China, Russia, U.S. raise Mediterranean naval focus

Thu Jan 24, 2013 6:17am EST
 

By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent

PORT SAID, Egypt (Reuters) - Egypt has seen no shortage of empires come and go, from its own ancient civilizations to those of Greece, Rome, Britain and France. Now, it is among the outposts of the latest Mediterranean power: China.

Situated at the northern end of the Suez Canal, the Port Said Container Terminal is one of the busiest in the region, vital for shipments not only to Egypt but also much of Europe and the Middle East.

Like several other key ports in the region - including Piraeus in Greece and Naples in Italy - it is now partially owned by China. The state-owned Cosco Pacific holds 20 percent the terminal, helping make it one of the dominant - if not the dominant - Mediterranean port operators.

Cosco stresses that it is a purely commercial venture and many analysts agree. But few doubt that Beijing has made a wider geopolitical decision to become much more involved in the region.

For the last two years, the People's Liberation Army Navy has sent one or more warships through the Suez Canal to visit southern European ports, the furthest its fleet has ever operated from home.

But China is not the only great power now increasing its involvement in the area. With Russia sending warships to positions off Syria and the United States signaling it too intends to take the region more seriously, the Mediterranean is clearly no longer seen as the strategic backwater many believed it had become.

"The assumption that the Mediterranean would become a purely Western sphere of influence appears to have been premature," says Nikolas Gvosdev, professor of national security studies at the United States Naval War College in Rhode Island.

"The Chinese are showing their flag in an area far from their traditional area of operations in part to show that they are a global power. The renewed Russian deployments are part intended as a sign that Moscow has not gone away."   Continued...