November 2022

The Mediterranean Region looks at China
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In November, most media outlets in the wider Mediterranean region focused on the three major diplomatic events scheduled for mid-December in Riyadh: the China-Arab States Summit, the China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit and Xi Jinping’s official state visit to Saudi Arabia. These meetings are expected to bring forth new developments at the regional and international level, especially since they are likely to impact Washington’s interests in the region.

Saudi observers shared enthusiastic expectations for the forthcoming summits. For example, Hani al-Qahtani stated that the summits reflect the depth of Sino-Saudi relations, Riyadh’s outstanding position in the global market, as well as its successful efforts to promote global stability. [1] Al-Qahtani also suggested that they are symptomatic of Washington’s declining international influence, which is being undermined by the repercussions of the war in Ukraine and by domestic instability. The Saudi newspaper Ray al-Yawm went as far as to state that the timing of their announcement, which coincided with Biden’s arrival to Sharm el-Sheik for COP27, was a clear message to the United States that the Kingdom “will not back down from heading East and deepening its strategic relations with China, the future superpower.” [2]

Despite these claims, there was concern over how the US will react to warming relations between China and Saudi Arabia and the GCC as a whole, as a statement by White House Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk warned US allies in the region that “deepening relations in certain areas with China would impede their cooperation with their main strategic ally and security partner in Washington.” [3] In response, Saudi writer Huda Raouf, while admitting that China’s interests in the region continue to grow, presented Riyadh’s foreign policy as impartial. [4] He argued the Saudi foreign policy of diversifying the country’s partnership is in response to US’ diminishing involvement in the region. Moreover, stronger relations with Beijing are just one objective, as Riyadh is also improving its ties with other Asian countries, such as India and Japan. Additionally, GCC countries will also undoubtedly continue to rely on Washington for their security concerns. Raouf also acknowledged that this international strategy may likely be hindered by China’s close ties with Iran and tense relations with the US.

Lebanese media also commented on the upcoming summits. Interestingly, Dr. Shaher al-Shaher, writing for media outlet al-Mayadeen, expects, and even hopes, that not only will these meetings bring about new developments in the trade relations between China and Arab countries, but that Beijing will also increase its involvement in regional security issues, which have been deeply impacted by decreasing US engagement. [5] Interestingly, he suggested China to be “the most acceptable partner for all parties” because of its ties with Tehran, as due to Iran’s influence and power, “any security arrangement cannot be imagined without its involvement.” Therefore, China should play a mediator role between Tehran and Riyadh because an improvement in Saudi-Iranian relations would serve both Beijing and the region’s interests and need for stability. It is important to point out that Lebanese public opinion and several exponents of the country’s provisional government have been calling for more meaningful cooperation with China as well. For example, the Minister of Culture stated that it is necessary to improve ties with China in sectors like transportation, infrastructure and health, and that whoever disagrees “operates against the interests of the people.” [6]

Conversely, Iranian commentators are far less enthusiastic about the upcoming summits in Saudi Arabia. On one hand, political figures close to the government, such as former Iranian Ambassador to Russia Seyed Mahmudreza Sajjadi, insisted on the importance of cooperation with China and Russia against the West’s efforts to isolate Iran. [7] On the other hand, there seems to be greater awareness of China’s growing economic engagement with Tehran’s neighbors in sectors in which stronger Chinese investment in Iran would be extremely useful to its economy, such as in the oil and gas sector and infrastructure for maritime logistics. For instance, the reformist Sharq reported on the 27-year agreement for the purchase of LNG between Qatar and China signed in late November. [8] According to the agreement, the LNG exported to China will be supplied from the development of the North Gonbad field, which Qatar shares with Iran, where it is known as South Pars. This could be extremely detrimental for Iran’s gas industry, compounding the problems created by the sanctions and the lack of sufficient capital and technology to sustain production there. Moreover, Jam-e Jam, a newspaper owned by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, lamented that the decision to hire Indian companies to develop the strategic port of Chabahar on the Indian Ocean, instead of Chinese ones, will prevent Iran from benefitting from the network of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). [9] The article brings up China’s significant investment in the Pakistani port of Gwadar as an example of what Iran risks missing out on. Similarly, according to the “Global Developments Monitoring Report” published by the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Türkiye is negotiating with China within the framework of the BRI to replace the West Asia route, that passes through Iran, with the Trans-Caspian route, that instead bypasses Iran for Türkiye, thereby giving Ankara the opportunity to become the transit hub between Asia and Europe. [10]

In fact, Ankara continues to push to strengthen its ties with Beijing within the BRI framework. For example, Türkiye Gazetesi reported the news of an investment plan to include the Çandarlı Port in İzmir in the BRI and build a new transit cargo-oriented container port on the Eastern Mediterranean. [11] However, it should be noted that the Uyghur issue continues to be a contentious topic in the Turkish media debate, as shown by the latest controversy involving the Police Chief of Istanbul’s Sarıyer District that told Uyghurs protesting in front of the Chinese consulate that “We will sweep you all away soon. We will detain you and deport you.” In response to the social media uproar, the Istanbul police later stated that the chief’s words were misunderstood and that the officers were ordered to be careful not to hurt anyone while dispersing the protestors in light of a ban on public demonstrations. [12]

For their part, North African countries continue to strengthen their economic ties with Beijing, as Morocco and China signed another memorandum of understanding to simplify trade procedures for both public and private actors. [13] More significantly, Algeria and China signed their “second five-year plan for comprehensive strategic cooperation” for the years 2022-2026, and, coincidentally, Algiers officially applied to join the BRICS. [14] The five-year plan builds on the comprehensive strategic partnership agreement signed in 2014 with the goal of facilitating economic relations between the two countries. According to economic expert Ahmad Sharifi, the plan also serves Algeria’s goal to diversify its trade partners and maintain balanced relations with the world’s major powers. However, Abderrahmane Toumi, a former member of the Algerian Parliament’s Economic Committee, interestingly stated that Algeria might give priority to its economic relations with China by virtue of the already successfully completed projects between the two countries and in order to ease its accession into the BRICS.

To conclude, we offer some insights into the Italian debate on China. Although Giorgia Meloni, the new right-wing Italian Prime Minister, was quite tepid during her meeting with Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit in Bali, most likely to avoid being isolated from the European Union, [15] her ministers continue to strongly oppose any cooperation with China, especially concerning investment in Italy’s high-tech sector. [16] In this context, we signal “Project Tango,” an investment project to turn the 3Sun Gigafactory in Sicily into the largest European factory for the production of high-performance bifacial photovoltaic modules. [17] According to its manager Eliano Russo, this project is aimed at increasing the productivity of Italian photovoltaic companies, thereby also diminishing dependence on Beijing, which at the moment dominates the industry and market.

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[1] Hani al-Qahtani, Qimam wa-himam قمم وهمم [Peaks and ambitions], Al-Yawm, November 5, 2022, link.

[2] Limadha aʿlanat al-saʿudiyya ʿan ziyarat al-raʾis al-sini li-l-Riyadh athnaʾ inʿiqad qimmat al-manakh bi-sharm al-shaykh? Wa-limadha tatazaminu al-ziyara maʿa inʿiqad al-qimmat al-khalijiyat al-sanawiya? Wa-kayfa sayaruddu Biden ʿala hadha al-tahaddi? Wa-ma hiya al-nasiha allathi nuwajjihuha li-l-dayf al-sini? لماذا أعلنت السعوديّة عن زيارةِ الرئيس الصيني للرياض أثناء انعِقاد قمّة المناخ بشرم الشيخ؟ ولماذا تتزامن الزّيارة مع انعِقاد القمّة الخليجيّة السنويّة؟ وكيف سيَرُدّ بايدن على هذا التحدّي؟ وما هي النّصيحة التي نُوَجّهها للضّيف الصيني؟ [Why did Saudi Arabia announce the visit of the Chinese president to Riyadh during the climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh? Why does it coincide with the annual Gulf Summit? Why will Biden respond to this challenge? What advice do we give to the Chinese guest?], al-Ray al-Yawm, November 13, 2022, link.

[3] Washington tahdhiru hulafaʾaha al-khalijiyin min taʾthir al-ʿalaqat maʿa al-sin ʿala al-taʿawun maʿaha واشینطن تحذر حلفاءها الخلیجیین من تأثر العلاقات مع الصین علی التعاون معها [Washington warns its Gulf allies of how their partnership with China will influence their cooperation with the US], al-Seyassah, November 21, 2022, link.

[4] Huda Raʾuf, Al-ʿalaqat al-siniya al-khalijiya: al-dawafiʿ wa-l-tahaddiyat العلاقات الصينية - الخليجية: الدوافع والتحديات [Sino-Gulf relations: motivations and challenges], Independent Arabia, November 11, 2022, link.

[5] Shaher al-Shaher, Hal min abʿad siyasiya li-ziyarat al-raʾis al-sini ila al-mintaqa? هل من أبعاد سياسية لزيارة الرئيس الصيني إلى المنطقة؟ [Are there political dimensions to the Chinese President’s visit to the region?], al-Mayadeen, November 20, 2022, link.

[6] Al-Murtada: al-Sin hiya sharikuna al-mustaqbali al-asasi المرتضى: الصين هي شريكنا المستقبلي الأساسي [Al-Murtada: China is our main future partner], al-Liwa, November 4, 2022, link.

[7] Seyed Mahmudreza Sajjadi, Ahmiyat-e ravabet-e rahbardi-e Iran, Cin va Rusiye ci-st? اهمیت روابط راهبردی ایران، چین و روسیه چیست ؟ [What is the importance of the strategic relations between Iran, China and Russia?], Iran, November 6, 2022, link.

[8] Cale-ye ghaz چاله گاز [Gas pit], Sharq, November 26, 2022, link.

[9] Payam ʿAbedi, Jam-e Jam az dur mandan-e dast-e Iran az mazaya-ye jade-ye abrisham gozaresh midehad: herbe-ye hendi dar Chabahar «جام جم» از دور ماندن دست ایران از مزایای جاده ابریشم گزارش می دهد: حربه هندی در چابهار, [Jam-e jam reports on Iran’s disconnection from the benefits of the BRI: the Indian tactic in Chabahar], Jam-e jam, November 24, 2022, link.

[10] Torkiye bara-ye peruzhe-ye kamarband-o-rah va jagozini-e masir-e Iran ba Cin mozakere mikonad: forsat-sazi dar jade-ye abrisham ترکیه برای پروژه کمربند و راه و جایگزینی مسیر ایران با چین مذاکره می کند: فرصت سوزی در جاده ابریشم [Turkiye is negotiating with China over the BRI and the substitution of Iran’s corridor: building opportunities in the Silk Road], Donya-ye eqtesad, November 10, 2022, link.

[11] İki yeni liman yolda! Lojistikte de üs hedefi, [Two new ports are on the way! Base target in logistics], Türkiye Gazetesi, December 8, 2022, link.

[12] Uygurlara “Zorla süpüreceğiz hepinizi” diyen polis, Sarıyer İlçe Emniyet Müdürü çıktı: Soylu: “Tahkikat başladı”, [The police, who said to the Uyghurs, "We will sweep you all by force", turned out to be Sarıyer District Police Chief: Soylu: "The investigation has begun"], Serbesiyet, December 30, 2022, link.

[13] Maroc-Chine : signature à Rabat d’un MoU pour la promotion du commerce, [Morocco-China : an MoU to promote trade was signed in Rabat], Hespress, November 30, 2022, link.

[14] ʿAbd al-Hakim Hadhaqa, Khattat khumasiya bayna al-Jazʾair wa-l-Sin… Madha sayajny al-baladan min al-taʿawun al-istratiji? خطة خماسية بين الجزائر والصين.. ماذا سيجني البلدان من التعاون الإستراتيجي؟ [A five-year plan between Algeria and China… What will the two countries gain from strategic cooperation?], al-Jazeera, November 15, 2022, link.

[15] Ilaria Lombardo, Meloni al G20 vede Biden e Xi per superare l’isolamento nell’UE [Meloni meets Biden and Xi at G20 to overcome isolation from EU], La Stampa, November 14, 2022, link.

[16] Gabriele Carrer, Via dalla Cina per tech e produzione. Le parole di Giorgetti e Urso [Away from China for tech and production. The words of Giorgetti and Urso], Formiche, November 16, 2022, link.

[17] Diana Cavalcoli, Fotovoltaico: dalla gigafactory in Sicilia al fine vita dei pannelli, l’Italia sogna la filiera anti-China, [Photovoltaic: from the Gigafactory in Sicily to panel disposal: Italy dreams of an anti-China supply chain], Il Corriere della Sera, November 30, 2022, link.

With the support of
Published with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation pursuant to art. 23-bis of Presidential Decree 18/1967. The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Published with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation pursuant to art. 23-bis of Presidential Decree 18/1967. The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
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