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Roundtable discussion on EU, China and the Middle East

1 July 2017

 

On 28 June, the EU-Asia Centre organized a roundtable with senior EU officials and a visiting delegation of Middle East experts from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). The themes discussed included the major powers and the Middle East, domestic trends, energy supplies and security.

EU speakers spoke of existing good cooperation with China in the field of maritime security (Operation Atalanta), Iran (nuclear non-proliferation), and economic development (Belt and Road Initiative). There were, however, gowing concerns over the situation in the Gulf, Libya, Yemen and the Horn of Africa. There had been a recent increase in piracy attacks. The EU was directly affected by developments in the region, notably through migration. Hence the EU was developing a new assistance package to try and stabilise countries most affected by conflict.

 

Chinese experts agreed with the analysis and said that Chinese interests were first economic, then political and security. China’s main interest was security of energy supplies. It had traditionally kept a low profile in the region but recognised this may have to change. It also recognised the imperative of economic development. China alrady had a significant economic footprint in the Middle East. The possibility of common projects under the Belt and Road Initiative was mentioned. A question was also raised about whether the US would remain the regional hegemon.

 

The EU side considered China, as a global power and UNSC member, should be ready to take on increased responsibility in the region. China should make representations to ruling elites on the importance of stability for investment.

 

On Syria there were some diverging views on the possibility of compromise between the government and opposition forces.

 

On Libya, the Chinese side considered that the EU (having broke the system) should take the lead in resolving the situation. China was not going to get involved just now.

 

On Yemen there was agreement on the need to end the civil war and increase development assistance. But prospects were poor on all fronts.

 

China and the EU were on the same page regarding support for the two-state solution.

 

There was also agreement on the need to end the conflicts in Somalis and Sudan and rebuild resilient societies.

 

Building on the close political contacts established between Mogherini and her Chinese partners, participants agreed that the roundtable format between experts should be continued as a way to identify areas for cooperation and to discuss different views on the region.