February 2020

China looks at the Mediterranean Region
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As many journalists and scholars are busy writing commentaries and analyses on the spread of COVID-19, we did not find many articles published in Chinese media regarding the situation in the wider Mediterranean region. The existing content mostly revolves around President Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” the relations between the Unit-ed States and Iran, and, somehow surprisingly, Japan’s role in the Middle East. We expect to find more analyses next month, as cases of COVID-19 in Southern Europe and the Middle East increased significantly in March.

Revisiting the point made by other scholars in June 2019, Sun Degang of Fudan University and Li Weijian of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies made highly skeptical comments regarding the “Deal of the Century” as the  Council of the Arab League formally rejected the plan. [1] In a statement, the pan-Arab bloc said it “rejects the US-Israeli Deal of the Century considering that it does not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of Pales-tinian people.” The plan is described as, at least to a large extent, the response to the electoral needs of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than a solution that can be palatable to all the parties involved. According to Li, Trump is simply trying to divert the attention of public opinion while also continue to court Jewish voters. Yet, Sun also points out that the strong position of the Arab League, in reality, does not go beyond the verbal warning. One possible reason, he argues, is that countries like Saudi Arabia have strong interest in continuing to work with the United States and Israel against Iran. Nie Shuyi, a commentator for the People’s Daily, writes that the acquiescence of the United States, embodied by the plan, will further embolden Israel to “cannibalize” the Palestinian territory. [2]

Regarding Iran, Qian Xuming of Shanghai International Studies University argues that February has been an unex-pectedly peaceful month between the United States and Iran due to coincidences, rather than the two countries deciding to deescalate their confrontation. [3] In particular, he points to the fact that the American Senate passed a resolution limiting President Donald Trump’s authority to attack Iran without congressional approval. At the same time, he argues, the legislative elections in Iran, held on February 21, limited the room for maneuvering by Iranian policymakers, thereby contributing to limiting the possibility of an Iranian strike against American facilities in the region or Israel. As the death of two Americans and one British national on March 12 shows, Qian’s supposition was probably wrong—although Iran has not claimed responsibility for the rocket attack.

Finally, we conclude this issue with a piece written by Pang Zhongpeng, a scholar with the Institute of Japanese Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. [4] Interestingly, this is the second piece on Japan’s diplomacy in the Middle East the Xinhua’s Globe magazine publishes within a few months. Differently from the argument of Tang Zhichao, the author of the article published in December (as discussed here), Pang highlights the limitations and difficulties for Japan, rather than its ambitions, among which Tang also included curbing China’s influence. Pang seems skeptical of Japan’s capability to successfully balance a relationship between Iran and Sunni countries as its actions are heavily restricted, and guided, by its alliance with the United States. At the same time, energy security considerations force Japan to avoid tensions with Iran, thereby putting Tokyo in an awkward position vis-à-vis Tehran and Washington and Riyadh. Moreover, Pang leverages his knowledge of Japanese politics to argue that Abe’s decision to deploy assets and officers of the Self-Defense Forces should be seen in the context of the “tug-of-war” to revise the Japanese Constitution. Pang’s implicit argument is the Japanese actions are unlikely to produce any positive effect in the region and, instead, should be seen as the result of domestic political struggles.

[1] Tè lǎng pǔ suǒwèi zhōngdōng “shìjì xiéyì” 特朗普所谓中东“世纪协议” [Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century”], SIIS, February 3, 2020, link; Sun Ping, Ā méng jùjué “zhōngdōng hépíng xīn jìhuà” de dǐqì yǒu duō zú? 阿盟拒绝“中东和平新计划”的底气有多足? [How confident is the Arab League in rejecting the “new peace plan for the Middle East”?], Xinhua, February 3, 2020, link.

[2] Nie Shuyi, Měiguó “shìjì xiéyì” de èguǒ, háishì láile 美国“世纪协议”的恶果,还是来了 [The evil fruits of the American “Deal of the Century” have arrived], QQ News, February 25, 2020, link.

[3] Hu Zhenqing and Xie Ruiqiang, Yīlǎng gémìng wèiduì jǐnggào měi yǐ “fàn xiǎo cuò jiù huì bèi dǎ”, měi yī huò zàiqǐ chōngtú? 伊朗革命卫队警告美以“犯小错就会被打”,美伊或再起冲突? [The Iranian Revolutionary Guard warns the United States that “attacks will follow even the smallest mistake,” will the United States and Iran clash again?], The Paper, February 14, 2020, link.

[4] Pang Zhongpeng, Rìběn zài zhōngdōng “zǒugāngsī” 日本在中东“走钢丝” [Japan on the “iron Silk Road” in the Middle East], Globe, February 12, 2020, link.

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