July 2019

The Mediterranean Region looks at China
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Although we found a number of interesting news, there were not many commentaries among the reports published by Mediterranean media. One important exception was an article written by Professor Yahia H. Zoubir for Confluences Méditerranée, a French journal that focuses on Mediterranean issues. [1] Prof. Zoubir’s looks at the relations between China and the Maghreb countries. As consistent with our data, he identifies Algeria as the main Chinese partner in that part of Africa. By pinpointing the development of the Sino-Algerian relations since 1958, when China established relations with Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic, Prof. Zoubir shows how economic factors have become the main drivers of that relationship over time. In particular, it is interesting to notice the fact that although Chinese companies are not involved in Algeria’s oil sector, oil played (and still plays) an important role in the relationship as oil revenues have allowed the Algerian government to fund a number of large-scale plans for the construction of infrastructure. Chinese companies are among the main actors engaged in the implementation of such plans. At the same time, China has also developed its relations with Morocco and the other Maghreb countries, albeit the intensity of the economic exchanges is not comparable to the case of Algeria. It is worth mentioning that after the South China Morning Post reported that Morocco had been importing significant quantities of tea (one quarter of Chinese tea exports), it seems that they have decided to enforce stricter controls over such product after signs of poisonous pesticides were found in Chinese imported tea. [2] These developments took place as Beijing has striven to maintain a balanced position over thorny issues like the Western Sahara conflict between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front. Prof. Zoubir concludes by predicting that the Maghreb will remain an important region for Chinese diplomacy and, as China’s business-only approach is increasingly less tenable, we should expect growing Chinese interest in local political and security issues.

Other commentaries were published by Israeli media. One of them was written by Matan Vilnai, a former Israeli ambassador to China. [3] Vilnai tried to strike a balance between those that remain in favor of deeper economic engagement with China and those that oppose it. It appears from our work over the past months that Israeli media are extremely critical of the decision to allow Chinese companies to build or manage some key logistic infrastructure in the country. Yet, components of the Israeli government and state bureaucracy look at Chinese investments in a much more favorable way. According to Vilnai, courting Chinese investors and protecting Israel’s national security and the stability of the relations with the United States are not mutually exclusive. Implicitly, his words seem to accuse those who are against Chinese investments of wrongly assuming that the Israeli government is ready and/or willing to give up its special ties with Washington in favor of China. Yet, per an article published by Maariv indicates, this remains a controversial issue. [4] In particular, the article accuses the Israeli government of not implementing the 2012 Law on the Struggle Against Iran's Nuclear Program, which imposes an embargo on companies contributing to Iran’s nuclear program, such as CRRC and other Chinese companies that do business in Iran while also building railways, ports and other infrastructure in Israel.

Against this background, other countries in the Middle East are much clearer in their support for a closer partnership with China. Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador in China, had a long interview with the newspaper Al-Watan on China's role in the reconstruction of his country. [5] He declared that the Syrian government appreciates China's support for a peaceful end to the civil war. Very interestingly, he also mentioned that no agreement about Chinese engagement or assistance in Syria was signed when Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem visited Beijing not long time ago. Moreover, probably reflecting the view of his government, he stated that he is happy about the tense relations between China and the United States, implying a rapprochement between them would be bad news for Syria. That being said, the Sino-Syrian relationship seems more stagnant than what many think. Similarly, the Libyan government too would like closer relations with China, but the ongoing power struggle involving Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar's Libyan National Army remains a significant obstacle. [6] Indeed, the Libyan newspaper Libya Akhbar reported that the President of the National Oil Corporation Mustafa Sinallah visited China as part of a tour to look for energy partnerships. Reportedly, Libya and China are negotiating new agreements to restart energy cooperation but Libya's domestic troubles might force Sinallah to postpone future meetings, thereby putting a halt to the discussion. 

Meanwhile, Egypt is eager to propose itself as the main partner for China in Africa. Al-Ahram, one of the main Egyptian newspapers, wrote that "China is mainly dependent on Egypt in its dealings with the countries of the continent, for they are each other’s main trading partner, especially as Egypt presides over the African Union this year and is responsible for the implementation of the African development agenda." [7] In recent months, Chinese commentators have also been writing about Egypt's potential return at the forefront of African diplomacy. Unfortunately, they did so without giving much indication of how that might influence their country's foreign policy. Likewise, Emirati newspapers triumphantly wrote about the development of the relations between China and the United Arab Emirates. [8] To be more specific, the extent of cooperation between them has already expanded to cover "a range of areas ranging from politics, trade, financial, finance and technological cooperation, as well as energy, water issues, cultural and humanitarian affairs, as well as military, law enforcement and security affairs." Finally, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) called for strengthening cooperation between China, Iran, and Russia, especially now that the American withdrawal from the nuclear agreement "brought the 'Look West’ policy back in the Iranian foreign policy agenda." [9] Moreover, the three countries share some common conditions; all being under American pressure as well as engaged in the fight against terrorism. Despite such converging interests, the journalist argues that the combination of weak economic and media cooperation makes it difficult to consolidate this triangular relationship. 

Meanwhile, Chinese investments are decreasing in Spain, the Spanish newspaper el Periodico laments. [10] According to a report published by Baker McKenzie, Chinese investments in Spain in 2019 have reached 10 million dollars. By the same period in 2018, they reached 1,1 billion dollars. According to Maite Díez, a partner at Baker McKenzie, such a drastic decrease is due to the ongoing trade war between China and the United States as well as new restrictions imposed by China against capital flight. Diez points out that these two obstacles are unlikely to be removed any time soon and thus, the flow of Chinese capital to Spain will remain low in the foreseeable future. At the same time, Italy is strengthening its financial cooperation with China. Indeed, the newspaper La Repubblica reported that sources within the Italian bureaucracy confirms that Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) has been authorized by the People's Bank of China to issue the so-called "Panda Bond,"a Chinese renminbi-denominated bond from a non-Chinese issuer. [11] The CDP had received expressions of interest for about 100 million euros of a planned 650 million euro Panda bond issue. Economy Minister Giovanni Tria said that the money will be used to support Italian companies in China. Italy will become the first of the main European economies to issue "Panda Bonds" after Portugal, Poland, and Hungary have already done so. Along with this move, however, Italy has also joined other countries in signing a letter to Coly Seck, President of the Human Rights Council, and Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, about the situation in China's Xinjiang Province. [12] This move came as a shock to some observers, especially given that the Italian government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China to boost the cooperation over the Belt and Road Initiative recently.

Besides the remarks In Turkish media about the mistake in the translation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's "happy Xinjiang" comments, we found an article written by Kudret Bulbul, Dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences at Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University, about a trip to China he made with other Turkish scholars under invitation of the Chinese embassy in Ankara. [13] According to him, it is natural that Turkey's approach to the Uyghurs is different from that of other countries and this fact dictates Turkey's natural interest in them and the countries that host them. Moreover, this makes Turkey the only country that can change China's approach to them. "Turkey's relationship with these communities is not a choice but a responsibility imposed by history," he wrote. Given Chinese and Turkish sensitivities and interests in the Uyghurs, he proposed the establishment of a joint commission to promote dialogue and cooperation over this issue. He writes: "We cannot ignore what is happening in Xinjiang. Besides, it is not possible to build a sincere relationship by closing our eyes. Such an approach would be of no interest to China, Turkey or the Uyghurs...Uyghurs must represent part of Turkish-Chinese strategic relations, not its entirety." Meanwhile, it is interesting to read that Mohamed Haif, a member of the Kuwaiti parliament, has recently questioned the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Sabah about the government's decision to sign a letter in support of China's position over Xinjiang. [14]

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[1] Yahia H. Zoubir, Les relations de la Chine avec les pays du Maghreb: la place prépondérante de l’Algérie [The relations between China and the Maghreb countries: The predominant role of Algeria], Confluences Méditerranée, Vol. 109, No. 2 (2019), pp. 91-103.

[2] Al-maghrib yafrid qyudaan Sarimatan ealaa ‘istirad al-shay al-Siyni المغرب يفرض قيودا صارمة على استيراد الشاي الصيني [Morocco imposes strict restrictions on the import of Chinese tea], Noonpresse, 13 July 2019, https://www.noonpresse.com/%D8%A8%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D9%81%D8%B1%D8%B6-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D9%83%D9%88%D9%85%D8%A9-%D9%85%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%8A%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%85%D8%A9-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D8%A7%D9%8A/.

[3] Matan Vilnai: ein ma la-chshush me-haskaot siniyot be-chvrot ezrachiot kollel cyber מתן וילנאי: "אין מה לחשוש מהשקעות סיניות בחברות אזרחיות כולל סייבר" [Matan Vilnai: "There is nothing to fear about Chinese investments in civil companies, including cyber], Israel Defense, 17 July 2019, https://www.israeldefense.co.il/he/node/39406.

[4] Israel mamshicha le-afsher le-chevrot siniot la-chdur le-tashtiute astrategiut ba-medinaישראל ממשיכה לאפשר לחברות סיניות לחדור לתשתיות אסטרטגיות במדינה [Israel continues to allow Chinese companies to penetrate strategic infrastructures in the country], Maariv, 6 July 2019, https://www.maariv.co.il/landedpages/printarticle.aspx?id=706878.

[5] Mazen Jabur, Tuwatiru ʿalāqāt al-siniyya al-amrikiyya yashʿarān bi-l-ghubta. Mustafā li-l-Watan: al-Sin tatahayahu li-l-mushārika fi iʿādat al-iʿmār توتر العلاقات الصينية الأميركية يشعرني بالغبطة …مصطفى لـ«الوطن»: الصين تتهيأ للمشاركة في إعادة الإعمار [Sino-American relations get worse. Mustafā to al-Watan: China is preparing to take part in the reconstruction], Al-Watan, 25 July 2019, http://alwatan.sy/archives/206695.

[6] Lybia Akhbar, sinallah min al-Syin: libia satarfae 'iintajiha al-nafTia, صنع الله من الصين: ليبيا سترفع إنتاجها النفطي, [Sinallah from China: Libya will raise its oil production], Libya Akhbar, 26 July 2019, https://www.libyaakhbar.com/libya-news/992518.html.

[7] Mahmud Saʿd Diyāb, Khubarāʾ: al-raʾis al-Sisī dowruhu wādiʿ fi tafʿīl ajindat al-tanmiyat al-afriqiyya bi-l-taʿāwun maʿa al-Sin, خبراء: الرئيس السيسي دوره واضح في تفعيل أجندة التنمية الإفريقية بالتعاون مع الصين [the experts: President al-Sisi has a clear role in activating the African development agenda in cooperation with China], Al-Ahram, 12 July 2019, http://gate.ahram.org.eg/News/2243336.aspx.

[8] Asmāʾ Madīn, al-shirākat al-istratijiya bayn al-Imārāt wa-l-Sin ruʾya sāʾiba siyasan wa iqtisādan الشراكة الاستراتيجية بين الإمارات والصين.. رؤية صائبة سياسياً واقتصادياً [The strategic partnership between UAE and China is a sound political and economic vision], Seda al-arab, 20 July 2019, http://www.sada-elarab.com/156246.

[9] Jāy-e khāli-e eʾtelāf-e resāneʾi-e Tehrān – Pekan – Moscu, جای خالی ائتلاف رسانه‌ای تهران - پکن – مسکو, [A Tehran-Beijing-Moscow Media coalition is needed], IRNA, 6 July 2019, www.irna.ir/news/83382667/.

[10] La inversión china en España se desplomó el 99% en el primer semester [Chinese investment in Spain fell by 99% in the first half of the year], el Periodico, 15 July 2019, https://www.elperiodico.com/es/economia/20190715/la-inversion-china-en-espana-se-desplomo-el-99-en-el-primer-semestre-7554380.

[11] Filippo Santelli, L'Italia si dà ai Panda Bond: la CDP emetterà titoli in Cina, [Italy to issue Panda Bonds: the CDP will issue securities in China], la Repubblica, 24 July 2019, https://www.repubblica.it/economia/2019/07/24/news/cdp_panda_bond_cina-231900775/.

[12] Giulia Pompili, L'Italia condanna la Cina sui diritti umani, guai in vista sulla Via della Seta [Italy condems China over human rights, troubles along the Silk Road], Il Foglio, 14 July 2019, https://www.ilfoglio.it/esteri/2019/07/14/news/italia-cina-diritti-umani-xinjiang-265320/.

[13] Kudret Bulbul, Comment percevoir la Chine? [How to look at China], TRT, 30 July 2019, https://www.trt.net.tr/francais/programmes/2019/07/04/comment-percevoir-la-chine-1228980.

[14] Haif li wazir al-kharijiah: hal aidat al-kuwait al-sin ded al-Wighor هايف لوزير الخارجية: هل أيدت الكويت الصين ضد الإيغور؟ [MP of Kuwait National Assembly asks the minister of foreign affairs: Did Kuwait support China against Uighurs?], Al-Qabas, 16 July 2019, https://alqabas.com/article/5690516-%D9%87%D8%A7%D9%8A%D9%81-%D9%84%D9%88%D8%B2%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AC%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%87%D9%84-%D8%A3%D9%8A%D8%AF%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%83%D9%88%D9%8A%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%B6%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%88%D9%87%D9%8A%D9%86%D8%BA%D8%A7.

With the support of
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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