January 7, 2019

May 2019

The Mediterranean Region looks at China
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Uncertainty informed most of the articles published by Mediterranean media in May. Very few countries seem to have a clear answer to the Chinese puzzle. In general, we notice growing pressure on governments, for example the Greek and Israeli ones, that got t too close to China. Only the Qatari press explicitly celebrates the government’s ability to forge strong relations with Beijing.

Indeed, two years after Saudi Arabia and its allies decide to impose a diplomatic blockade on Qatar, the leading Qatari newspaper Al Sharq published an article arguing that the strengthening of the relations between Doha and Asian capitals, especially Beijing, has greatly undermined Saudi plans. [1] According to the article, Qatari leaders successfully used the acquisition of Chinese military hardware and Qatar’s natural gas to keep China close. Moreover, the journalist continues, Qatar has an important role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Therefore, it is natural that China did not take a side in the diplomatic dispute, a gesture that the author describes as form of “tremendous support.” Lebanon-based Al Mayadeen seems quite confident that China will provide similarly strong support to Iran, too. [2] China clearly did a good job in making its partners feel important since Morocco also, through the words of its Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita, seems sure about its position in China’s diplomatic radar. [3] After all, Chinese diplomats seem to be going a long way to flatter their counterparts. Ambassador Ni Jian, for example, reportedly told the Emirati newspaper Al Bayan that “China-UAE relations are considered the most fruitful among all middle eastern countries.” [4]

Yet, we see doubts emerging when we look at articles that ask what are the implications of being close to China. For example, from an economic point of view, the Moroccan newspaper Hespress asked what the impact of the American ban on the Chinese telecommunication company Huawei will be. [5] The fear expressed by the journalist is that Morocco might not be able to access to modern technologies at a competitive price. Meanwhile, doubts turn into concerns in Greek and Israeli media. Indeed, liberal.gr published an article in early May which questioned the statement made by the Prime Minister Tsipras in Beijing during the second Belt and Road Forum, that Greece should be a bridge between China and the West. [6] According to the author, the Academic Director of the Greek Energy Forum Michalis Mathioulakis, the Chinese government is not the kind of partner that a country like Greece needs as a democracy and as the country has increasingly been isolated by its traditional allies. The government, he argues, took the decision to get close to China too lightly, without considering that this is a decision that has long-term consequences. In less critical way, Giorgos Gogos, a member of Syriza and the general secretary of the Piraeus Port workers’ union, commented in a rather negative way on COSCO’s plan to expand the port as well the company’s management of the local employees through subcontractors, although he added that the government was intervening to solve those problems. [7] At the same time, in Israel, the newspaper Globes pulled no punches in two articles that review the involvement of Chinese companies in the country’s economy and the role of politicians, such as the Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz, in making this happen. [8] While the Globes’ Amiram Barak did not accuse China of infiltrating the Israeli political system, he highlighted how capable China was in finding supportive people within the government. However, although in April Israeli media reported that divisions within the government were likely to stall the attempts of those who want more controls on foreign capital, it seems that the defense establishment is starting to react, like in the case of the exclusion of Chinese companies bidding for the construction of a desalination plant nearby Palmachim Airbase. [9]

Given the importance of the economic partnership with China and the difficulties that other countries are facing in balancing relations with China and their American and European allies, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo published a long and well-balanced article calling for the government in Madrid to take a clear position. [10] Borràs Arumí Javier, the journalist, does not complain about whether Spain decided to be like Italy, Greece and Spain to get close to China, or to adopt the same approach of Germany and France, whose media are clearly bend on framing China’s presence in North Africa and the Middle East and political-diplomatic threat [to French influence?]. [11] He mostly points out that there is a lack of debate among both the general public and in policymaking circles, and that this prevent Spain from seizing any real opportunity that might come up. It will be interesting to follow if and how the debate will evolve in the future even though, as reported last month, it seems that the Spanish government is moving to strengthen controls on foreign capital in order to prevent the easy access of Chinese companies to Spain’s strategic infrastructure.

[1] Qatar Asia elaqat qawyeh afshalat mokhatat aazel aldoha قطر آسيا..علاقات قوية أفشلت مخطط عزل الدوحة. [Qatar and Asia… Strong Relations Bankrupt Qatar Isolation Scheme], Al Sharq, 28 May 2019, https://www.al-sharq.com/article/28/05/2019/%D9%82%D8%B7%D8%B1-%D8%A2%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%B9%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%82%D9%88%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A3%D9%81%D8%B4%D9%84%D8%AA-%D9%85%D8%AE%D8%B7%D8%B7-%D8%B9%D8%B2%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D8%AD%D8%A9.

[2] Muhammad Abdualrahman arif, محمد عبد الرحمن عريف , Hal tadaam alimkaniaat alsiniya iran fi muvajihat altahdidat alamerikiya?, هل تدعم "الإمكانيات الصينية" إيران في مواجهة "التهديدات الأميركية"؟, [Does "China's capabilities" support Iran in the face of "American threats"?], Al Mayadeen, 21 May 2019, http://www.almayadeen.net/articles/opinion/953998/%D9%87%D9%84-%D8%AA%D8%AF%D8%B9%D9%85--%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%85%D9%83%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D9%8A%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9--%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D9%85%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AC%D9%87%D8%A9--%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D9%85.

[3] Al-Siyn tu’tabir al-maghrib fa’ilaan muhima fi tanfiydh mashru’iha al-'iistratijiy "al-hizam wa al-Tariyq" الصين تعتبر المغرب فاعلا مهما في تنفيذ مشروعها الاستراتيجي “الحزام والطريق” [China considers Morocco an important player in the implementation of its strategic project "Belt and Road"], Barlamane, 26th April 2019, https://www.barlamane.com/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%AA%D8%A8%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%BA%D8%B1%D8%A8-%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B9%D9%84%D8%A7-%D9%85%D9%87%D9%85%D8%A7-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AA%D9%86%D9%81%D9%8A%D8%B0/.

[4] Ahmed Saeed, Alemarat wa alseen…sharakah strategiyah shamilah الإمارات والصين...شراكة استراتيجية شاملة [The Emirates and China…A Comprehensive Strategic Partnership], Al Bayan, 16 May 2019, https://www.albayan.ae/supplements/ramadan/my-home/2019-05-16-1.3561040.

[5] Abdel Salam Al Shamikh, Gararat tramb wa'azma sharka "hwawey" al-Siyniya tuthiyr qalq wa hadhr al-maghariba قرارات ترامب وأزمة شركة "هواوي" الصّينية تثيرُ قلق وحذر المغاربة‬ [Trump's decisions and the crisis of the Chinese company "Huawei" are of concern to Moroccans‬], Hespress, 22 May 2019, https://www.hespress.com/economie/432929.html.

[6] Mihalis Mathiulakis, Ine I Ellada gefira I sinoro metaxi Kinas ke EE? Είναι η Ελλάδα γέφυρα ή σύνορο μεταξύ Κίνας και ΕΕ [Is Greece a bridge or a border between China and the EU?], liberal.gr, 8 May 2019, https://www.liberal.gr/diplomacy/einai-i-ellada-gefura-i-sunoro-metaxu-kinas-kai-ee/250815.

[7] Giorgos Gogos, Apotimisi tis parusias tis COSCO ston Pirea Αποτίμηση της παρουσίας της COSCO στον Πειραιά [An evaluation of the presence of COSCO in Piraeus], Epohi, 6 May 2019, http://epohi.gr/apotimhsh-ths-parousias-ths-cosco-ston-peiraia/.

[8] Dubi ben-Gedaliyahu, Harchek mitzumat halve shel hazibur: Cach mekademet el azma Israel leproyect sheyagbir et hahaspaa ha-sinit baezur הרחק מתשומת הלב של הציבור: כך מקדמת את עצמה ישראל לפרויקט שיגביר את ההשפעה הסינית באזור [Far from public attention: Israel is promoting itself to a project that will increase Chinese influence in the region], Globes, 10 May 2019, https://www.globes.co.il/serve/globes/printwindow.asp?did=1001285035; Amiram Barak, Lu rak sin ve-arhab: kach hulecet Israel venishevet le-tuch milchemt hasacher לא רק סין וארה"ב: כך הולכת ישראל ונשאבת לתוך מלחמת הסחר [Not only China and the US: Israel is thus drawn into the war of trade], Globes, 26 May 2019, https://www.globes.co.il/news/article.aspx?did=1001286962.

[9] Amos Harel, Maarechet habitachon titnaged laatzaa lehcamat  mitkan hatpalaa, beshel hakirva leatar bitchuni מערכת הביטחון תתנגד להצעה סינית להקמת מתקן התפלה, בשל הקרבה לאתר ביטחוני [The defense establishment will oppose a Chinese proposal to build a desalination plant because of its proximity to a security site], Haaretz, 24 May 2019, https://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politics/.premium-1.7280654.

[10] Borràs Arumí Javier, China, España y las europeas [China, Spain and the European], El Mundo, 24 May 2019, https://www.elmundo.es/opinion/2019/05/24/5ce6d8c421efa0516d8b45be.html.  

[11] Sebastien Le Belzic, Chine-Afrique : “Les nouvelles routes de la soie seront aussi militaires” [The New silk roads will be military as well],  Le Monde, 8 May 2019, https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2019/05/08/chine-afrique-les-nouvelles-routes-de-la-soie-seront-aussi-militaires_5459742_3212.html?xtmc=chine&xtcr=66.

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