January 7, 2019

May 2019

China looks at the Mediterranean Region
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We begin our monthly review of Chinese articles and commentaries on the situation in the Mediterranean region with a short commentary penned by Song Wei, an Associate Researcher with the Ministry of Commerce, on the opportunities and challenges that Chinese companies can find in Italy. [1] According to Song, Italy’s location at the center of the Mediterranean Sea and, at the same time, close to the economic heart of Europe, the relatively low labor cost, the modern logistics and Research & Design  infrastructure, and the Italian government’s eagerness to attract foreign capital are all factors that a Chinese investor should consider carefully. Yet, heavy taxes and slow public administration are highlighted as problems that foreign companies need to learn to live with. We may add that these problems are well-known in Italy and, despite the promises of past and current governments, it is difficult to say if and when they will be addressed.

That said, the Middle East and North Africa vastly dominated Chinese reports in May.

While the Special Representative of the Chinese Government for African Affairs Xu Jinghu visited Sudan earlier last month, South Reviews and Caijing published two long analyses of the situation in the country. [2] While the one written by Wang Nengquan for Caijing mostly revolves around the poor living conditions of the Sudanese people and, to a lesser extent, China’s involvement in the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Gu Jian, a scholar with Yangzhou University and the Center for Sudanese Studies of the Ministry of Education’s Institute for Area Studies, offer a more interesting take on the situation. Gu argues that Sudan is destined to become like Egypt: a country ruled by the military. Social tensions will remain there, however, because the military is unlikely to be willing to share power with the students and the categories of people who hit the street against Bashir (at least 60 were killed by Sudanese security forces in Khartoum on June 5, about three weeks after Gu’s article). At the same time, Gu believes that it was more than a popular movement that brought Bashir down, the United States and other western countries were surely involved because they want to “go back” to East Africa. He does not make any direct link between the alleged plans of the West and China’s dominant role in the Sudanese economy. However, he recognizes that Bashir was “quite friendly” and that the recent events will have an impact on Chinese interests in the country.

Many changes have taken place in North Africa recently: Libya risks becoming “the new Syria”, [3] a coup took place in Sudan, and Bouteflika resigned in Algeria. Against this background, Globe, a biweekly magazine published by Xinhua, featured an analysis of Egypt’s role in the region. [4] In particular, the journalist, helped by Peking University’s Wu Bingbing, argues that 2019 could be an important year for Egyptian diplomacy thanks to the presidency of the African Union (AU). That platform could be used to promote an AU-centered model of regional security governance that Egypt is likely to prefer over the US-proposed, Saudi Arabia-focused, Iran-aimed “Arab NATO”. However, the article concludes by making a remark on the poor performance of the Egyptian economy. In this situation, it will remain difficult for Cairo to expand its influence.

Finally, we found an usual number of articles and commentaries critical towards American policy towards the Middle East, from endangering the global energy market with the indiscriminate use of sanctions to emboldening Israel against the Palestinians. [5] Yet, it is interesting to note that, even after the United States ordered the deployment of an aircraft carrier in the Gulf and accused Iran of being behind the damages suffered by Saudi and Emirati tankers, Chinese scholars remain skeptical about the break out of an armed conflict between Iran and the United States because of the significant military and diplomatic risks that such an enterprise would create for Washington. [6] On the one hand, they believe that the Iranian military, albeit inferior, could inflict enough damage on its American counterparts. On the other hand, while the tensions with the United States strengthen the Iranian government and weaken those groups that are closer to the West, the United States would be further isolated by its European allies.

[1] Song Wei, Zhuā zhù “yīdài yīlù” hézuò xīn jīyù shēndù tàzhǎn duì yìdàlì tóuzī hézuò 抓住“一带一路”合作新机遇 深度拓展对意大利投资合作 [Seizing the new opportunities of cooperation under the “Belt and Road” and deepening the economic cooperation with Italy], China Economic Herald, 17 May 2019, http://www.ceh.com.cn/ydyl/1134708.shtml.

[2] Gu Jian, “Hòu bā xī ěr shídài” sūdān zǒuxiàng héfāng? “后巴希尔时代”苏丹走向何方?[What is the path ahead for Sudan in the “post-Bashir” era?], South Reviews, 15 May 2019, https://www.nfcmag.com/article/8773.html; Wang Nengquan, Sūdān: Yǒu wú shíyóu dōu zài āi è 苏丹:有无石油都在挨饿 [Sudan: Starving with and without oil], Caijing, 3 May 2019, http://magazine.caijing.com.cn/20190503/4584921.shtml.

[3] Yan Yu, Lìbǐyǎ huì biàn chéng yòu yīgè xùlìyǎ ma? 利比亚会变成又一个叙利亚吗?[Could Libya become another Syria?], People’s Daily, 4 May 2019, http://world.people.com.cn/n1/2019/0504/c1002-31062490.html.

[4] Wu Danni and Zhu Qiqi, “Xuánwō” lǐ de āijí “漩涡” 里的埃及 [Egypt in the “whirlpool”], Globe, 8 May 2019, http://www.xinhuanet.com//globe/2019-05/08/c_138021563.htm.

[5] Niu Xinchun, Niú xīnchūn: Měiguó “zhìcái yīlài zhèng” de liǎng gè zhīdiǎn 牛新春:美国“制裁依赖症”的两个支点 [Niu Xinchun: The two pillars of the US’ “sick dependence on sanctions” ], Global Times, 7 May 2019, http://opinion.huanqiu.com/hqpl/2019-05/14848663.html?agt=15422; Feng Ying, Yī chǎng “fēicháng shíqí” de chōngtú [An “extraordinay” conflict], People’s Army Daily, 10 May 2019, http://www.81.cn/jfjbmap/content/2019-05/10/content_233374.htm.  

[6] Cui Shoujun, Měiguó duì yīlǎng “jíxiàn shī yā” yòufā gāo chōngtú fēngxiǎn 美国对伊朗“极限施压”诱发高冲突风险 [American "extreme pressure on Iran" is likely to lead to conflict], China.org, 5 May 2019, http://views.ce.cn/view/ent/201905/05/t20190505_31993748.shtml; Zheng Dongchao, Měiguó hé yīlǎng bàofā jūnshì chōngtú yīng shì xiǎo gàilǜ shìjiàn 美国和伊朗爆发军事冲突应是小概率事件 [A military conflict between the United States and Iran is not likely], China.com, http://opinion.china.com.cn/opinion_66_206866.html.

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