October 9, 2020

China in the Mid-Med: Connectivity and Security

Enrico Fardella, Ori Sela, Brandon Friedman, and Andrea Ghiselli
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In recent years China has become a more central and dominant actor in the international arena at large and in the Middle East and Mediterranean region ("Mid-Med") in particular. China’s current flagship project, the Belt and Road Initiative ("BRI"), in many ways, posits the Mid-Med as a focal area and hub. Whether as a medium through which the Belt and Road has to transit; a substantial economic and diplomatic partner; a major source for China’s energy; or a geopolitical ground for advancing international interests, the significance of the Mid-Med for China, and the significance of China in the Mid-Med, have grown dramatically. We see the Middle East and the Mediterranean region (past and present) as closely connected, shaped by dense interactions where China features with increasing prominence. Therefore, we have addressed the two regions in conjunction, as the "Mid-Med." At the 2019 "China and the Middle East/Mediterranean ("Mid-Med"): Contemporary Perspectives" conference and workshop, the partner institutions promoted the establishment of a long-term research network, dedicated to building capacity and a more robust knowledge base on China’s relations with the Mid-Med from two distinct but complementary points of view.

First, we seek to understand how external processes and dynamics influence and shape China’s views and approach to its relations with the countries in the "Mid-Med." This outside-in approach was adopted in the series of webinars held in early June 2020: a group of global leaders from academia and various institutions in Europe, China, the Middle East, and the United States were invited to discuss and share their insights into the most recent developments in international affairs and their impact on China’s role in the "Mid-Med." For example, Efraim Halevy, former Director of Mossad (1998-2002) and Ambassador to the European Union (1996-1998), assessed the state of Sino-American relations and their potential impact on Israel. Romano Prodi (10th President of the European Commission, 1999-2004, and former Italian Prime Minister, 1996-1998 and 2006-2008) and Justin Yifu Lin (former Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank, 2008-2012) discussed Europe’s position in China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Sino-European relations; and, Deborah Lehr (Vice-Chairman and Executive Director, Paulson Institute) reflected on Sino-Egyptian relations amid global tensions, particularly with respect to how the Covid-19 crisis affects the world.

In the second segment of the series, we focused on the inside-out perspective, analyzing how the countries in the Mid-Med understand China’s role and actions in the region, and how they navigate the need for improved connectivity while at the same time safeguarding national security in the context of an increasingly volatile geopolitical landscape. Therefore, we named the six webinars held between July 6th and July 13th, "China in the Mid-Med: Connectivity and Security." The first three of the six brief chapters that constitute this report focus on the local perception of Chinese presence in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southern Europe. They also problematize the notion that China has a coherent regional approach, while at the same time identifying similarities across the states that we discuss. The fourth chapter focuses on how economic interactions with China have become part of the national security debate in Italy and Israel, two countries at the very center of the discussion regarding the delicate balancing act that regional actors are attempting to manage between economic prosperity, national security, and traditional diplomatic ties. The final two chapters analyze how practitioners from the energy and maritime logistic sectors understand the strong and ever-growing ties that exist between China and the Mid-Med in those two crucial economic sectors. We believe that the conversations during these 12 webinar events contribute to an urgent need for a better understanding of "China and the Mid-Med." Our aim is to contribute to a more informed decision-making process in the region, while at the same time creating a more robust and participatory knowledge base on this critical subject. Cooperation between the ChinaMed Project and Tel Aviv University’s Department of East Asian Studies and the Moshe Dayan Center (MDC) for Middle Eastern and African Studies is dedicated to these goals

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Chapters & Guest Speakers

Connectivity and Security in the Middle East
  • MARIA REPNIKOVA (Georgia State University)
  • LIORA HENDELMAN-BAAVUR (Tel Aviv University)
  • JONATHAN FULTON (Zayed University and Atlantic Council)

Connectivity and Security in Southern Europe
  • PLAMEN TONCHEV (Institute of International Economic Relations)
  • LUCREZIA POGGETTI (MERICS)
  • PHILIPPE LE CORRE (Harvard Kennedy School, ESSEC-IRENE, and CY Paris-Cergy University)

Connectivity and Security in North Africa
  • ERIC OLANDER (China Africa Project)
  • LINA BENABDALLAH (Wake Forest University)

The security dimension of China’s FDI in theMid-Med: Israel and Italy
  • SHIRA EFRON (Institute for National Security Studies and RAND Corporation)
  • LETIZIA ZINGONI (Policy Sonar and Tufts University)

China’s Infrastructure and Logistics in the Mid-Med: Between Connectivity and Security
  • MASSIMO DEANDREIS (SRMand GEI)
  • FULVIO LINO DE BLASIO (Port SystemAuthority of the Ionian Sea)
  • YIGAL MAOR (Administration of Shipping and Ports, State of Israel)

China’s Energy Interests in the Mid-Med
  • MICHAL MEIDAN (China Energy Programme, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies)
  • MARCO PIREDDA (ENI)
  • ANTOINE HALFF (Kayrros and Center on Global Energy Policy, Columbia University)

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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.
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