China in the Mediterranean, Between Defense and Business. Giselle point

Beijing prefers to be able to continue doing business, and avoid getting bogged down in regional crises and disputes. Analysis by Andrea Giselli, Associate Professor at Fudan University in Shanghai and Research Director of TOChina Hub’s ChinaMed Project

There is a paragraph in the Mediterranean Security and Defense Strategy developed by the Italian Ministry of Defense that defines the interconnectedness of international affairs.

The position of the United States of partial military disengagement in the Middle East and North Africa (Middle East and North Africa) – write the Italian generals – in favor of a more visible presence in the Indo-Pacific region, which has become of greater national strategic importance, has created broom Which attracted old and new competitions that harm our national interests and our security.”

Russia and China, for example, are increasingly present in the Mediterranean basin. The ministry is led by Diem Lorenzo Guerini He adds: “China, in particular, is relentlessly seeking effective penetration into the Mediterranean basin similar to what has happened for years in the Africa and Middle East squares. An approach that takes a tangible form, especially in the economic and commercial fields, and the channels through which Beijing is firmly striving to achieve its strategic goals, in addition to its increasing repercussions in the military dimension.

According to the latest data collected by the ChinaMed research project, there is a slight increase in Chinese investment in the expanded Mediterranean, although it is mainly focused on the Middle East rather than North Africa or southern Europe and the Balkans, where it has already fallen. in part. As for the contracts signed by Chinese construction companies, the negative trend that started in 2016 has continued into 2020, even if we are still talking about new contracts with a total value of more than $40 billion. The number of Chinese workers has also decreased significantly.

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It explains that it “is likely that Covid-19 has further slowed, if not reduced, the Chinese economic presence in the past two years.” Andrea Ghiselliassistant professor at Fudan University in Shanghai and research director ChinaMed . project From TOChina Hub.

However, there is no doubt that China remains a very important economic, and therefore diplomatic, player in the region. “Just think – continued Ghiselli in conversation with him – That Chinese companies operate or control many ports around the entire Mediterranean basin, the Red Sea and the Gulf. Therefore, I think that describing the growth of the Chinese presence as “non-stop” is correct if we consider an extended time frame, but if we only look at the past few years, the data gives somewhat different indicators.”

Italy’s defense and security strategy openly speaks of China’s “growing military dimension” in the Mediterranean. The Chinese military presence in the Mediterranean and adjacent regions remains somewhat limited, although this has also increased in size in recent decades. “Again, there have been no noteworthy changes in recent years. Basically – explains Muallem – there are ground forces that are part of various peacekeeping missions such as Lebanon, Mali and South Sudan, and Chinese navy ships patrol the Gulf of Aden in coordination with other countries., Including Italy.

China also has a base in Djibouti since 2017, primarily in support of anti-piracy missions, while establishing a military presence in a strategic region. But there is more: “China also establishes itself as a producer of weapons, as in the case of artillery for ships sold to Algeria or anti-aircraft defense systems to Serbia, although certainly not at the level of Russia or the United States … in general, as it is As in describing the Chinese economic presence, I think the ministry takes into account a phenomenon that has already been launched some time ago,” adds Ghiselli.

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if it was”broom‘Strategy because of one Transformation About US interests in the Indo-Pacific, so Europe and Italy can still try to fill them, preventing potential rivals from penetrating deeper? “Certainly – he answers – in Italy and Europe there has long been a need for a more serious discussion about China’s role in the Mediterranean. Having said that, I am still on the idea that you need to be pragmatic and vigilant.”

According to Gisele, the Mediterranean is not an area of ​​particular importance for Chinese diplomacy: “In general, I think Beijing would prefer to be able to continue doing business, avoiding getting involved in regional crises and disputes. China participates in peacekeeping missions and combating piracy and economic support for African Union missions, all actions which I don’t think harm Italy or Europe significantly, quite the contrary.In Italy sensitive countries like Libya, China does not play any particular role despite the massive presence it had a year ago 2011″.

“This means – he continues – that now that we realize that China is really close, it is pointless to treat it only as a competitor. On the Italian side there are clear boundaries due to its membership in the European Union and NATO in relation to How And the when Can work with China. China is certainly very cautious. However, build one business relationship With China in the Mediterranean it could also be a viable path.”

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