October 2021

China looks at the Mediterranean Region
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With the worsening of the conflict in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia between government forces and the Tigray Defense Forces, and the coup in Sudan led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, it is not surprising to see Chinese commentators pay attention to these events. Additionally, Chinese media also published articles and commentaries on the situation in Libya, Iran, and, in another part of the wider Mediterranean region, the EU-Western Balkans summit of early October.

On October 25, 2021, the Sudanese military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, took control of the government in a military coup. At least five senior government figures were initially detained. The coup was met with still-ongoing resistance from both the population and government institutions. The same day of the coup, the spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin, simply stated that China was following the events, and called on the Sudanese military and the civilians to find a peaceful solution to the crisis while ensuring the safety of Chinese assets and citizens in the country. A few days later, the Special Envoy of the Chinese Government on the Middle East, Ambassador Zhai Jun, held a phone call with Responsible Official of Sudanese Foreign Affairs, Ali Elsadig Ali, but he did not offer new information regarding China’s position. Against this background, the commentaries published in October provide a rather detailed overview of the events but not real clues about what China’s next move could be.[1] In general, there is no hope for a quick end to this crisis as the signs that something like this was going to happen were already visible. Moreover, Chinese experts seem to have no doubt about the fact that this is unlikely to be the last violent event to disrupt Sudan’s stabilization. American and European threats to suspend economic aid to Sudan, Chinese experts believe, will have a terrible effect on the country but will not change situation in a significant way.

As to Ethiopia, Zhou Yuyuan, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, told to The Paper that the crisis will not end even in the case of a military victory of the government’s forces.[2] This is similar to the comments on Sudan but it is important to notice that China has a much stronger position over American actions toward Ethiopia. While China, or at least Chinese commentators are neutral about the suspension of Western aid to Sudan, the Chinese government has criticized the American one for imposing sanctions on Ethiopia.

The United States is the target of a strongly worded article about Libya penned by Tang Jianduan, a researcher at Shanghai International Studies University (SISU).[3] In it, Tang accuses the United States of having orchestrated the death of Muhammar Gaddafi, who was killed in late October 2020 by the forces of the National Transitional Council of Libya, because he was among the few African leaders truly to oppose the West and seek for real African independence.

In comparison, it is possible to notice a rather positive attitude toward the contacts between Europe and Iran over the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in Vienna and/or possible Brussels. Niu Song, a researcher at SISU, commented the meeting between the European Union’s (EU) foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and Iran's new Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, in late September as a way for Iran to put pressure on the Biden Administration, and, at the same time, try to develop “insurance” against American hostile actions.[4] Hence, Niu hopes that the Europeans could continue to provide a “platform” and work as “glue” between the Iranians and the Americans. That said, other Chinese scholars remain pessimistic about any substantial progress.[5]This is because they see that both sides want to find a solution but domestic obstacles make it impossible for the policymakers in both countries to make any compromise.

The comments on Europe, however, turn more negative when it comes to another part of the wider Mediterranean region: the Western Balkans. Zhao Jiazheng, a journalist with the Guangming Daily, wrote that the EU’s call to ensure the environmental sustainability of a possible investment by the multinational Rio Tinto to build a large lithium mine in Serbia is insincere.[6] Besides waiting for Serbia to recognize Kosovo’s independence, Zhao argues that the EU is sending a warning to the other countries in the region against close relations with China. According to the journalist, Serbia should “follow its own development dream” and both should continue the cooperation with China, and approve the construction of the new mine. While making no reference to China, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Xu Gang, wrote that the EU continues to fail the Western Balkan countries.[7] Looking at the recent Brdo Declaration, Xu highlights the fact that there is still no accession timetable probably because of the pressure some the members of the Visegrád Group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia). Looking at the future, he doubts there will be any progress as the interests of the EU and of the countries in the Western Balkans continue to diverge, and frustration continues to rise.

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[1] Wang Zhuoyi, Sūdān zhèngbiàn yǐnfā mínzhòng kàngyì, zhuānjiā: Wèilái júshì jiāng shòu nèiwài shuāng chóng yīnsù yǐngxiǎng 苏丹政变引发民众抗议,专家:未来局势将受内外双重因素影响 [The coup prompt popular protests – The export: The evolution of the situation depends on domestic and international factors], The Paper, October 26, 2021, link; Zheng Aotian, Sūdān zhèngbiàn, wénwǔ zhī zhēng háishì měiguó chāshǒu? 苏丹政变,文武之争还是美国插手? [Sudan’s coup: conflict between civilians and the military? Or American intervention?], Global People, October 27, 2021, link; Liu Yichen, Sūdān zhèngbiàn, jiùshú guójiā háishì jiājù zāinàn? 苏丹政变,救赎国家还是加剧灾难 ? [The Sudanese coup: saving the country or worsening the disaster?], China Youth Daily, October 28, 2021, link.

[2] Wang Zhouyi, Āisāi guófángjūn xiàng tígéléi fādòng dìmiàn jìngōng, shìtú jiéshù chíxù jìn yī nián de chōngtú 埃塞国防军向提格雷发动地面进攻,试图结束持续近一年的冲突 [The Ethiopian military launched an attack against the Tigray trying to bring the year-long confrontation to an end], The Paper, October 12, 2021, link.

[3] Tang Jianduan, Kǎ zhā fēi bèi shā shí zhōunián… [The tenth anniversary of the killing of Gaddafi...], Shanghai Observer, October 21,2021, link.

[4] Niu Song, Yīlǎng zài yī hé wèntí shàng jiāqiáng yǔ ōuméng “kǔnbǎng” 伊朗在伊核问题上加强与欧盟“捆绑” [Iran strengthens the “bundling” with the European Union over the nuclear deal], Workers’ Daily, October 22, 2021, link.

[5] Gao Wencheng and Wang Shoubao, Yīhé tánpàn: Chóngqǐ zàijí qiánjǐng bùmíng 伊核谈判:重启在即 前景不明 [The nuclear talks: will restart soon but the outcome is unknown], Xinhua, October 28, 2021, link.

[6] Zhao Jiazheng, Xī bā'ěrgàn guójiā jiārù ōuméng kùnnán chóngchóng 西巴尔干国家加入欧盟困难重重 [Many difficulties for Western Balkan countries to join the European Union], Guangming Daily, October 11, 2021, link.

[7] Xu Gang, Ōuméng—xī bā'ěrgàn fēnghuì xīnyì bù duō 欧盟—西巴尔干峰会新意不多 [Not much is new at the EU-Western Balkans summit], Workers’ Daily, October 15, 2021, link.

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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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