Reportage in the Chinese media on issues related to the Mediterranean region was rather scarce in March. The main theme of articles that were published was the deterioration of the security conditions. In particular, fact and fiction became mixed as the situation in the Middle East worsened, while the movie Operation Red Sea (红海行动) sparked a vibrant discussion on the protection of China's overseas interests, even among the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
From Damascus to Gaza, Chinese media widely reported on the destruction and death caused by growing tensions in the region. In both cases, Chinese experts and journalists emphasized the negative role played by Western countries and Russia as detrimental to the situation. In particular, Xinhua’s Shao Jie focused on Syria, writing that although Russia has managed to rebuild a significant military presence in the Mediterranean region, and to divert the attention of Western countries from Ukraine, it cannot easily withdraw from the country nor withdraw its support of Assad: the interests at stake are too high. Discussing the clash between Palestinian and Israeli protesters, Ningxia University’s Li Zhaoxian, put the blame on President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, which fueled tensions that inevitably led the two sides to clash.
Chen Xinguang, a scholar from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS), noted that China’s Middle Eastern strategy has, since 2016, become a key component of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and that, in 2017, that region became the forefront of the initiative’s implementation. The close relationship between the Middle East and the BRI is exemplified by numerous projects, such as the industrial park in Duqm, Oman, the Sino-Saudi investments fund which totals over USD 20 billion, the cooperation around the Beidou global positioning system, and strengthening of relations between China and its regional partners. China is also proposing the idea of “community of common destiny” as an alternative to, according to Chen, failed models that Western countries have exported or tried to export to the region. China’s growing interest for regional affairs can even be seen within its own state-run media. The People’s Daily published an article discussing a recent conference held at Shanghai University on the “Turkish domestic and foreign policy and the Belt and Road Initiative.” In attendance were a number of experts from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, SASS, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Shanghai Foreign Studies University, Ocean University of China, Fudan University, Lanzhou University, Ningxia University, Shanghai Institute for International Studies, and journalists from a number of Chinese newspapers.
The recent release of the movie “Operation Red Sea” in Mainland China, and the attack against Sinohydro workers in Mali on March 10th, have fueled the government’s focus on regional interests. Xinhua interviewed Yang Shu, the Deputy Director of the Consular Protection Center within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the movie and the challenges that the Ministry currently faces in regions such as the Middle East. The movie reminded Yang of the difficulties leading up to the evacuation of several hundred Chinese nationals from Yemen in 2015. China’s ambassador to Yemen played a key role both in notifying the Ministry about the necessity to quickly evacuate its citizens and also in organizing the evacuations. Yang also noted that the Ministry offers up to date and detailed information about security conditions in other countries for Chinese who are traveling abroad. While Chinese citizens who visit higher risk countries like Yemen and Libya will still be provided assistance in emergency situations, however, the Ministry will place the costs of intervention upon them. When asked about how the Ministry was dealing with the concerns of its citizens regarding their protection abroad, Foreign Minister Wang Yi discussed the constant expansion of scope within the Consular Protection Center. This issue received a lot of attention after many watched Wolf Warrior 2 (战狼2) and “Operation Red Sea”. In 2017, the Center handled over 7,000 cases in which people asked for support from embassies and consulates abroad.
These concerns are closely related to the expansion of China’s economic and human footprint within the BRI framework. In particular, private companies are investing in industrial parks abroad, and as a result, have now become the main representatives of this expansion. According to an official from the Ministry of Commerce, 4,364 Chinese companies currently operate in 99 economic cooperation zones abroad and have invested a combined USD 30.7 billion in them thus far. As a result, 258,000 new jobs have been created in these host countries. According to China Industrial Overseas Development & Planning Association’s Secretary General He Zhengwei, industrial parks greatly reduce the costs and the risks for Chinese companies operating abroad due to special policies and support from the government. To better help investors, new online platforms, like the Youtou Network, have been created. Both Chinese and foreign government agencies and embassies use these platforms to publish notices about new polices, initiatives, and commercial opportunities. A person in charge of one of these platforms stated that many more notices came from Chinese embassies last year. At the same time, promotional activities continue to be organized within China. For example, in Ningbo, a meeting was held to discuss the China-Oman (Duqm) Industrial Park and investment regulations in Oman. The event was organized by the Omani embassy in China, with support from Chinese businessmen who operate in Oman, the China-Arab Wanfang Investment Management Company, as well as the Duqm Special Economic Zone Management Committee.
• Baliesidanren yu yiselie shibing fasheng liuxie chongtu zhishao 15 ming balisidanren siwang 巴勒斯坦人与以色列士兵发生流血冲突 至少15名巴勒斯坦人死亡 [Bloody clash between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers, at least 15 Palestinians dead], CCTV News, 31 March 2018, http://china.cnr.cn/qqhygbw/20180331/t20180331_524183038.shtml.
• Chen Xinguang , Chen xinguang: zhongguo zhibui gei zhongdong zouxiang fuxing dailai xiwang 陈新光：中国智慧给中东走向复兴带来希望 [Chen Xinguang: Chinese wisdom to bring hope for rejouvination to the Middle East], China Daily, 27 March 2018, http://column.chinadaily.com.cn/article.php?pid=31488.
• Guanyu juban aman gongzuo weiyuanhui choubei huiyi de tongzhi 关于举办阿曼工作委员会筹备会议的通知 [Notice about the meeting with the committee for the work in Oman], Sohu.com, 19 March 2018, http://www.sohu.com/a/225888695_825950.
• Mali zhong touzi gongsi xiangmu shouxi zhongfang renyuan yi anquan zhuanyi 马里中资公司项目受袭 中方人员已安全转移 [Chinese company attacked in Mali, workers already safe], CCTV News, 10 March 2018, http://m.news.cctv.com/2018/03/10/ARTISUfgDiohIXUt00aLaRPS180310.shtml.
• Pan Jie and Hao Xiaojing, "Honghai xingdong" beihou de zhenshi gushi - duihua waijiaobu lingbao zhongxin changwu fuzhuren yang su "红海行动"背后的真实故事 - 对话外交部领保中心常务副主任杨舒 [The story bejing "Operation Red Sea" - Dialogue with the Executive Deputy Director of the Consular Protection Center of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Yang Su ], Xinhua, 7 March 2018, http://www.xinhuanet.com/2018-03/07/c_1122503140.htm.
• Shao Jie , Xinwen fenxi: xuliya jieshu zhanluan zhishao mianling san da nanguan 新闻分析：叙利亚结束战乱至少面临三大难关 [News analysis: At least three importnat problems that must be addressed to end the war in Syria], Xinhua, 1 March 2018, http://www.xinhuanet.com/world/2018-03/01/c_1122471676.htm.
• Tuerqi neizheng waijiao ridian ji zhongdong ridian wenti yantaohui zai shanghai daxue juxing 土耳其内政外交暨中东热点问题研讨会在上海大学举行 [Workshop on Turkish domestic and foreign policy, and Middle Eastern hotsopts held in Shanghai University], People's Daily, 27 March 2018, http://world.people.com.cn/n1/2018/0327/c1029-29892357.html.
• Wang yi xuanbu san ge lingshi limin hao xiaoxi dafu xiadiao banli lingshi renzheng feiyong 王毅宣布三个领事利民好消息 大幅下调办理领事认证费用[Wang Yi announces three good news about cutting the costs for counsular affairs services], China News, 8 March 2018, http://www.chinanews.com/gn/2018/03-08/8462700.shtml.
• Zhou Qiang and Meng Yingru , Haiwai yuanqu cheng zhongguo qiye zouchuqu xin pingtai 海外园区成中国企业走出去新平台 [Overseas industrial parks have become the new platform for Chinese companies to go abroad], Economic Information Daily, 30 March 2018, http://dz.jjckb.cn/www/pages/webpage2009/html/2018-03/30/content_42185.htm.