November 2019

The Mediterranean Region looks at China
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November was a hot month for the debate on China in Italy. The trigger was the statement released by the Chinese embassy in Rome regarding the videoconference held on November 28, 2019 at the Italian Senate. [1] Although the Chinese embassy warned “some Italian politicians” against giving space to Joshua Wong, a number of politicians from different political parties were present at the videoconference. Reportedly, Andrea Sing-Ying Lee, Taipei Representative Office in Italy, attended the event as well. [2] This happened after Foreign Minister Di Maio, also the political leader of the Five Star Movement (FSM), refused to make comments on the situation in Hong Kong during his visit to China in early November. [3] While the close relations between his party and China were already known, the two visits of Beppe Grillo, the founder of the FSM, to the Chinese embassy on November 22-23, 2019 added fuel to the fire with Matteo Salvini, leader of the Northern League, seizing the opportunity to attack the rival party and make public opinion to focus on that issue rather than on his own diplomatic scandal with Russia. [4] Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the rightwing opposition party Brothers of Italy, also made very harsh comments on the event, claiming that China wants to silence Italy and censor its elected politicians. [5] Although Di Maio finally responded to the statement of the Chinese embassy, pointing out that the Chinese government cannot dictate what Italian institutions can or cannot do, it is clear that the end of the debate is far from over.

Similarly, it is unlikely that the discussion regarding how to balance economic engagement with China and the alliance with the United States will end any time soon despite some important recent development. On October 30, 2019, the Israeli government decided to set up a new mechanism to monitor foreign investments similar to the American Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. This decision comes after Omer Barlev, a Member of the Knesset with the Labor Party, promoted a bill to create this mechanism in 2018. According to Breaking Defense, there is already a consensus over the necessity to exclude Chinese companies from certain sectors of the economy. Senior officials from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Defense, and the National Security Council will form the core of this mechanism and will be supported by representatives of other ministries, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Sarit Moussayoff, a lawyer who represents several Chinese companies investing and operating in Israel, told to the newspaper Maariv that the government’s decision risks undermining the flow of capital to Israel from China as well as undermining the access of Chinese companies to the Chinese market. [6] According to her, Israel is bowing to American pressure and, now that a precedent is set, more stringent measures might be asked in the future. At the same time, others call for extending the oversight power of the new mechanism to include the decisions taken by local authorities in regard with public procurement and relations with their counterparts in China. [7]

Meanwhile, probably in order to avoid the same problems that it is meeting in Italy or Spain (where the newspaper El Pais published an interview with a Uyghur girl [8]), Chinese media are strengthening cooperation with their counterparts in other parts of the Mediterranean region. For example, a delegation from China’s National Radio and Television Administration visited Turkey. The Chinese were received by Fahrettin Altun, Director of Turkey’s Directorate of Communications. [9] During the meeting, he declared that “we think our common problem is that there is black propaganda against China and Turkey especially in the international arena. Our cooperation will also be crucial in tackling them.” He also hinted at the fact that Sino-Turkish cooperation in the media is dictated by the shared political goals of the Turkish and Chinese governments. Articles that are critical toward China are rare in Turkish media, the situation is clearly unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. A Chinese media delegation, sent by the Xinjiang provincial authorities, also visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait in November. The Saudi newspaper al-Watan reported that Chinese officials praised the Saudi efforts against religious radicalization and that China is also learning from them. [10]

Similar rhetoric, although even more intense, can be found in Syrian media. For example, the newspaper al-Watan published an article on the Middle East Security Forum that was held in late November in Beijing where the journalist argues that Syria plays an important role in the realization of a “community of common destiny,” a Chinese diplomatic buzzword, against American unilateralism and the creation of a common understanding of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). [11] According to him, there are numerous Uyghurs in Idlib province, an issue that brings China and Syria together in the fight against terrorism. Other Arab newspapers, such as Youm7 and Oman Daily, reported about the Forum, mostly quoting Chinese scholars and officials. [12]

The Syria’s courtship of China, however, is not only in the media. The state-owned newspaper Tishreen also reported that Hilal Hilal, the current Assistant Regional Secretary of the Syrian Regional Branch of the Ba'ath Party, met with Song Tao, the head of the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China, to discuss the ties between the two parties and cooperation between China and Syria. [13] He also visited the Central Party School and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong in Beijing. Somehow, similar attempts to “co-opt” China and make it seems as China provides a particularly strong diplomatic support can be found in Palestinian media. [14]

In comparison, the Iranian discourse on China is more sober. For example, Tasnim News Agency published an article calling for a cautious assessment of China’s BRI. [15] While not denying that Iran can benefit from it, the author invites Iran to participate in the BRI without ignoring the concerns that other countries have expressed, especially regarding debt and Chinese policies toward its Muslim minorities. The Lebanese tabloid al-Akhbar, too, published a balanced assessment of the BRI, described as part of China’s attempts to undermine the American hegemony. [16] Lebanon and Iran are clearly in different positions vis-à-vis China and the United States. Yet, the articles that we review this month are similar in terms of how they describe the evolution of the Sino-American relations and, thus, the potential impact on the Middle East.

[1] Il portavoce dell'Ambasciata Cinese in Italia chiarisce la posizione in merito alla videoconferenza di Joshua Wong con alcuni politici italiani [The spokesperson of the Chinese embassy in Italy clarifies its position pertaining to the videoconference of Joshua Wong with some Italian politicians], PRC Embassy in Italy, November 29, 2019,

[2] Francesco Bechis, Con la Cina niente pranzi gratis. Il monito di Joshua Wong a Di Maio [No free lunch with China: Joshua Wong’s warning to Di Maio], Formiche, November 28, 2019,

[3] Di Maio: non interferiamo su Hong Kong [Di Maio: We do not interfer over the issue of Hong Kong], ANSA, November 5, 2019,

[4] Cesare Zapperi, Salvini contro Di Maio e Grillo: «Disperati, hanno tradito il popolo dei 5 Stelle. La mia porta è aperta» [Salvini against Di Maio and Grillo: “They are desperate and have betrayed their voters. My door is open.], Corriere della Sera, November 19, 2019,

[5] La Cina vuole metterci il bavaglio. Furia Meloni: intollerabile, Di Maio intervenga [China wants to silence us. Meloni: this is unacceptable, Di Maio must intervene], Il Tempo, November 29, 2019,

[6] Anna Barsky, Beyicvot lachatz Americai: Hacabinet iser hakamat manganon picoaach al haskaot zarot בעקבות לחץ אמריקאי: הקבינט אישר הקמת מנגנון פיקוח על השקעות זרות [Under US pressure: Cabinet approves the establishment of a screening mechanism for overseas investment], Maariv, October 30, 2019,

[7] Hedi Segev, Hachashs: Chadira Sinit le-Isarel derecho rashouit mecomoiut החשש: חדירה סינית לישראל דרך רשויות מקומיות [Concerns: Chinese infiltration into Israel through local authorities], Israel Defense, November 14, 2019,

[8] Daniele Grasso, Un uigur en España: “No puedo hablar con mis familiares en Xinjiang por miedo a que les pase algo” [A Uyghur in Spain: “I can’t talk with my relatives in Xinjiang because I fear that something might happen to them”], El Pais, November 27, 2019,

[9] “İletişim Başkanı Altun, Çin Ulusal Radyo ve Televizyon İdaresi heyetini kabul etti” [Director of Communications Altun receives China’s National Radio and Television Administration delegation], Turkiye Gazatesi, November 6, 2019,

[10] Suliman al-Enzi, al-sin tastansekh tajrobat al-monasaha le mujahat al-tatarof الصين تستنسخ تجربة المناصحة السعودية لمواجهة التطرف [China is copying Saudi Arabia deradicalization programs to counter extremism], al-Watan, November 22, 2019,

[11] Fadi al-Esber, فادي الإسبر, Surya wa-l-Sin wa-l-amn fi-l-sharq al-awsat: hiwar hawla al-tahaddiyat wa bulurat ruʾa mushtarika li-l-hulul سورية والصين والأمن في الشرق الأوسط: حوار حول التحديات وبلورة رؤى مشتركة للحلول [Syria, China and security in the Middle East: “Dialogue on Challenges” and common views for solutions], al-Watan, 26 November 2019,

[12]  Emile Amin, al-sharq al-awsat ben al-sin wa America الشرق الأوسط بين الصين وأمريكا [The Middle East, between the United States and China], Oman Daily, November 22, 2019,; Al-syin tantaqid al-siyasat al-'amirkiat fyi al-sharq al-'awsat wa taSifuha bi-'annaha ‘anaanyi الصين تنتقد السياسة الأميركية في الشرق الأوسط وتصفها بأنها أناني [China criticizes the US politics in the Middle East and defines it as “selfish”], Youm7, November, 27, 2019,

[13] Al-Hilal yabhathu fi Bikin al-ʿalaqat maʿa al-hizb al-shuyuʿiyy al-siniyy wa subul taʿziziha  الهلال يبحث في بكين العلاقات مع الحزب الشيوعي الصيني وسبل تعزيزها [In Beijing, al-Hilal discusses relations with the Chinese Communist Party and ways to strengthen them], Tishreen, November 20, 2019,

[14] Mutahaddithun yuʾakkiduna ahammiyat dawr al-Sin fi taʿziz al-amn wa-l-salam fi-l-mintaqa متحدثون يؤكدون أهمية دور الصين في تعزيز الأمن والسلام في المنطقة [Lecturers stress the importance of China’s role in promoting security and peace in the region], Wafa, November 10, 2019,

[15] Gozaresh|  janbeha-ye negaran-konande-ye tarh-e “yek kamarband- yek jade”-ye Cin گزارش| جنبه‌های نگران کننده طرح «یک کمربند یک جاده» چین [Report| Concerning aspects of China’s “Belt and Road” plan], Tasnim News Agency, November 25, 2019,

[16] Ali Ibrahim Matar, Al-Sin fi-l-nizam al-dawli: al-tahaddy al-akthar waqiʿiyya الصين في النظام الدولي: التحدّي الأكثر واقعيّة [China in the international system: the most realistic challenge], al-Akhbar, November 19, 2019,

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