June 2022

China looks at the Mediterranean Region
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In June, Chinese commentators focused on four main issues: the First China-Horn of Africa Peace, Good Governance and Development Conference; Turkey’s role in Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO; the background to President Biden’s trip to the Middle East; as well as the foreign policy of oil-producing countries in the region.

The aforementioned first China-Horn of Africa Peace, Good Governance and Development Conference was held on June 21-22 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Ministers and senior government officials from Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Uganda and Djibouti were joined by Xue Bing, Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Affairs of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to discuss issues related to regional security. Jia Pingfan, a commentator with the People’s Daily, wrote that the conference was a continuation of the discussions that began in 2015, when peace and security were listed among the ten macro areas of cooperation between China and African countries at that year’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. According to Jia, the conference was broadly welcomed by regional actors and was “further evidence of China's positive contribution to maintaining security and stability in Africa.” [1] He Wenping, an expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, argued that the fact that so many regional actors agreed to join the conference despite their problems at home and with each other is a clear indicator of China’s influence and effectiveness of Chinese diplomats, especially State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who toured the region during the first half of the year. [2] Wu Chuanhua, an associate researcher at the China-Africa Institute in Beijing, pointed out that the emphasis on the link between development and security is one of the elements that made the conference one of great importance, especially in comparison with Western initiatives that “rarely do so.” [3]

Much of Jia’s article repeats key themes of Chinese diplomacy: the importance of development to achieve stability, and the idea that China simply supports local actors finding their own solutions to regional problems. There are two elements in his description of China’s contribution to regional security that should be highlighted. The first is security assistance and the training of African personnel in the fields of “the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, public security, peacekeeping, antipiracy, counterterrorism.” The second is the strengthening of consular and law enforcement cooperation. These elements together show the comprehensiveness of China’s approach to the security of the region, a direct result of the close relationship between its economic footprint and local security dynamics.

Zhu Ming, director of the Regional Cooperation Department of the Center for West Asian and African Studies of the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies (SIIS), implicitly confirmed this by telling to Guancha Syndicate that “China, as an old friend and a good friend of Africa, was anxious about the region’s urgent needs and proposed a peace initiative and a step-by-step plan.” [4] Nonetheless, Zhou Yuyuan, a senior researcher at the same center at SIIS, stated that “he was uncertain about whether or how much China could contribute, stating that ‘China could use its influence to invite regional stakeholders or parties in a country to sit down and negotiate, and possibly make some proposals to get the parties to agree on some issues.’" [5]

Meanwhile, Chinese commentators continued discussing Turkish foreign policy. This time, their focus was on Turkish opposition to the expansion of NATO. They expect that Turkish actions “will inevitably continue to damage part of Turkey's cooperative relationship with the United States and Europe.” [6] Yang Yulong, a scholar at Zhejiang University, pointed out that this will also have consequences on the relations between Athens, which is pushing to limit the transfer of weapons to Turkey, and Ankara, as well as on NATO’s unity. [7] Indeed, Liu Zhongmin wrote in the Global Times that the “Turkish phenomenon” might become more frequent if other countries begin to follow the same example. [8] It also shows a contradiction in American foreign policy: they want Turkey to play a special role in NATO while also ignoring its own priorities and national interests.

Chinese scholars also argued that the mistakes the United States are making in its relations with Turkey are also being made with the Gulf countries: Washington wants to keep close ties with those countries so that they keep distance from China and Russia but, at the same time, also wants them to change their domestic politics against their interests. [9] Li Shijun, a visiting researcher at the China-Arab Reform and Development Research Center, wrote in the Global Times that China should instead be particularly careful and keep strengthening its relations with Saudi Arabia. [10] This is because the increase in the oil prices caused by the war in Ukraine has significantly expanded the influence of oil-producing countries. Saudi Arabia is obviously one of the most important and, as Li points out, the main trend in its foreign relations over the years is one of growing wariness toward the United States, though this does not mean that bilateral cooperation will slow down significantly for the moment. This, plus its renewed oil-related influence, empowers Saudi Arabia to act more independently, thereby transforming it into a “new variable” in the region. This is why, Li argues, China must treat Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Cooperation Countries in a new manner that takes into account these changes.

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[1] Jia Pingfan, Zhōngguó shì wéihù fēizhōu ānquán wěndìng de zhèng néngliàng 中国是维护非洲安全稳定的正能量 [China is a source of positive energy for the preservation of security and stability in Africa], People’s Daily, June 28, 2022, link.

[2] An Zheng, Shǒujiè zhōngguó-fēizhōu zhī jiǎo hépíng huìyì zhàokāi! Wèi dìqū guójiā tígōng tánpàn jiějué fēnqí xīn píngtái 首届中国-非洲之角和平会议召开!为地区国家提供谈判解决分歧新平台 [The first China-Horn of Africa Peace, Good Governance and Development Conference begins! It offers a new platform], Liberation Daily, June 21, 2022, link.

[3] Wang Chuanjun, Shǒujiè zhōngguó-fēizhōu zhī jiǎo hépíng huìyì: Chuàngxīn yùwài dàguó yǔ fēizhōu guójiā hézuò móshì 首届中国-非洲之角和平会议:创新域外大国与非洲国家合作模式 [The First China-Horn of Africa Peace, Good Governance and Development Conference: Creating a new model of cooperation between Africa and extra-regional great powers], Guangming Daily, June 27, 2022, link.

[4] Li Huanyu, Shǒujiè fēizhōu zhī jiǎo hépíng huìyì shùnlì bìmù, zhōng fēi gòngtóng tuīdòng dìqū hépíng de dì yī bù 首届非洲之角和平会议顺利闭幕,中非共同推动地区和平的第一步 [The first China-Horn of Africa Peace, Good Governance and Development Conference ends smoothly, the first step jointly made by China and Africa to promote regional peace], Guancha Syndicate, June 23, 2022, link.  

[5] Ibid.

[6] Yang Yulong, “Běiyuē lìnglèi” tǔ'ěrqí sìjī ér dòng “北约另类”土耳其伺机而动 [The “weirdo of NATO”, Turkey is waiting before making a move], Globe, June 14, 2022, link.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Liu Zhongmin, Liúzhōngmín:“Tǔ'ěrqí xiànxiàng” tūxiǎn běiyuē héfǎ xìng wéijī 刘中民:“土耳其现象”凸显北约合法性危机 [Liu Zhongmin: The “Turkish example” demonstrates NATO’s legitimacy crisis], Global Times, June 28, 2022, link.

[9] Qiu Wenhan, Báigōng xuānbù rèn nèi shǒu fǎng zhōngdōng rìchéng, liào jiāng dǎpò jiān bīng yǔ shātè wángchú huìwù xià yuè wǎng fǎng, bài dēng wèihé xiànzài cái xiǎngqǐ zhōngdōng? 白宫宣布任内首访中东日程,料将打破坚冰与沙特王储会晤: 下月往访,拜登为何现在才想起中东?[The White House announces the first visit to the Middle East to break the ice with the Saudi prince. Why is Biden thinking about the Middle East only now?], Liberation Daily, June 16, 2022, link.

[10] Li Shijun, É wū chōngtú, zhōngdōng chǎn yóu guó chéng “xīn biànliàng” 俄乌冲突,中东产油国成“新变量” [The countries in the Middle East become “new variables” against the background of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine], Global Times, June 14, 2022, link.

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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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