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China expands its footprint in West Asia and North Africa

China expands its footprint in WANA

China continues its efforts to deepen its engagement in West Asia and North Africa (WANA) region. It has leveraged its expertise in technical field to establish itself as a key provider of technical knowhow in several countries of the region. 

China is helping Saudi Arabia expand its digital infrastructure under ‘Vision 2030’. China Communications Service Corporation Ltd. (CCS) has signed an agreement to supply optical fiber services to Dawiyat, a subsidiary of the state-run Saudi Electric Company and Saudi telecom firms Zain and Mobily. CCS is also providing operation support system to the National Grid Project, the Expansion Project of Dawiyat, and managing services for Saudi Arabia’s GSM providers, including 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. Separately, Saudi Space Commission inaugurated a space exhibition centre ‘From Tuwaiq to Sohail’ in partnership with Huawei. Meanwhile, China Railway’s 18th Bureau Group was awarded the contract for the Medina Tunnel Infrastructure Development Project worth USD 970 million. 

With an aim to enhance cooperation between Beijing and Ankara, a Turkey-China economic cooperation meeting was recently held at Turkish Industries and Business Association (TUSIAD) Headquarters in cooperation with the China Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (CINSIAD). Besides, a fair titled ‘Bringing China Homelife Turkey’ was held (June) at the Istanbul Expo Center with participation of over 450 companies from 11 provinces of China. 

Reiterating its firm support to Iraq in the backdrop of recent allegations against Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi of attempting to stall the progress of Chinese projects, Chinese Ambassador to Iraq Cui Wei in a press conference affirmed Beijing’s support for Iraq’s sovereignty. He underlined China’s non-interference in Iraq’s internal affairs and claimed that the growing Chinese presence in Iraq was solely aimed at improving the quality of life of Iraqi people. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi had refuted allegations of stalling Chinese projects and affirmed his commitment to implementing an ‘oil for construction’ agreement whereby Chinese firms Power Construction Corporation of China and Sinotech would build 1000 schools across Iraq. Separately, Iraqi Health Minister Hani al Aqabi held discussions within his ministry pertaining to a project for building four medical cities and 15 hospitals across the country as part of another agreement with China. 

In order to boost the development of the manufacturing sector with a focus on emerging technology, the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development and the Department of Industry and Information Technology in Shandong Province of China virtually signed (June) an MoU to enable both countries to exchange expertise and data on industrial sector front. 

An official delegation from China Media Group (CMG) visited the headquarters of Muscat Media Group (MMG) and the two sides agreed on the modalities of cooperation, including release of MMG news reports in various channels owned by China, such as Chinese Central Television (CCTV), CCTV+ and its upcoming customizable ‘All Media Service Platform.’ 2 

With an objective of securing long-term Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) contracts with Doha, Chinese petrochemical firms China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (SINOPEC) are slated to invest over USD 28 billion in the North Field East Project in Qatar. 

Morocco appears to have become a focal point of Chinese cultural presence in North Africa as it became the only Arab country to host three Confucius institutes. The third centre of the Confucius Institute was inaugurated in Rabat under the aegis of Mohammad V University. The other two are located in University of Hassan in Casablanca and in Abdelmalek Essaadi University in Tangier. 

Beijing appears keen to make inroads into WANA region at a fast pace. However, the countries in the region need to be aware that Chinese agreements, which are ostensibly commercial in nature may also have political ramifications and that they a long way in serving politico-strategic objectives of the Chinese state.