Yet this geopolitical angle doesn’t necessarily explain why the Mediterranean. Naval exercises almost anywhere could’ve expressed the same thing, perhaps even more strongly, because China’s naval assets in the Mediterranean aren’t particularly significant.
The better explanation for why the Mediterranean is much more local. China has twice in recent years had to send its ships to rescue and evacuate significant numbers of Chinese workers who fell into danger as a result of regional instability. The first time was in Libya, where 35,800 Chinese workers had to be evacuated after the 2011 uprising and subsequent bombing campaign to bring down Muammar Qaddafi. The second time was in late March and early April, when Chinese ships helped offload several hundred Chinese workers from Yemen as the situation there further deteriorated and Saudi airstrikes escalated.
These episodes brought home China’s evolving role in the Middle East and North Africa. So far, Chinese policy makers have shown no interest in inheriting the traditional U.S. role of maintaining hegemony in the Middle East to create stability and facilitate the flow of oil. However, China has to some degree included the Middle East in its strategy of building infrastructure projects in less-developed countries and establishing substantial settlements of Chinese workers there.