An Epoch-Making Milestone
China and the Arab world, though geographically far apart, have enjoyed friendship that goes back millennia. The Silk Road and the maritime Spice Route have witnessed the two ancient civilizations learn from each other and inspire each other, jointly promoting the prosperity of human society. In modern times, China and the Arab states have supported each other in their respective struggles for national liberation, carried out win-win economic cooperation, and jointly upheld fairness and justice in international affairs. “Together, China and Arab states have nurtured the spirit of friendship featuring ‘solidarity and mutual assistance, equality and mutual benefit, and inclusiveness and mutual learning,’” Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out in his keynote speech delivered at the opening ceremony of the first China-Arab States Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 9, 2022.
A Significant Summit
From December 7 to 10, President Xi attended the first China-Arab States Summit and the China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit, met with nearly 20 Arab leaders, and paid a state visit to Saudi Arabia. According to Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Xi's Mideast trip was China's largest and highest-level diplomatic interaction with the Arab world since the founding of the People's Republic of China. It ushered in a new era of all-round and in-depth development of relations between China and the Arab states.
“Equality and mutual benefit are a constant driver of our friendship,” Xi stressed at the summit. China and the Arab states have set an example for South-South cooperation. The two sides have established 17 cooperation mechanisms under the framework of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum — a formal dialogue initiative between China and the Arab League established in 2004. Over the past decade, trade between China and the Arab countries has grown by US $100 billion, with the total volume exceeding US $300 billion; China’s direct investment in Arab states grew over 2.6 times, with the volume reaching US $23 billion. In 2021, China remained the largest trading partner of Arab countries, with two-way trade expanding by 37 percent year-on-year.
At the summit, President Xi proposed eight major initiatives on China-Arab practical cooperation covering areas of development support, food security, public health, green innovation, energy security, inter-civilizational dialogue, youth development, and security and stability.
In light of the eight major initiatives, China and Arab states will discuss the implementation of assistance projects worth RMB 5 billion in development cooperation. China will provide credit and credit facilities for projects in Arab countries in areas such as production capacity, infrastructure, energy, and green finance. In addition, China will expand its trade with Arab states to US $430 billion by 2027.
To help Arab states enhance their food security and comprehensive agricultural production capacity, China will — together with the related Arab countries — build five joint laboratories of modern agriculture and carry out 50 demonstration projects in agricultural technology cooperation, and send 500 experts in agricultural technology to the Arab countries to help increase grain yield and improve agricultural productivity.
As for cooperation in green innovation, the two sides will establish an international research center on drought, desertification, and land degradation. China will use its Fengyun meteorological satellites and the World Meteorological Center in Beijing to support the Arab side in disaster prevention and mitigation. Moreover, a China-Arab BeiDou Navigation Satellite System application and industrialization promotion center will be set to provide the Arab side with quality services in the fields of transportation, precision agriculture, and search and rescue.
Building a China-Arab Community with a Shared Future
In a declaration issued after the first China-Arab States Summit, leaders of China and the member states of the Arab League agreed to make all-out efforts to build a China-Arab community with a shared future in the new era, while vowing to strengthen cooperation and enhance the China-Arab strategic partnership.
President Xi first proposed to build a community of common interests and a community of common destiny between China and Arab states on June 5, 2014, when addressing the opening ceremony of the sixth ministerial conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum. While calling on the two sides to adhere to the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits, Xi put forward a new cooperation pattern taking energy cooperation as the core, infrastructure construction and trade and investment facilitation as two wings, and three high and new tech fields of nuclear energy, satellites, and new energy as new breakthroughs.
When visiting the headquarters of the League of Arab States in Cairo in January 2016, President Xi stressed that China and the Arab states should pursue action on concepts of peace, innovation, guidance, governance, and integration while jointly building the “Belt and Road.”
The past decade has seen China-Arab relations register a range of landmark and groundbreaking achievements. China has established comprehensive strategic partnerships or strategic partnerships with 12 Arab states. Among Arab countries, 17 have expressed support for the Global Development Initiative, 15 have become members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and 14 have participated in the China-League of Arab States Cooperation Initiative on Data Security.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, China sent medical experts and vaccines to Arab countries and shared clinical experiences with those in need. In Egypt, Algeria, and the United Arab Emirates, China helped localize vaccine production to meet the rising local demand.
“We should increase exchanges among civilizations to enhance mutual understanding and trust,” Xi indicated at the recent summit, and called on the two sides to advocate humanity’s common values of peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom, and set an example of inter-civilizational exchanges and mutual learning in the new era.
According to the eight major initiatives, China will promote cooperation among 500 Chinese and Arab cultural and tourism enterprises and train 1,000 cultural and tourism talents for Arab states. Meanwhile, China will invite 100 young scientists from the Arab world to China for scientific research exchanges, 3,000 teenagers for China-Arab cultural exchanges, and 10,000 Arabs from various fields for professional training in poverty alleviation, health, and green development. More than that, China is ready to help set up more Luban Workshops in Arab states.
Appreciating China for standing by Arab countries on many vital issues — including the Palestinian issue — Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit in a recent interview with Xinhua said that "China stands wholeheartedly in support and understanding of the Arab positions," stressing that "Arab cooperation with China is open for unlimited horizons."
Belt and Road Cooperation
Since Xi underscored the Belt and Road cooperation at the sixth ministerial conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in 2014, China and the Arab countries, following the Silk Road Spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and shared benefits, have unleashed great cooperation potential and nurtured new growth drivers for common development. So far, China has signed documents on Belt and Road cooperation with 20 Arab states as well as the Arab League.
Chinese elements in the freshly concluded FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 have drawn global attention to the flagship projects between China and Arab countries. The 80,000-seat Lusail Stadium in Qatar's capital Doha was jointly designed and built by China and Qatar. On the city streets, 3,000 Chinese-made eco-friendly buses provided green transportation to the football event. On top of that, the 800-megawatt Al Kharsaah solar power station in Qatar, the Mohammed VI Bridge in Morocco, the Great Mosque of Algiers, and the Central Business District in Egypt's new administrative capital are all testaments to the fruitful cooperation between China and Arab states.
Official data showed that China and the Arab countries have carried out more than 200 large-scale cooperation projects in many fields including energy and infrastructure. Such cooperation has benefited nearly 2 billion people.
“We should strengthen synergy between our development strategies, and promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation,” President Xi indicated at the first China-Arab States Summit. He called on the two sides to consolidate cooperation in traditional areas including economy and trade, energy, and infrastructure development while strengthening cooperation in new fields such as green and low-carbon development, health and medical services, and investment and finance — and expand new frontiers including aviation and aerospace, digital economy, and peaceful use of nuclear energy.
In an interview with Xinhua, Saudi Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar Alkhorayef said that the synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 will bring advanced science and technology ideas to his country, and boost its economic and social development. The Saudi minister expressed his optimism that Chinese companies would participate in building Saudi Arabia’s railways, ports, and expressways. Highlighting the country’s unique geographical location and complete infrastructure, the minister indicated that Saudi Arabia could be an important hub for China's investment and trade in the Middle East and North Africa.
China's success is essential not only for the prosperity of the Chinese people, but also for the prosperity of the international community, and for the security of balanced political, economic, social, and cultural relations globally, Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit pointed out in an interview with Xinhua.
"The Arab world needs Chinese vision, effort, development, and investments, and China needs the friendships of its historical partners," said the Arab League chief, adding that the China-proposed BRI is "welcomed and supported" by the Arab world.
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