November 2017

The Mediterranean Region looks at China
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In November, media from the Mediterranean region focused on two main issues: the expanding economic ties between China and the region, and China's approach to the war in Syria and the reconstruction of that country.

Al-Mayadeen's Mahmoud Raya asked what China wants to achieve in Syria and in the region. Although the relations between China and Arab and non-Arab countries have become very strong, China's presence is described in an ambiguous way. In particular, the writer pointed out that it is not true that China is absent from the region's hotspots. While it has kept a low profile for many years, he argued, the effects of China's Middle Eastern strategy will soon be visible and significant. Another writer from the same Lebanese media outlet speculated that, after the painful experience of Libya in 2011, Beijing has decided to decisively support the Syrian government by participating in the country's reconstruction and, eventually, sending its own troops to fight terrorists affiliated with the East Turkestan Independence Movement. Such moves aim at strengthening China and Russia's position vis-à-vis the U.S. and its allies.

While Syria was at the center of the discussion on China's presence in the region, the articles we selected mentioned many other countries in describing the evolution of China's economic ties with the Mediterranean region.

While the U.S. President Donald Trump promised to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, the Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah led a delegation to China. During the visit, China and the Palestinian government signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the launch of feasibility studies for the China-Palestine Free Trade Agreement. According to the Palestinian newspaper Donia Al-Watan, Mr. Al-Hamdallah complained about the illegal Israeli occupation and the blockade of the Gaza Strip as major impediments to Palestine's economic development. At the same time, representatives of the Iraqi government approached the Chinese embassy in Baghdad in order to discuss the creation of industrial parks in Iraq. Reportedly, the discussion also touched upon the issue of Chinese workers in the country. While Iraq issued more than 1400 working permits to Chinese companies, the status of many of the Chinese citizens working in the country is not clear. According to the article, at least 50% of the employees of a foreign company working in Iraq must be local people and new working permits could be issued once the complete list of Chinese workers in Iraq will be provided to the government. In Egypt, the First Secretary of the Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation attended the "Egyptian-Chinese Relations" seminar. During the seminar she stated the Egyptian government's strong endorsement to strengthening its economic and political relations with China. Reportedly, cooperation on big infrastructure projects will remain the pillar of the Sino-Egyptian relationship.

The Jeune Afrique reported the efforts made by the Moroccan government to replicate the positive experience of cooperation with China to Egypt, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.

At the bilateral level Nasser Bourita, the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, met with the Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi to sign an agreement that will include Rabat in China's Belt and Road Initiative. Morocco is the first West African country to do so. Fathallah Oualalou declared that this agreement is the product of years of convergence between Morocco and China to expand markets in that part of Africa through triangular cooperation between China, Morocco, and Sub-Saharan countries. The Port of Tangier is the natural place where the efforts of the two governments will be focused. The Jeune Afrique also reported that Moroccan government officials would like to see Chinese companies, such as the China Railway Construction Corporation, engaging in the construction of a high-speed railway that would connect Marrakech to Agadir.

At the multilateral level, during the 2nd China-Africa Investment Forum held in Marrakesh at the end of November, the Moroccan Minister of Industry, Trade, and New Technologies Moulay Hafid Elalamy declared that Morocco should welcome the change of China's role within the global production chain, from producer-competitor to investor in other countries' manufacturing industries. However, the Minister also argued that he does not see significant differences between Chinese and Western investments because they rarely involve any transfer of technology that can be used to upgrade Morocco's economy. Othman Benjelloun, the President of BMCE Bank, called for an expansion of the cooperation between Morocco and China in the financial sector through an exchange of stakes between Chinese and Moroccan banks.

Algeria is another country that is pursuing closer relations with China. The Algerian Ambassador to Beijing told an Algerian media delegation that more than 1000 Chinese companies are already operating in the North African country and that more than 55000 work and business visas have already been issued to Chinese citizens. As the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Sino-Algerian relations comes closer, the Ambassador encouraged Algerian companies to join the 2018 China International Import Expo in Shanghai in order to expand the limited presence of Algerian businesses in China.

While these North African countries continue to woo Chinese investments and Companies, the Turkish newspaper Dunya reported that ZTE decided to invest in Netas, a leader in Turkey's ICT industry. Three development and assistance centers will be opened to serve customers in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım declared that cooperation with China in the ITC sector is necessary for Turkey to develop its own national champions and modernize its  economy.

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