February 2020

The Mediterranean Region looks at China
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In February, the number of COVID-19 cases was still limited in the Mediterranean region. Hence, the media of the countries in the wider Mediterranean region mostly focused on the economic impact of the virus. Interestingly, some, mostly commentators in the Gulf, framed the appearance of the virus as a sign of divine punishment.

We found expressions of concern regarding the impact of the Chinese economic slowdown due to COVID-19 in Greek, Spanish, Italian, Moroccan, Israeli, Spanish, and Jordanian media. [1] This is, if the data that we collected in our website were not clear enough, a testament to China’s centrality in the economy of many countries of the region. Essentially, commentators are worried about two issues. First, since tourism is an important industry for many countries, the restrictions imposed by the Chinese government and the cancellation of many flights to and from China is seen as a tremendous economic threat. Second, China is one of the top suppliers of a variety of goods to Mediterranean countries. The prolonged stop of Chinese manufacturers caused by the quarantine in China will have long-lasting effects in terms of productivity of local companies and eventually cause unemployment. While in Israel it seems that the main problem consists of a delay in the arrival of goods bought online, there is the fear that a substantial number of Jordanian companies will have to stop their work as their Chinese suppliers are unable to produce the components that they need. The activities in the Port of Piraeus, too, are suffering for the same reasons.

Meanwhile, as the fear for the arrival of COVID-19 spreads, different media report the rise of cases of racism and the attempts of local authorities to signal their support for the Chinese community. For example, the Mayor of Bologna in Italy said he wanted to meet with the 11-year-old student of Chinese origin that was attacked in his school due to racism. [2] Chinese nationals have been harassed, for example, also in Torino and Frosinone. More broadly, the Israeli newspaper Hareetz denounced similar cases in Israel as well as the fact that many commentators are politicizing the emergency of the coronavirus. [3] Meanwhile, Al-Ahram reports that the Egyptian government sent ten tons of medical supplies to China and that Egyptians are showing their solidarity toward the numerous Chinese nationals in the country. [4]

In other Arab countries, the debate on China and COVID-19 goes well beyond the issue of racism. On the one hand, some commentators argue that the coronavirus will significantly undermine China’s rise. We found such an argument in the Bahraini newspaper Akhbar Al Khaleej as well as in Alwatan, which is published in Oman. [5] Interestingly, the author of the article in Alwatan pulls no punches and argues that the appearance of the virus in China is a divine punishment for the treatment of the Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang province. On the other hand, other publications, especially the Saudi ones, praise the response of the Chinese government response and claim that it emerged stronger than ever also on the international stage. [6] The Saudi newspaper Okaz invited the readers to look at COVID-19 as “only” a virus and not let religious beliefs interfere with a scientific problem. Others claim that the fight against COVID-19 has boosted China’s global stature despite the attacks by Western media.

Finally, besides the discussions on China and COVID-19, other articles that we found focus on American warnings to the Spanish government against allowing Chinese companies like ZTE and Huawei to participate in the construction of the country’s 5G infrastructure. [7] This message was delivered by Robert L. Strayer, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cyber and International Communications and Information Policy, during a roundtable organized by the American embassy in Madrid. Yet, the article does not contain any comment on the Spanish government’s approach or response. At the same time, the Iraqi newspaper Al-Zaman continues its attack against the government in Baghdad over the terms of the oil-for-investment agreement signed in October 2019 in Beijing by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. [8] The article does not contain any new elements that we have not already discussed in the previous issues of the ChinaMed Observer (here). Yet, we can notice that the focus this time is on if and how local Iraqi contractors will benefit from the presence of Chinese companies. The author questions how free the hands of the Iraqi government will be in deciding the project financed with Chinese money and which companies will be awarded the contracts. How to monitor the progress of the projects, too, is not clear. Clearly, the Iraqi government has not provided any information regarding these important issues yet.

[1] Ilias Mpellos, Stin pórta tou Peiraiá kai tis ellinikís metapoíisis éftase i ýfesi stin Kína, Στην πόρτα του Πειραιά και της ελληνικής μεταποίησης έφτασε η ύφεση στην Κίνα [The recession in China reached the door of Piraeus and Greek manufacturing], Kathimerini, February 19, 2020, link; Ponce Antonio and Cordero Dani, El impacto económico del coronavirus: Fujitsu plantea un ERTE en España y Lufthansa ofrece permisos sin sueldo, [The economic impact of the coronavirus: Fujitsu poses an ERTE in Spain and Lufthansa offers unpaid leave], El Pais, February 26, 2020, link; Takhawuf min ta’thir fiyrus kuruna ealaa waridaat al-maghrib min al-shaay al-Siyni تخوف من تأثير فيروس كورونا على واردات المغرب من الشاي الصيني [Concerns about the impact of the coronavirus on Moroccan imports of Chinese tea], 2m.ma,February 19, 2020, link; Ha-chavilot mitakvot biglall ha-Corona, aval ha-isrealim shomrim emonim te-sin מתעכבות בגלל הקורונה, אבל הישראלים שומרים אמונים לסין [The orders are delayed because of the coronavirus, but Israeli customers maintain their allegiance to China[, Ynet, February 15, 2020, link; Cheos teufaty be-tzel ha-corona; cama ole ha-yom tisa be-Sin ve-eych Israel megareshet tayarim כאוס תעופתי בצל הקורונה: כמה עולה היום טיסה בתוך סין ואיך ישראל מגרשת תיירים [Aviation chaos in the shadow of the Corona: How much is a flight in China today and how Israel is expelling tourists], Globes, February 29, 2020, link; Iqtisadiyyun: al-Sin masdar tijjar muhimm li-l-Urdun yasʿibu  taʿwidahu, اقتصاديون: الصين مصدر تجاري مهم للأردن يصعب تعويضه [Economists: China is an important supplier of Jordan and difficult to replace], Al-Rayy, February 21, 2020, link; Owni al-Dawud, عوني الداوود, Corona wa… al-iqtisad al-urduniyy, «كورونا».. والاقتصاد الأردني! [The coronavirus and the Jordanian economy], al-Dustour, February 8, 2020, link; Rosaria Amato,  Coronavirus, alla Cina costerà un punto di Pil [The coronavirus will cost 1% of the GDP to China], Repubblica, February 3, 2020, link.

[2] Bologna, aggredito bambino italo-cinese. Merola: "Il virus è il razzismo" [Bologna, Italian-Chinese child attacked. Merola: “Racism is the virus], Repubblica, February 6, 2020, link;

[3] Baaleu Mare asyati: hitpashtot negif hagizanot chmira yoter "בעלי מראה אסייתי": התפשטות נגיף הגזענות חמורה יותר ["Asian-looking": The spread of the racist virus is severe], Haaretz, March 4, 2020, link.

[4] Kamal jab-Allah, Mubadirat tadamaniyyat muʾaththira tajah al-Sin مبادرة تضامنية مؤثرة تجاه الصين [An influential solidarity initiative for China], Al-Ahram, February 9, 2020, link.

[5] Ja’afar alsaʾgh, Hal yofsed fairos corona tomoh al-seen al-ektisadi? هل يفسد فيروس كورونا طموح الصين الاقتصادي؟ [Will the coronavirus spoil China’s economic ambition?], Akhbar Al Khaleej, February 11, 2020, link.

[6] Homod Abu Talib, Lematha la tataʿathar mashariʿ al-seen? لماذا لا تتعثر مشاريع الصين ؟ [Why do Chinese projects never stumble?], Okaz, February  12, 2020, link; Mohammed ’arif, Al-seen… al-ʾard al-tayebah الصين.. الأرض الطيبة [China…the Good Earth], Al-Ittihad, February 12, 2020, link; Hani al-Dhahry, Fairos al-seen al- ʿadhem فايروس الصين العظيم ! [The great China virus!], Okaz, February 12, 2020, link; Maha Mohammed al-Sharif, Mowajahat Corona ʿazazat makanat al-seen ʿalamyan مواجهة «كورونا» عززت مكانة الصين عالمياً [The fight against coronavirus enhanced China’s global status], Asharq al-Awsat, February 18, 2020, link.

[7] Fernandez Eduardo, EEUU amenaza con dejar de compartir inteligencia con España si se abre a Huawei [US threatens to stop sharing intelligence with Spain if it opens to Huawei], El Mundo, February 20, 2020, link.

[8] Durayd Mahmud al-Shaker al-ʿOnzi. Al-idarat al-iqtisadiyya fi-l-mashruʿ ʿaqd al-ʿIraq wa-l-Sin الإدارة الإقتصادية لمشروع عقد  العراق والصين – دريد محمود الشاكر العنزي [The economic management of the Iraq-China pact project], Al-Zaman, February 18, 2020, link.

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