle East branches in January surpassed 4 million barrels/day], Sina, 23 February 2018, http://finance.sina.com.cn/7x24/2018-02-23/doc-ifyrvaxe9167993.shtml.

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