January 7, 2019

June 2018

China looks at the Mediterranean Region
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In addition to the usual reports concerning the achievements and the issues facing China through its engagement with various countries of the Mediterranean region, the coverage of events related to Turkey, Qatar, Ethiopia, and Israel are also noteworthy. Moreover, the publication of the "Big Data Report on Trade Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative 2018" by China's State Information Center offers a number of important data to better understand China's engagement with the region.

Chinese media have finally started to provide insight into China's role and position within the diplomatic standoff between Qatar and its neighbors that started in 2017. Media silence is typical when the situation is complex, and China does not want to take sides nor show any signs of favoritism. However, it now seems that China looks favorably at Qatar. The Global Times sent a reporter to Doha to analyze the situation. Despite signs of damage caused by the diplomatic siege, the article presents a clear picture of the country by highlighting the government’s achievement of self-sufficiency in certain economic sectors and the expansion of its diplomatic reach in order to avoid isolation. As the title itself of the article suggests, China is playing an important role in keeping Qatar afloat. China is predicted to surpass Japan as the main importer of Qatari natural gas and the reporter mentions an extremely telling piece of data: Qatar is the country among those involved in the Belt and Road Initiative whose trade with China grew the fastest between 2017 and 2018. Yet, it is also important to keep in mind that Saudi Arabia remains among the top ten trading partners of China in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative (first in the Middle East compared to Qatar that ranks ninth) with the trade volume between the two countries reaching USD 50 billion.

Natural gas is also a crucial component of China's engagement with Ethiopia. Zhu Gongshan, the founder of GCL-Poly, visited Djibouti and Ethiopia in May to discuss the construction of the Ethiopian-Djibouti natural gas pipeline to transfer Ethiopian natural gas and oil to Djibouti. Subsequently, GCL-Poly carried out the first test output of crude oil in Ogaden, Ethiopia, on June 28. Yet, this development took place in the midst of weakening trade relations between China and Ethiopia. According to the "Big Data Report on Trade Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative 2018," trade between the two countries has fallen by 17,4%.

As to Turkey, Chinese scholars appear to agree that Erdogan will face significant challenges during the upcoming five years. Guo Changgang, the Director of the Turkish Studies Center of Shanghai University, wrote that Erdogan's victory is not surprising. After all, he argues, Erdogan and his allies understood the needs of their population and made the right promises to the voters. A strong nationalist rhetoric further helped Erdogan's Justice and Development Party to secure victory. Yet, according to Yu Guoqing of CASS' West Asia and Africa Division, it is important to keep in mind that Erdogan did not win more than 50% of the vote alone, and that opposition parties will do their best to create obstacles for him. At the same time, Turkey’s economy is slowing down, and it will be more difficult than in the past for the government to keep its promises made during the electoral campaign. Finally, security both inside and outside the country is worsening, especially because Turkey's problems with its traditional European and American allies have not been counterbalanced by significant gains through its strengthening of relations with Russia. Turkey's ambition to become a leader of the Muslim world by criticizing Israel’s actions against the Palestinians is also yielding uncertain results.

As mentioned in the previous issue of the Bulletin, Chinese media are slowly becoming more critical towards Israel. In particular, Chinese commentators seem to disapprove of Israel's growing military engagement in Syria. This month, the China National Defense Daily mentioned Israel, especially its warning to strike deep into Syrian territory against Iranian forces, as a factor of instability within the region. Like others before, the author describes Israel's actions as a product of the intensifying competition between the United States and Russia.  

Meanwhile Chinese citizens are increasingly becoming frequent targets of aggression in Algeria. On June 12, the Chinese embassy issued a warning for Chinese citizens in Algeria to avoid storing and carrying a lot of hard currency, avoid dangerous areas, and, for those who can afford it, hire security guards. According to the statement, this warning comes after one Chinese national was killed on June 10 in Dar El Beïda, and many others have been robbed or physically attacked in other provinces of Algeria.

Finally, it’s important to note several interesting numbers from the "Big Data Report on Trade Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative 2018." Montenegro experienced a huge growth in trade with China, growing by more than 35% between 2017 and 2018. Another country in the Balkan Peninsula that is witnessing the effects of the Belt and Road Initiative is Serbia. The value of Chinese goods arriving there by train increased by an astonishing 3346%. On the contrary, the already-low import volumes from Syria and the Palestinian territories unsurprisingly decreased by 59% and 62% respectively. While China's trade with Lebanon and Jordan slightly decreased, it increased by more than 20% with Kuwait, Yemen, and Iraq. China's main trading partners in the Middle East are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Oman, Israel, Kuwait, Qatar, and Jordan. In the case of Egypt, Chinese exports have decreased by 9,9%, but the value of Egyptian goods exported to China more than doubled.

• "Yi dai yi lu" maoyihezuo da shuju baogao 2018“一带一路”贸易合作大数据报告2018 [Big Data Report on Trade Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative 2018], State Information Center, 8 May 2018, http://www.sic.gov.cn/News/553/9207.htm.

• Guo Changgang, Aierduoan shengxuan shushi yiliaozhizhong 埃尔多安胜选实属意料之中 [Erdogan's victory was expected], Wenhui Bao, 26 June 2018, http://wenhui.news365.com.cn/html/2018-06/26/content_668898.html.

• Guo Yuandan, Kataer zouchu "duanjiao chao", zhegu  "zhongguo liliang" nan yicongshi 卡塔尔走出“断交潮”,这股“中国力量”难以忽视 [Qatar escapes from the "tide of cutting diplomatic ties", the "Chinese factor" can hardly be overlooked], Global Times, 19 June 2018, http://world.huanqiu.com/exclusive/2018-06/12289237.html.

• Hu Xiaodao, Mei e zai zhongdong zhankai xin yi lun jiueli 美俄在中东展开新一轮角力 [The United States and Russia are starting a new round of competition in the Middle East], China National Defense Daily, 22 June 2018, http://www.81.cn/gfbmap/content/2018-06/22/content_209126.htm.

• Wang Shoubao, Zhongguo gognsi zhuli aisaiebiya chanchu di yi tong yuanyou 中国公司助力埃塞俄比亚产出第一桶原油 [Chinese company helps Ethiopia to produce its first barrel of oil], Xinhua, 29 June 2018, http://www.xinhuanet.com/fortune/2018-06/29/c_1123055194.htm.

• Yu Guoqing, Zhuanjia jiedu tuerqi daxuan: aierduoan lianren hou  huan si da tiaozhan  专家解读土耳其大选:埃尔多安连任后迎四大挑战 [The experts interprets the Turkish elections: Four important challenges that Erdogan has to face after remaining in power], People Daily, 25 June 2018, https://mbd.baidu.com/newspage/data/landingshare?context=%7B%22nid%22%3A%22news_8602697473525986935%22%2C%22sourceFrom%22%3A%22bjh%22%7D&type=news.

• Zhongzi yuangong zai aerjiliya zao qiangjie shenwang zhongshiguan fa tixing 中资员工在阿尔及利亚遭抢劫身亡中使馆发提醒 [Worker of a Chinese company killed in Algeria, the embassy issues a warning], China News Service, 12 June 2018, http://www.chinanews.com/hr/2018/06-12/8535725.shtml.

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