June 2019

The Mediterranean Region looks at China
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As for last month, Israeli and Greek media headlines are still expressing widespread concern about Chinese presence in their countries, especially in the port areas. In the case of Israel, as highlighted by Galia Lavi in an article in the newspaper Globes, are these concerns justified or extreme? [1] There’s a need to examine the various issues in a balanced manner and not give in to unnecessary panic. What appears to be clear is that the US administration does not appreciate this stronger Chinese presence in the country. In fact, four Chinese companies have recently won bids for the Haifa port and the Ashdod port. However, it must be said that the Israeli Transportation Minister asked the US ambassador to help pressure American companies to come to Israel, but they did not come.

As for Greece, an informal meeting between the Piraeus Port Authority (PPA) and members of the Committee on Planning and Development of Ports (CPDP) was held with the aim of resolving some issues raised before the election. [2] It appeared that instead of resolving them, new problems have been raised, in particular, related to the Cosco executives regarding the land port zone more as a city than as a port. An additional issue is a result of to the continuous delays to the approbation of the plan: given that only two years are left until the deadline, these new investments will probably never be completed. At the same time, despite the concerns raised, the Mayor of Piraeus, Mr. Moralis has remarked that Cosco is an important player and its projects are having a positive impact on the local community, not to mention the new projects they’re implementing, such as the Metro, which will improve the city's operation in an important way, reducing the traffic problem that exists due to the port's operation. [3]

There are not only worries regarding Chinese port investments, but also regarding China’s role in the development of industries such as energy and information technologies. As raised by Le Belzic in an article in Le Monde, the MoU signed by the African Union (AU) and China placed Huawei at the heart of the new information and communication system in Africa: the company has been in Africa for 20 years and has installed the continent’s 3G and 4G capacity in 36 countries through 50 operators. [4] Moreover, its first 5G networks are already tested in Algeria, South Africa and Lesotho. As mentioned by Le Belzic, the risk of having a Chinese monopoly in this sector should be considered. Still, cybersecurity also represents a grave issue: Le Belzic underlined the worries about a potential espionage system and wondered if the company will guarantee the free use of these technology systems. Considering China’s attitude toward filtering the Internet domestically, he wonders if some African countries would do the same, reporting that in April alone Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Gabon temporarily cut off Internet access.

Still it represents an example of concrete and straightforward partnership, like many collaborations China has also been implementing in the past decades in the MENA region, especially in the energy sector. This month the GCC media have underlined the positive results of some China’s partnerships. The Oman Sultanate’s first-ever polymer manufacturing plant has been inaugurated: it has been built by ZL EOR Chemicals Oman, a part of the ZL EOR Chemicals Group, which with its parent company Henan Zhengjia Green Energy Co. Ltd., representing a leader in polyacrylamide (“PAM”) manufacturing, sales and technical services for the expanding enhanced oil recovery and wastewater treatment industries. [5] As reported by Echo Liu, the general manager of ZL EOR Chemicals Oman, the factory is expected to be operational in a month. The polymers produced will be used for various applications, but mainly for improving oil production. It is another example of how China is demonstrating it is a concrete and strategic partner.

China’s significant role in the geopolitics and economy of the Middle East is well renowned, considering also its investments towards aid and development. Just last year, $ 20 billion and USD 106 million of loans for energy projects in the region were announced, together with a USD100 million aid package for Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Palestine. In particular, the economic potential in Gaza is enormous: from natural gas reserves worth about $5 billion, through a port close to the Suez Canal and from the Mediterranean to the east and south, to power stations, agriculture and skilled manpower. [6] The Ambassador of the State of Palestine to the People's Republic of China, Fariz Mahdawi, recently expressed his happiness with the facilities provided by China through the establishment of the Palestine Pavilion at the Beijing International Horticultural Exhibition , which represents a great opportunity for Palestinian products to enter the Chinese market. [7]

In the January Observer we mentioned the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in relation to the complaints made by the Iranian ambassador in Beijing to Vladimir Norov, the new Secretary-General of the SCO. Iran yearns to become a member of the SCO, but this possibility is still frustrated. Yet, the organisation represents a great opportunity for dialogue. It is a matter of fact that in the side-lines of the last SCO, President Xi Jinping met his Iranian counterpart, President Hassan Rouhani. [8] As part of restating their common efforts in the fight against terrorism, secessionism and extremism, the fight against transnational crimes and many other issues, they agreed on opposing the decisive departure of the United States from the JCPOA, which represents an example of unilateralism, and they emphasized the importance of protecting the multilateral world system. China is cooperating with Iran within the framework of the United Nations and the SCO and other international organizations with the aim of protecting international regulations and protecting the interests of developing countries.

The Italian media has highlighted Vice Premier Matteo Salvini’s journey to the United States. As stated by Prof. Paniccia, Italy should place itself as a privileged mediator not only between the US and Russia, but also the US and China. [9] Regarding collaboration with China, he has clarified that it is about purely commerce and is non-political: Italian partnership with China must not be considered as a betrayal by the US, indeed it should be seen as an important opportunity to control a commercial power already well present on “our doorstep”. Still, Salvini’s words partially shaped Italy’s vision towards issues such as Iran, Lybia, Venezuela and the Middle East, Israel and “Chinese arrogance towards Europe and African countries”.

Another event has attracted the spotlight of the Italian media: the election of the new FAO Director held on the 23rd of June in Rome. In an article for Le Formiche  it was highlighted that 2 of the 5 candidates, from India and Cameroon, withdrew their candidacy. [10] As cited in the article, according to Le Monde, the withdrawal of the African candidate would have taken place after the payment of a Cameroonian debt of  million from Beijing, a debt contracted with China itself for infrastructure works. Similar arguments have led to the withdrawal of the Indian candidate. It has also been said that Beijing would have threatened countries like Brazil and Uruguay with ban on their agricultural exports in the event of failure to vote in favour of the Chinese candidate. Nonetheless, despite the US support for the Georgian candidate, and the favourite French candidate, Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, former director of the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) in Parma, who was proposed as a candidate for the whole Union and also by the European Commission, who would have become the first woman to head the FAO, the winner of the elections was the Chinese candidate, Qu Dongyu.

[1] Galia lavi, Day lasinofobialo tzarich levetel et heskem hanaml im hasinim, די לסינופוביה! לא צריך לבטל את הסכם הנמל עם הסינים [Enough of sinophobia! The port agreement with the Chinese should not be canceled], Globes, 25 June 2019, https://www.globes.co.il/news/article.aspx?did=1001290846.

[2] Ηλίας Μπέλός/ Ilias Mpellos, Σε τεντωμένο σχοινί οι σχέσεις COSCO - Κυβέρνησης/ Se tentomeno sxoini oi sxeseiw cosco – kyvernisis [On a tight rope the Cosco - government relations], I Kathimerini, 28 May 2019, http://www.kathimerini.gr/1026195/article/oikonomia/epixeirhseis/se-tentwmeno-sxoini-oi-sxeseis-cosco---kyvernhshs.

[3] THEBIMA Team, Δήμος Πειραιά και Δήμος Σαγκάης ισχυροποιούν τους δεσμούς τους / Dimos pirea ke dimos sagkais ischiropioun tous desmous tous [The Municipality of Piraeus and the Municipality of Shanghai strengthen their ties], To Vima, 21 June 2019, https://www.tovima.gr/2019/06/21/society/dimos-peiraia-kai-dimos-sagkais-isxyropoioun-tous-desmous-tous/.

[4] Sébastien Le Belzic, Dans la guerre du numérique qui oppose Pékin et Washington, l’Afrique doit faire les bons choix [In the economic war between Washington and Beijing, Africa has to make the right choices], Le Monde, 3 June 2019, https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2019/06/03/dans-la-guerre-du-numerique-qui-oppose-pekin-et-washington-l-afrique-doit-faire-les-bons-choix_5470982_3212.html.

[5] Zakaria Fekri, alseyed Asaad yoaked ala alsharakah alestratijieyah been alsaltanah wa alseen, السيد أسعد يؤكد على الشراكة الاستراتيجية بين السلطنة والصين [His Highness Prince Asaad stresses the strategic Partnership between The Sultanate and China], Oman Daily, 17 June 2019, https://timesofoman.com/article/1468442.

[6] Shraga Biran, Tzarich lirtom et sin le-pitarun beretzuat aza, צריך לרתום את סין לפתרון ברצועת עזה [China must be harnessed to a solution in the Gaza Strip], YNET, 11 June 2019, https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5523401,00.html.

[7] Alsafir mahdawi: mantiqa hurra bein alsin va felastin qariban السفير مهداوي: منطقة حرة بين الصين وفلسطين قريباً [Palestinian Ambassador: Free Trade Zone between China and Palestine Coming Soon], Donya Alwatan, 17 June 2019, https://www.alwatanvoice.com/arabic/news/2019/06/17/1251731.html.

[8] Fi dil altavatur maa amerika, iran tahzi bedaam min alsin va rusiya في ظل التوتر مع أميركا.. إيران تحظى بدعم من الصين وروسيا [In light of the tension with America, Iran has the support of China and Russia], Al Jazeera, 14 June 2019, https://www.aljazeera.net/news/politics/2019/6/14/%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%AD%D8%B3%D9%86-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%B4%D9%8A-%D8%AC%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A8%D9%8A%D9%86%D8%BA-%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B4%D9%86%D8%B7%D9%86-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D9%81%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A8%D9%88%D8%AA%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AA%D9%81%D8%A7%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D9%88%D9%88%D9%8A.

[9] Lamperti Lorenzo, Salvini convinca Trump a dialogare con Putin. Italexit? Non impossibile [Salvini must convince Trump to dialogue with Putin], AffariItaliani.it, 18 June 2019, http://www.affaritaliani.it/politica/geopolitica/salvini-usa-cina-trump-m5s-governo-italexit-611126.html.

[10] Binelli Raffaello, Salvini negli Usa fa il premier e salda l'asse con Trump [Salvini in te US act like the Prime Minister and seals the axis with Trump], Il Giornale, 17 June 2019, http://www.ilgiornale.it/news/mondo/salvini-faccia-faccia-mike-pompeo-washington-1712478.html.

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