January 2019

The Mediterranean Region looks at China
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Trends in Mediterranean debate regarding China have continued much as reported in our previous issues, with the exception of news concerning Iran.

On 24 January the Islamic Republic News Agency reported on complaints made by the Iranian ambassador in Beijing to Vladimir Norov, the new Secretary-General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).[1] Iran has been an observer of SCO since 2005 and initially submitted its application for full SCO membership in 2008. Though SCO would greatly benefit from Iran’s support, the Iranian government’s ambition to become a full member of the SCO continues to be frustrated. Ambassador Mohammad Keshavarzadeh stated, in response to the policies of the United States, that Iran remains willing to deepen the cooperation with SCO. Since many observers believe that Beijing (rather than Moscow) may block the upgrade of Iran’s status within the SCO, it is notable that Keshavarzadeh’s statement was reported by the official news agency of the Iranian regime, which often airs Sino-Iranian news in a positive light. Meanwhile, ambassadorial praise for China also came from Sudan’s Mahmoud Hassan al-Amin, Director of the Beijing Office of the Arab League. In thanking China for its ongoing support of stability within the region, al-Amin declared that there is great interest from the General Secretariat of the Arab League to strengthen relations with China given its influence as a member of the Security Council and strong ties with the Arab sector.[2]  

Iranian complaints or indeed commentary concerning China is exceptional, but for its regional neighbor Israel,  the act of balancing relations between major world powers is a well-established media subject. In January both the American National Security Adviser John Bolton and Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette told Israeli officials that the United States was concerned about Chinese investment in the country. According to Amiram Barak, a journalist with the Israeli newspaper Globes, the situation may precipitate a crisis between Israel and the United States.[3] For the moment, the only official response from the Israeli government has come from Yisrael Katz, Minister for Transport and Intelligence. During a conference he stated: “I told the Prime Minister that you sent me nine years ago to China. I went and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chinese government. The Chinese think carefully and have decided to adopt a strategic approach. We have approved the deals with them and this is an excellent decision for the State of Israel”. He also added: “I propose to separate the civilian issues from the security issues that we know and that we know how to deal with. We need to control and analyze security problems. At the same time, there is a trade war between the United States and China and if Israel is dragged into the middle as these giants are moving toward each other we will not succeed in keeping afloat.” Aharon Aharon, the CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority, expressed similar concerns to the Calcalist.[4] Israeli companies and the government have generally welcomed Chinese investments in the Israeli tech sector. However, Ahron also noted that companies already partnered with Chinese investors might be prevented from entering the American market for security reasons.

In news from other regional players, as reported in Le Monde, Chinese economic cooperation with North African countries proceeds much more smoothly.[5] Wang Xiaotao, the President of China’s International Development Cooperation Agency (IDCA), visited Algeria, making this one of the first reports of IDCA activities.[6] Djazairess reported Wang’s visit as the strengthening of relations between China and Algeria but about the content of the meetings between the Chinese delegation and Algerian officials gave little additional information. However, the same newspaper also reported on a contract from Algeria’s largest energy company, Sonatrach, to China Harbor Engineering Company.[7] The contract to build an LNG marine jetty and other port infrastructure in Skikda is valued at USD 445.4 million. In Turkey, a Chinese business delegation visited the Yunus Emre Institute in Ankara to participate in its “One Belt, One Road: Let Us Shape the Future Together” conference, which was organized within the frame of the Academic and Scientific Cooperation Project of Turkey (TABİB).[8] TABIB was launched under the auspices of the auspices of the Presidency of the Turkish Republic. Meanwhile, BMCE Bank, a large commercial bank in Morocco, officially opened its first office in Shanghai.[9] This is part of BMCE’s effort to strengthen its relations with China after the establishment of a partnership with the China-Africa Business Council to support Chinese investors in Morocco and throughout the African continent. BMCE Bank has previously involved in projects with Chinese institutions and firms in Morocco, including the establishment of an industrial park in northern Morocco and the building in Rabat Africa’s tallest skyscraper.

[1] Tehran musammam be touseye hamkri ba sazmane shanghai ast تهران مصمم به توسعه همکاری با سازمان شانگهای است, [ Iran ambassador in Beijing: Tehran is determined to expand its cooperation with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization], IRNA, 24 January 2019, http://www.irna.ir/fa/News/83182036.  

[2] Rais maktab aljamiah alarabiyah bebekin: alsin sharik haqiqi va munasir lilqazaya al-Arabiya رئيس مكتب الجامعة العربية ببكين: الصين شريك حقيقى ومناصر للقضايا العربية [Head of the office of the Arab League in Beijing: China is a true partner and supporter of the Arab world], Youm7, 30 January 2019, https://www.youm7.com/story/2019/1/30/%D8%B1%D8%A6%D9%8A%D8%B3-%D9%85%D9%83%D8%AA%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B9%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D8%A8%D9%83%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%83-%D8%AD%D9%82%D9%8A%D9%82%D9%89-%D9%88%D9%85%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B5%D8%B1-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%82%D8%B6%D8%A7%D9%8A%D8%A7/4122814.

[3] Amiram Barak, Milchemt hasachar megiaa le Namal Haifa: Haim HaAmrikaeem yesaclu et haheskem lehafalat hanamal מלחמת הסחר מגיעה לנמל חיפה: האם האמריקאים יסכלו את ההסכם להפעלת הנמל? [The trade war is coming to the port of Haifa: Will the Americans thwart the agreement to operate the port?], Globes, 6  January 2019, https://www.globes.co.il/news/article.aspx?did=1001267879.

[4] Meir Urbach, קרן הון צ'י קונג [Qigong capital fund], Calcalist,  18 January 2019, https://www.calcalist.co.il/Ext/Comp/ArticleLayout/CdaArticlePrint1280/0,16492,3754377,00.html.

[5] Thierry Kellner and Elena Aoun, La Chine et l’Egypte, un “partenariat stratégique intégral“ en pleine expansion [China and Egypt, a “Strategic Comprehensive Partnership” in full expansion], Le Monde, 26 January 2019, https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2019/01/26/la-chine-et-l-egypte-un-partenariat-strategique-integral-en-pleine-expansion_5414874_3212.html?xtmc=chine&xtcr=59.

[6] Rais alheia alsiniya liltaawon ypushri fi ziarat amal ila aljazair رئيس الهيئة الصينية للتعاون يشرع في زيارة عمل إلى الجزائر   [The President of China’s International Development Cooperation Agency visits], Djazairess, 8 January 2019, https://www.djazairess.com/echchaab/133989.

[7] Sunatrak: altuqiea ala aqid maa mujama alsini  letousi alminaa albetroli beskikda  سوناطراك: التوقيع على عقد مع مجمع صيني لتوسيع الميناء البترولي بسكيكدة  [Sonatrach signs a contract with a Chinese company to expand the oil facilities in Skikda], Djazairess, 21 January 2019, https://www.djazairess.com/eldjoumhouria/155999.

[8] Türk ve Çinli iş insanları İstanbul'da buluştu [Turkish and Chinese businessmen met in Istanbul], Habertürk, 8 January 2019, https://www.haberturk.com/istanbul-haberleri/17333956-turk-ve-cinli-is-insanlari-istanbulda-bulustu.

[9] Nishat faria albank almaghribi liltijara alkharijiya lifriqiya yantaliq rasmiyan belsin نشاط فرع البنك المغربي للتجارة الخارجية لإفريقيا ينطلق رسميا بالصين  [BMCE Bank officially opens its office in China], Maghress, 2 January 2019, https://www.maghress.com/almaghribia/19144114.

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