January 7, 2019

November 2018

China looks at the Mediterranean Region
Download PDF

November heralded a suite of far ranging issues gracing the pages of Chinese media; from the reinstatement of American sanctions against Iran, to Sino-Qatari economic cooperation, to new projects for Chinese companies in the Balkans. Additionally, the Ministry of Commence, the National Bureau of Statistics, and the State Administration of Foreign Exchange have jointly released the “2017 Statistical Bulletin of China’s Outward Foreign Direct Investment” which outlines new data of interest concerning the value of Chinese assets around the world. The bulletin notes that while the value of Chinese assets in Southern Europe and the Balkan peninsula grew by 22%, the increase in North Africa and the Middle East was only 6% and 8% respectively. Though small in value in absolute terms, it is worth noting the increase in Croatia and Montenegro from USD 12 to 39 million and from 4,4 to 39.5 million respectively. The Chinese company NORINCO is also now investing EUR 160 million for the construction of a 156 megawatt wind farm in Croatia. Moreover, Chinese assets in Greece quadrupled their value from USD 40 to 182 million. In contrast, the most significant decrease in investment occurred in Algeria (dropping USD 2.5 to 1.8 billion) and Saudi Arabia (dropping 2,6 to 2 billion).

Concerning the future of Iran, Chinese commentators are pessimistic. Tian Wenlin, an associate researcher at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, has positively argued that that Iran, in recent times and ancient history alike, has already proven its resilience in the face of extreme external challenges.[1] However, Shanghai International Studies University’s Han Jianwei in her interview with The Observer about the future of this Middle Eastern country was far more compelling. According to Han, though the risks of large-scale protests are low, as the economic situation continues to slow and Iran faces growing external pressure the return to power of more conservative politicians is extremely probable. Signs Iran’s decline are already visible, continues Han, with declining support to its proxies in Yemen and its marginalization in negotiations over the Syrian civil war. Han concluded that it is possible a hardline government may attempt to invert this trend but whether the country has the resources to do so is far from assured. Against this background, an editorial published by the Global Times offers a clear explanation of China’s position.[2] According to the writer, China demonstrated to the United States its intention to continue economic cooperation with Iran. Hence “Beijing is not thankful to Washington” for being granted a waiver to import up to 350.000 barrels per day from Iran until June 2019. Given the fact that Iranian oil makes for about 7% of China’s total crude imports, it would be nigh impossible to find alternative suppliers of the same type of crude oil that Chinese refineries are equipped to process. The commentator concurrently noted, however, that even though Iran is not in fact a core issue for either side, current Sino-American relations are tense. China has no need to give the United States leigh way in increasing economic pressure in the name of protecting Iran. As long as China’s interests are not damaged in a serious way, the commentator seems to suggest that it is willing to compromise on this issue to improve the other areas of relations with the United States. Lin Boqiang Director of Xiamen University’s Energy Policy Research Center, also suggested this careful adjusting to the geopolitical trends, especially in the Middle East, to ensure energy security while also staying removed of dangerous quagmires.[3]

In other affairs, Sohu.com reported on an exchange of visits between representatives of the Qatar Financial Center Authority, the Madaeen Al Doha Group, and China Minsheng Investment. Minsheng’s delegation visited the Qatar Investment Authority, the Qatar Development Bank, Barzan Holdings, and Qatar Free Zones Authority. Chairman Wang Dongzhi has proposed to his Qatari interlocutors the use of Minsheng as a partner and platform for their investments in China and Asia more broadly.[4] Wang’s proposal was well received, with the two parties signing a Memorandum of Understanding during the visit. Concurrently, the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs also invited the Chinese ambassador Li Chen to present plans for China’s Belt and Road Initiative to officials from a number of ministries and administrations.[5] Without being sure of the ramifications yet, it is difficult at present to interpret the recent development of Qatar pulling out of OPEC. A recent analysis of the Chinese approach to the problems between Qatar and so-called Anti-Terror Quartet (Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain) indicates that China is, at present, not concerned. It is possible that a steep decrease of the value of Chinese assets in Saudi Arabia between 2016 and 2017 hint at what Beijing’s preferences could be. This speculation should, however, be taken in light of Xi Jinping’s recent words of support to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the G20 meeting in Argentina.

In further news regarding major players in the region, the Global Times published an article commenting an October visit to Israel by Vice President Wang Qishan’s.[6] Unsurprisingly, the trip centered around technological and economic cooperation between China and Israel, with the reporting journalist keen to stress how good a fit the two nations are with regards to these fields. This notion was emphasized further in an interview with XIN Center (中以交叉创新中心) scholar, Jiang Yi. Founded in 2014, the XIN Center is itself a product of this cooperation, with the founding partners being Tsinghua University and Tel Aviv University.[7] In the midst of these positive cooperative effort, it should be noted that the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations has been agitating for renewing talks on the two-state solution.[8] Another top China expert on Middle Eastern affairs experts, Li Weijian, has warned against forgetting the issue of this ongoing issue for Israel and Palestine.[9] Li cautions that the emergence of parallel conflicts such as civil war in Syria and unrest in Yemen, have captured international attention and coverage of the Middle East once again. Moreover, he argues, many UN countries still champion the two-state solution so it is unlikely there will be any concrete initiative from China as the instigator of the issue at large.

[1] Tian Wenlin, Tiánwénlín: Yīlǎng duìwài háng wèi bèihòu, yǒu hé shēncéng luójí 田文林:伊朗对外行为背后,有何深层逻辑 [Tian Wenlin: There is a deeper logic in Iran’s external behavior], Global Times, 12 November 2018, http://opinion.huanqiu.com/hqpl/2018-11/13519609.html.

[2] Shèpíng: Zhōngguó jìn měi zhìcái huòmiǎn míngdān, yǒu hé xuánjī 社评:中国进美制裁豁免名单,有何玄机 [Comment: China enters the list of countries exempted from American sanctions, why?], Global Times, 5 November 2018, http://opinion.huanqiu.com/editorial/2018-11/13461512.html.

[3] Lin Boqiang, Lín bóqiáng: Yóujià xiàdié bèihòu dì dìyuán zhèngzhì bóyì 林伯强:油价下跌背后的地缘政治博弈 [Lin Boqiang: Geopolitical competition against the background of decreasing oil prices], Global Times, 29 November 2018, http://opinion.huanqiu.com/hqpl/2018-11/13667308.html.

[4] Zhōng mín tóu nǐ yǐnrù kǎtǎ'ěr zhǔquán jījīn lái huá tóuzī 中民投拟引入卡塔尔主权基金来华投资 [China Minsheng Investment attracts the Qatari sovereign wealth fund to come to China], Sohu.com, 23 November 2018, http://business.sohu.com/20181123/n556211928.shtml.

[5] Zhù kǎtǎ'ěr dàshǐ lǐ chēn xiàng kǎ zhèngfǔ bùmén xuān jiè “yīdài yīlù” 驻卡塔尔大使李琛向卡政府部门宣介“一带一路” [Ambassador Li Chen presents the Belt and Road Initiative to ministries and departments of the Qatari goverment], PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 22 November 2018, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/zwbd_673032/wshd_673034/t1615440.shtml.

[6] Bai Yunyi 白云怡, Zhōng yǐ zhī jiān yǒu tiānrán de hézuò guānxì liǎng guó zài kējì chuàngxīn fāngmiàn hùlì hùbǔ  中以之间有天然的合作关系 两国在科技创新方面互利互补 [Natural cooperation between China and Israel, the two countries complement each other in the area of technological innovation], Global Times, 24 November 2018, http://world.huanqiu.com/exclusive/2018-11/13625762.html.

[7] Ni Hao, Zhuānjiā jiěmì yǐsèliè kējì qiángguó “mìmǎ” 专家解密以色列科技强国“密码” [Expert reveals the “secret” behind Israel technological superpower], Global Times, 26 November 2018, http://world.huanqiu.com/exclusive/2018-11/13645241.html.

[8] Zhōngguó dàibiǎo hūyù guójì shèhuì tuīdòng bā yǐ chóngqǐ hétán 中国代表呼吁国际社会推动巴以重启和谈 [Chinese representative calls for restarting the peace talks between Palestinians and Israeli], Xinhua, 20 November 2018, http://www.xinhuanet.com/world/2018-11/20/c_129998142.htm.

[9] Li Weijian, Lǐ wěijiàn: Bā yǐ kuài bèi rén wàngle, bèihòu shì shēnkè shànbiàn 李伟建:巴以快被人忘了,背后是深刻嬗变 [Li Weijian: The problem between Israeli and Palestinians has been forgotten quickly as the situation changed], Global Times, 23 November 2018, http://opinion.huanqiu.com/hqpl/2018-11/13616592.html.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.
With the support of
Privacy Policy
Cookie Policy