November 2019

China looks at the Mediterranean Region
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President Xi Jinping’s visit to Greece garnered a lot of attention in Chinese media, with several commentaries published in the second half of November. The implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), President Xi’s flagship diplomatic initiative, was put at the center of the dialogue between the two countries as the base for future cooperation. Unsurprisingly, the Port of Piraeus has been singled out by all commentators as the symbol of the Sino-Greek relationship, especially due to COSCO’s plan for further investment being approved by Greek authorities. Su Xiaohui, Deputy Director of the Department of International and Strategic Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, wrote that China and Greece are “good friends” (the two countries want to deepen mutual political trust), “true friends” (Greek is playing a very important role in supporting China’s BRI), “close friends” (cultural and people-to-people exchanges are strong), and “new friends” (Greece recently joined the 17+1 dialogue). [1] Kong Tianping, a senior scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), pointed out that Greece’s help evacuating Chinese nationals from Libya in 2011 played an important role in building a positive image of Greece in the mind of Chinese policymakers. [2] Other Chinese senior scholars, such as Renmin University’s Wang Yiwei, praised the status of the Sino-Greek relations. [3] It is important to notice that Greece is described more as new pillar for China’s Eastern Europe diplomacy, rather than that of Western Europe.

Meanwhile, Chinese observers continue to write about the great changes happening in the southern and eastern parts of the Mediterranean region. Xu Guoqing, a Researcher at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies of CASS, pointed out that countries like India, Japan, and Pakistan are becoming increasingly active players in the region, thereby accelerating the transformation of the regional political landscape. [4] Surely, the protests in Iraq and Iran are two of the most recent manifestations of such a change. Yan Wei, a Professor at the Northwest University’s Middle Eastern Studies, wrote an analysis of the situation in Iraq for Xinhua’s Globe magazine. [5] Yan’s analysis revolves around three main themes. First, Iraqi people have long be dissatisfied with the lack of improvement of their quality of life. This, Yan writes, is not a new element in the Iraqi political landscape and is a testament of the failure of American attempts to remold the Iraqi political system. Second, he highlights how, however, this time the protests are taking place in Shia-majority areas and are directed against the Shia-controlled central government. Third, the protests in Iraq and in Lebanon are similar in that they are also a reaction against growing Iranian influence in the life of those countries. Yet, Yan does not write about whether he sees Iran’s influence as a negative or positive factor. Somehow similarly, the articles on the protests in Iran, too, do not comment on the goals of the Iranian government. Chinese commentators do not question Iran’s actions, at least not in an explicit and clear way. Usually, the origin of the problems in Iran, and the region in general, is attributed to American sanctions. [6] For example, Zhou Rong, a scholar at Renmin University, preferred focusing on how the Iranian government was able to quickly stop the protests by quickly mobilizing the security forces and shutting down the Internet. [7] 

Against this background, Chinese scholars argue that more efforts and coordination between regional and extra-regional actors are needed to bring stability. Europe, they point out, is not strong enough to do that alone, especially due to the new wave of populism in many European countries and the lack of intra-European Union coordination significantly making governments far less willing to pool together resources and political capital to achieve such a goal. [8] That being said, other articles written by Chinese experts do not offer any substantial hint about what China can do beyond offering its “Chinese wisdom” (中国智慧) and signing memoranda of understanding. [9]

[1] Su Xiaohui, Zhōng xī jiāoliú shì “jiǔ féng zhījǐ qiān bēi shǎo” 中希交流是“酒逢知己千杯少” [The Sino-Greek dialogue is like the meeting of very close friends], People’s Daily, November 12, 2019, http://opinion.people.com.cn/n1/2019/1112/c1003-31449279.html.

[2] Zhōng xī hézuò wéi bùtóng wénmíng jiān hù jiàn tígōngle xīn de qìjī 中希合作为不同文明间互鉴提供了新的契机 [China-Greek cooperation provides new opportunities for mutual learning between different civilizations], China.com, November 13, 2019, http://fangtan.china.com.cn/2019-11/13/content_75404980.htm.

[3] Wang Yiwei, Zhōng xī hézuò wéi hé pín tí “yīdài yīlù” 中希合作为何频提“一带一路” [Why is the Belt and Road Initiative often mention in the context of the Sino-Greek cooperation?], People’s Daily, November 13, 2019, http://opinion.people.com.cn/n1/2019/1113/c1003-31451545.html.

[4] Xu Guoqing, Zhōngdōng zhèngzhì dà xǐ pái 中东政治大洗牌 [The political reshuffle of the Middle East], Globe, November 6, 2019, http://www.xinhuanet.com//globe/2019-11/06/c_138509623.htm.

[5] Yan Wei, Yīlākè: Dòngdàng yǔ sōngdòng 伊拉克:动荡与松动 [Iraq: Instability and flexibility], Globe, November 21, 2019, http://www.xinhuanet.com//globe/2019-11/21/c_138549094.htm.

[6] Shen Danling, Yīlǎng néng fǒu kàng zhù shíyóu màoyì zhìcái? 伊朗能否抗住石油贸易制裁? [Can Iran resist the sanctions on oil trade?], People’s Daily, November 23, 2019, http://paper.people.com.cn/rmrbhwb/html/2019-11/23/content_1957474.htm; Ding Long, Měiguó zài zhōngdōng jìnyībù “rén shè tāntā” 美国在中东进一步“人设坍塌” [The United States further weakens in the Middle East], Global Times, November 20, 2019, https://opinion.huanqiu.com/article/9CaKrnKnSW1.

[7] Zhou Rong, Yīlǎng wèihé néng kuàisù zhǐ bào zhì luàn 伊朗为何能快速止暴制乱 [Why could Iran stop the protests quickly?], Ta Kung Pao, November 28, 2019, http://www.takungpao.com/opinion/233117/2019/1128/382019.html.

[8] Lin Zihan, Quánqiú nànmín wèntí héyǐ wéi jiě? 全球难民问题何以为解? [How to solve the global migration crisis?], People’s Daily, November 9, 2019, http://paper.people.com.cn/rmrbhwb/html/2019-11/09/content_1954983.htm.

[9] Gong Ting, Jiāqiáng zhànlüè duìjiē zhùlì zhōngdōng fāzhǎn 加强战略对接 助力中东发展 [Strengthening strategic linking and boost development in the Middle East], Guangming Daily, November 21, 2019, http://epaper.gmw.cn/gmrb/html/2019-11/21/nw.D110000gmrb_20191121_2-12.htm; Li Zixin, Wèi shíxiàn zhōngdōng chíjiǔ hépíng gòngxiàn zhōngguó zhìhuì 为实现中东持久和平贡献中国智慧 [Offering Chinese wisdom to the promotion of long-lasting peace in the Middle East], Global Times, November 18, 2019, https://opinion.huanqiu.com/article/9CaKrnKnQsM.

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