November 2017

China looks at the Mediterranean Region
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After the initial comments about the Annual Report on Development in the Middle East (2016-2017) published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Chinese media in November continued to comment on the findings of the report. Against this background, great attention was paid to the changes happening in the areas of Saudi domestic and foreign policy, and to the role of the US in the Middle East. Finally, COSCO and TEDA Investment Corporation signed an agreement with local authorities to build a logistic park in Egypt.

The China Economic Herald drew from a report prepared by the researchers of CASS to summarize the situation in the Middle East  using three words: chaotic, out of control, and unbalanced. Russia and other countries are filling the gap left by the US’s retreat from the region. At the same time, regional powers are looking to diversify their economy and diplomacy by strengthening their relations with other countries beyond the West. CASS researchers also pointed out that Trump, despite his statements about the importance of the region and his attacks against Obama's Middle East policy, is not truly interested in the Middle East. The region will remain extremely unstable despite the economic growth that Chinese scholars forecast for 2018.

It is in this context that two researchers from North West University's Institute of Middle Eastern Studies wrote a piece on the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Essentially, they argued that since 2014 Saudi Arabia has been "unstable inside and, as a consequence, aggressive outside" both in economic and political terms. The ascent to power of the Crown Prince, with its unprecedented effort against corruption to regain popular favor and attempts to reform the Saudi economy and society, has been the main  catalyst of change in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia faced serious social and economic problems, and only a strong leader, the two researchers wrote, can solve them. However, the Crown Prince will have to carefully time his actions, or the pains caused by his policies might be unbearable. Ding Long, the Deputy Dean of the University of International Business and Economics' School of Foreign Languages, wrote similar comments for the Global Times about the challenges that the Saudi kingdom is facing. For example, the fact that eleven princes were taken into custody shortly after missiles fired from Yemen hit an airport nearby Riyadh should be seen as an attempt to divert the people's attention from the fact that the war in Yemen is not going well for Saudi Arabia. While, as he admitted, it is impossible to say that this is the real explanation, the situation in Saudi Arabia is growing more serious every day.

Saudi foreign policy was also the focus of an article published by the Guangzhou Daily containing the interviews with Shanghai International Studies University's Liu Zhongmin and CASS Institute of West-Asian and African Studies' Wang Jiang. According to them, the power struggle going on within Saudi Arabia should be seen as the main, or at least a key issue, behind the resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, the worsening relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the warming up of the ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Saudi leadership is simply trying to eliminate external threats like Hezbollah's alleged arrival in Yemen and Iran's growing influence. Yet, according to two scholars, it remains unlikely that the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran will escalate into a full-fledged conflict.

At the same time, Shanghai International Studies University's Tang Jianduan wrote that the defeat of the so-called Islamic State will not bring stability to the region and especially in Syria. According to Tang, the US is not going to leave Syria and will keep supporting the opposition groups. Although the original plan of toppling Assad has failed, he argued that the US can still inflict serious damages to Russia by forcing it to spend its energies in Syria trying to pacify the country.

As  for China's approach to the region, China Finance 40 Forum's Zhang Antian wrote about the importance of industrial parks in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework when it comes to countries that are either economically fragile or are in a difficult geopolitical situation. Drawing on data from the Center for Global Development, Tian expressed his concerns  about the fact that Djibouti's foreign debt is 85% of its GDP and China owns 75,4% of it. If Djibouti decided to carry out the projects connected to the BRI (total value USD 1,3 billion), its debt would grow to 91,2% of its GDP. Investments in industrial and logistic parks are, according to him, the best way to produce economic growth for both the local governments and the Chinese companies, thereby ensuring the financial sustainability of the BRI. It is in this context that COSCO and TEDA Investment Corporation signed a MoU for the establishment of a bonded international logistic park in Egypt, whose construction will begin at the end of 2018.

  • Cha Xi, Yinmou? Baochou? Ouran shijian? Zhuanjia jiedu 24 xiaoshi nei fasheng le shenme 阴谋?报复?偶然事件?专家解读沙特24小时内发生了什么 [Conspiracy? Revenge? Or just a coincidence? Expert explains what happened in 24 hours in Saudi Arabia], Global Times, 6 November 2017,
  • Tang Jianduan, Hou "IS shidai" mei e boyi jinru xin shidai 后"IS时代"美俄博弈进入新阶段 [The rivalry between Russia and the US enters in a new phase in the post-IS era], Wen Wei Po, 26 November 2017,
  • Wang Zi and Wang Meng 王猛, Shate wangchu leiting fanfu 沙特王储雷霆反腐 [The Saudi Crown Prince's anticorruption thunder], The Globe, 24 November 2017,
  • Wen Junhua, Shate yilang yingpeng zhongdong jushi jinzhang 沙特伊朗硬碰 中东局势紧张 [Saudi Arabia and Iran clashes hard, the situation in the Middle East grows tense], Guangzhou Daily, 24 November 2017,
  • Zhang Antian, Zhang antian: zai "yi dai yi lu" yanxian gao fuzhai diqu ruhe anquan touzi?  张岸天:在"一带一路"沿线高负债地区如何安全投资? [Zhan Antian: How to invest safely in high-debt regions of the BRI?],, 23 November 2017,
  • Zhang Shouying, Bawo zhongdong de san guanjianci: shixu, shiheng, shikong 把握中东的三大关键词:失序、失衡、失控 [Understanding the three keywords of the Middle East: disorder, unbalance, loss of control], China Economic Herald, 4 November 2017,
  • Zheng Kailun, Zhongyuanhaiyun jiang zai aiji jian guoji baoshui wuliu yuanqu 中远海运将在埃及建国际保税物流园区 [COSCO will build an international bonded logistic park in Egypt], Xinhua, 8 November 2017,

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