China in the Eastern Mediterranean
Infrastructure and Geopolitics: China’s emerging presence in the Eastern Mediterranean
As part of its ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) policy, China is building an economic presence in the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean. Its involvement in major infrastructure projects is growing at a rapid pace and may have a significant impact on trade routes that traverse this strategically located region. This article outlines Chinese interests and activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and how these relate to geopolitical developments in the region. China’s most important infrastructure project in the region is the modernization and expansion of the port of Piraeus, Greece, but other port and railway projects are also being developed.
China’s rise as a major economic actor is affecting the positions and interests of the US and Europe in the Eastern Mediterranean. China already is the main geopolitical rival to the United States in the Asia Pacific region. As this rivalry intensifies, it is likely to spread to other regions. China has major ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean in the area of infrastructure and transportation, and the greater its regional involvement becomes, the larger the risk becomes of this spill-over effect. This process is likely to affect the relationship between the US and its regional partners, such as Israel, Egypt, Greece, and Turkey. As these countries develop close economic ties with China they will be inclined to avoid having to choose sides between Washington and Beijing in instances when these two have differing views on how to deal with regional security issues. This development would limit the strategic options for the US in the region, and thereby it would undermine Western influence and indirectly strengthen Russia’s position. Europe will eventually need to decide whether it wants to maintain its traditionally close security relationship with the US in the face of China’s rise, or whether it prefers to distance itself from Sino-US rivalry. Either way could have important repercussions for the EU’s position in and around the Mediterranean. With regard to domestic crises and frictions among regional countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, so far China has a strong tendency to refrain from becoming directly involved or taking sides. However, it seems likely that eventually Beijing will need to develop tools – perhaps in the form of new regional security mechanisms - to deal with regional security issues in the Middle East and North Africa.
This article was originally published in the Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies.