On October 9th, a new shipping line opened between China and Lebanon’s Tripoli, doubling the volume of products coming from China to the country.
The first delivery was made by a container ship called the CMA CGM Congo.
“The vessel is the first to hold 10,000 containers. It will unload 1000 containers in Tripoli port for the local market, and the rest will go to other ports in the region,” said Ahmad Tamer, manager of Tripoli port.
The new line is called Beks and according to Tamer it is characterized by its capacity to hold big-size cargo vessels that can be up to 50 meters wide and 300 meters long. He also said that improvement of the port and trade between the countries resulted from Lebanon’s efforts and China’s support of the improvement plan.
Lebanon’s Tripoli is located on the Mediterranean coast, about 30 km west from the Syrian-Lebanese border. China Harbor Engineering Company has worked on rehabilitating the port in the city since 2012, to allow it to receive big vessels. In addition to that, the port has also had a terminal created to receive Chinese cranes capable of lifting and transporting more than 700 containers daily.
In July 2018, during the 8th Ministerial Meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi met in Beijing with Minister of Economy and Trade Raed Khoury of Lebanon. Both officials had nothing for praise for the cooperation between the countries and reiterated their intent to cooperate in the Chinese Belt and Road initiative.
According to Chinese Belt and Road Portal, attention is now turned to how this improvement can assist in the reconstruction of Syria.
China is a big economic player in the region, with reports in 2017 showing that it accounted for 80% of Syria’s foreign trade. China and Russia have coordinated their stance on Syria. With Russia’s assistance China has boosted its cooperation with Syria, with even coming close to sending military assistance, according to a report by Stratfor from August 3rd. Both the Chinese ambassador to Syria as well as its military attaché to the country have previously raised the possibility of assisting in the recapturing of Idlib. However, open military participation from China has never happened in the Syrian conflict.
Now, it seems that Chinese actions may be aimed at establishing an economic foothold in Syria, which is not limited to trade only.
Chinese and Iranian cooperation is also well known. It was further reinforced when in August 2018 CNPC, a Chinese state-owned company, took Total’s stake in a $4.8 billion oil deal with Iran. The French company pulled out of the deal due to fears of US sanctions and influence, the Chinese however were not deterred by the threat.
As it stands, the US and Israel are opposing the establishment of the “Shia Crescent,” with both countries constantly showing aggression towards mostly Lebanon and Iran, but also towards Syria. Simultaneously, however, China is seeking to boost its economic influence in the countries from the so-called “crescent”. Thus, the Middle East may soon become another hot point in the US-China conflict. Tensions between the states have been growing quickly since the beginning of the Trump-initiated Trade war.
If that is truly the case, following its stable relationship with Iran and Lebanon and its attempts to enter Syria and assist in reconstruction, it would not be surprising if China offers to provide large investments in Iraq. Chinese diplomacy through economic approach appears to be on the rise.