الأثنين. أبريل 15th, 2024

Tunisia and the Promising Strategic Engagements with Eastern Powers 

Department of Strategic Research and International Relations March 1, 2024 

Introduction 

Tunisia has undergone a drastic change in its foreign policy, based on diversifying partnerships and disengaging from the Western camp. This shift is becoming increasingly apparent, with pronounced encouragements from Russia and China for Tunisia to proceed in this direction. 

The evolving relationship between Tunisia and the Eastern bloc is within the context of international political transformations, particularly the development of Tunisian diplomatic levels characterized by diversifying partnerships. This is happening at a time when the West is exerting serious pressure on several crucial sovereignty issues, notably the International Monetary Fund dossier. 

In 2018, Tunisia signed a memorandum of understanding to join the Belt and Road Initiative as part of easing economic ties described by experts as restrictive with the West. China, Russia, and other BRICS countries seek to intensify their presence in Tunisia across numerous vital sectors, such as agriculture, technology, and services. China, in particular, is engaged in various areas of cooperation, including healthcare, green economy, communication technologies, and climate change mitigation. 

Tunisia’s coordination with the Eastern bloc has become noticeable, especially recently, both in terms of aligning positions on international concerns and economic cooperation. Tunisia shares its stances concerning the Palestinian cause and the war on Gaza, as evidenced by recent declarations during the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Chinese Foreign Minister to Tunisia by the end of 2023. 

Tunisian-Chinese cooperation is spiraling, as indicated by increasing trade volume, making China, Tunisia’s fourth-largest trading partner after Italy, Germany, and France, its long-established partners. 

The Tunisian Ministry of Infrastructure announced the passing of the main bridge construction contract, linking the A4 highway to the city of Bizerte, to the Chinese company “Sichuan” for over 200 million dollars. 

This conquest underscores China’s competition with EU countries in international tenders initiated by Tunisia, coinciding with intense diplomatic efforts by Eastern bloc countries, primarily China and Russia, to expand their economic presence in Tunisia. 

China and Tunisia are working together to strengthen their friendship through mutual exchange and benefits, fostering closer ties between the two nations. 

Chinese medical missions to Tunisia have been among the most successful endeavors over the years, with the Chinese medical team earning the trust and respect of Tunisians thanks to the quality of services provided. 

Among the achievements under the Chinese assistance is the construction of the University Hospital in Sfax, the International Diplomatic Academy, and the Cultural and Sports Complex for Youth in Ben Arous. 

This path has witnessed several significant milestones due to multiple and important achievements, such as the construction of the “Wadi Mjirda-Ras Tabia Canal” over 120 kilometers long. Additionally, the Chinese companies has made significant progress in the construction of the Upper Mlaga dam and other major projects, transforming irrigation water from western Tunisia to its east, laying a solid foundation for agricultural development in the northeastern region of Tunisia. 

Tunisia became the first Arab country to include Chinese language education in secondary school curricula and the baccalaureate examination since 2003. The number of Tunisian students excelling and aspiring to study in China has increased yearly. 

Tunisia also seeks to strengthen friendship and cooperation, implementing a comprehensive visa waiver policy for Chinese tourists, aiming to facilitate significant non-governmental communication and exchange between the two sides, enhancing mutual understanding and closeness between the peoples. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, during his working visit by the end of December 2023 and after meeting his Tunisian counterpart Nabil Ammar, confirmed “an agreement to enhance cooperation between the two countries in promising areas such as agriculture, energy, especially nuclear, and modern technologies.” 

Moscow played a significant role in leading the tourism market in Tunisia, considering Tunisia as the top global tourist destination for Russians. Additionally, bilateral trade volume has increased, reaching $1.2 billion according to the Ministry of Trade statistics in 2023. The Russian Foreign Minister announced the signing of important and promising partnership agreements in various fields. 

Intensive diplomatic movements between Tunisia and Eastern Bloc countries indicate the beginnings of substantial transformations in terms of economic cooperation and a reduction in dependence between Tunisia and the European Union. Russia has made progress in cooperating with Tunisia in areas such as foreign direct investment, trade, and services, areas that were traditionally dominated by Europeans. 

Furthermore, there is Russian encouragement for Tunisia to prepare a dossier for joining the BRICS group, despite the current inadequacy of qualifications. This reflects the joint efforts of Russia and Tunisia to further strengthen the construction of a more diversified investment space and a more popular Tunisian-Russian consumer market. It also aims to create opportunities and alternatives that open prospects for future cooperation between Tunisia and its Russian partner in various fields such as employment, military cooperation, energy resources including oil, gas, and power station construction, petrochemicals, and the geospatial industries. 

Geostrategic shifts in the entire region now favor engagement with BRICS countries and the Eastern economic bloc, which has demonstrated significant competitiveness compared to the European Union, historically considered the primary partner for the North African region. 

In the context of Asian countries’ efforts to strengthen their presence in the African market, considering it a significant consumer market with vast resources, these partnerships themselves represent interesting alternatives. They largely meet the criteria of Tunisian policies in various economic and diplomatic fields, aiming to open up a more promising Tunisian direction, more open to the Eastern bloc gateway. 

By amine