China in the Mediterranean: Beyond growing interests

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Source: Al Arabiya

Considering this, China has shown a strong desire to invest in the Mediterranean countries. In the last decade (from January 2005 through June 2016), the combined value of China’s investment and construction in the region exceeded $ 129 billion, or around 10 percent of China’s total.

With nearly two-thirds of that amount concentrated in four countries only: France, Algeria, Italy and Egypt. Meanwhile, commercial exchange is also substantial; as the two-way trade volume between China and the Mediterranean countries reached over $ 209 billion in 2015 or around 5-6 percent of China’s total foreign trade. However, trade balance tilts considerably in favour of China.

Several countries in the region are looking to China as an alternative to balance their foreign policy, a market to sell their products, source of investments and in some cases to buy arms

Naser Al-Tamimi

Gate to Europe

According to the Chinese unofficial map the Mediterranean represents the western end of the Silk Road or “One Belt One Road.” In order to provide this road with a western maritime outlet, China stepped up its presence in the region by acquiring, building, modernizing, expanding and operating Mediterranean ports and terminals in Greece, Egypt, Algeria, Turkey and Israel.

However, Beijing bets big on Greece’s biggest port in Piraeus. China’s COSCO Shipping (China’s biggest shipping company which owns the world’s fourth-largest container shipping fleet) already bought 51 percent of Piraeus operating company for 280.5 million Euros ($ 315.5 million) with another 400 million Euros slated for investments to create China’s largest maritime hub in the Mediterranean and one of the world’s 30 largest container ports by 2018.

Importantly, to complement its western maritime strategy, China proposed plan to connect the port by railway to East and Central European countries; or as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang put it; Greece could be China’s “gateway to Europe”.

Meanwhile many Europeans’ are hopeful that the recent expanding of the Suez Canal could increase the centrality of the Mediterranean region and its main ports. Importantly, China is also building its first overseas logistical naval base in Djibouti. To be sure, around one fifth of China’s total trade, over 4 percent of China’s maritime oil imports and almost 4 percent of its liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports passed through Suez Canal (Red Sea) and Gulf of Aden (Bab-el- Mandeb).

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