March 29, 2021

Russia and China: A Budding Alliance in the Mediterranean?

By Gibbs McKinley

With President Joe Biden’s declaration that the “transatlantic alliance is back” at the Munich Security Conference in February fading, concrete challenges facing the alliance remainincluding increasing Russia-China alignment on NATO’s southern border in the Mediterranean. A Center for a New American Security report shows “the impact of Russia-China alignment is likely to be far greater than the sum of its parts” and could amplify the challenges both countries pose. The transatlantic alliance must adjust its calculus in the Mediterranean to mitigate those challengesno easy feat in a region rife with geopolitical tension.

Only this January, Turkey and Greece began their sixty-first round of exploratory talks to resolve decades-old differences over disputed energy exploration rights and maritime borders. To make matters worse, the crisis has been freshly aggravated by the power vacuum created by the United States’ reduced role in the eastern Mediterranean, the loss of Turkey’s European Union (EU) accession framework, and the return of Russia to the Eastern Med as a major military and political influence. After decades of inactivity following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is notoriously entangled in ongoing conflicts from the Black Sea, through the Eastern Med and Syria into Libya.

The transatlantic alliance must adjust its calculus in the Mediterranean to mitigate those challengesno easy feat in a region rife with geopolitical tension.

The delicate balance of power is also affected by the entrance of a new player: China. Following the announcement of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, Beijing has steadily invested in ties with Mediterranean states. China is buying into regional ports and today controls over 10 percent of Europe’s container terminal capacity. Beijing also signed BRI memorandums of understanding with every state in North Africa, and in June 2019, the Israeli city of Haifa signed a twenty-five-year contract with Chinese company Shanghai International Port Group to build and operate a shipping seaport on the Mediterranean. Chinese investment itself is not a threat, and the BRI is making significant strides in updating outdated infrastructure and improving transport connectivity. But ultimately, Beijing will be able to transfer their investments into greater influence in the region, adding to the number of external actors competing to advance their own interests.

Read the full article from The National Interest.

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