The "Belt and Road" Initiative
A Great Opportunity for Deepening China-Arab Strategic Cooperative Relations
2016/05/10

 

- Written on the Occasion of the 7th Ministerial Meeting of

the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum

 

Wang Yi

On 12 May, curtains will rise on the 7th Ministerial Meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in Qatar. It is a great opportunity for China and Arab states to enhance cooperation as we celebrate 60 years of diplomatic relations.

Two years ago, when addressing the last Ministerial Meeting in Beijing, President Xi Jinping suggested that China and Arab states work together on the "Belt and Road" initiative and proposed a "1+2+3" pattern for cooperation. Two years on, with joint efforts, China-Arab states cooperation is booming with fruitful results.

Stronger political trust underpins China-Arab states relations. China has consistently supported Arab states' quest for development paths suited to their respective national conditions and their struggle to restore the legitimate rights of the Arab nations, especially the establishment of an independent State of Palestine. Arab states have rendered China precious support on issues of core interests and major concerns. China has established strategic relationships with eight Arab states, and seven Arab states have joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as founding members. At the leadership level, there is an ever more mature pattern of close communication and deep trust, which serves as a solid political platform for cooperation in various fields and makes it possible for various mechanisms of the Forum to thrive. Early this year, the Chinese government released its first Arab Policy Paper. It is an important program and action guide for the development of China-Arab states relations.

Mutually beneficial cooperation binds China and Arab states closely together. Arab states are China's primary cooperation partners in the energy sector, a popular market of project contracting and a key destination of outbound investment. China is now Arab states' second largest trading partner overall, and the largest trading partner of ten individual Arab countries.

Over the past two years, China and Arab states have signed nearly US$50 billion worth of contractual projects. The two sides have established two joint investment funds, which would finance, among others, major projects of production capacity cooperation, oil refinery and port infrastructure. China and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) have made encouraging progress in the FTA negotiations. Both sides have substantively concluded in principle the chapter on trade in goods and are committed to reaching an FTA agreement before the year is out. The China-Arab States Technology Transfer Center was inaugurated, cooperation agreement was inked on the use of the Beidou navigation satellite system in Arab countries, and preparations are in place for establishing the training centers for peaceful use of nuclear energy and clean energy. These results have added substance to the "1+2+3" cooperation pattern, expanded China-Arab states practical cooperation and serve as useful templates for converging the interests of the two sides under the "Belt and Road" initiative.

Mutual learning between Chinese and Arab civilizations is deepening. Nurtured by rich history and culture, China and Arab states are both against the view that one civilization is superior to the other and that clash of civilization is inevitable. Both sides champion the diversity of civilizations. Under the framework of the Forum, the two sides have started the China-Arab dialogue on civilization, friendship conference,  art festival, etc. to encourage cultural and people-to-people exchanges. A diverse array of activities have been held to promote exchanges between political parties and youth groups as well as in tourism and education. Mid- and long-term plans for cultural, media and training cooperation are being implemented. Eleven Confucius Institutes and five Confucius Classrooms have been set up in nine Arab states. Eleven Arab countries have been identified as overseas destinations for Chinese tourists. There are now 183 flights every week linking the two sides, and about 1.02 million visits are made each year. For two successive years, the two sides have celebrated the China-Arab Friendship Year featuring a number of colorful events. 

We live in a world of profound and complex changes, a world in which multi-polarity and economic globalization are a fact of life. The Chinese people are striving to realize a moderately prosperous society in all respects and the Chinese dream of great national renewal. China is a major driving force of the world economy. Last year, we achieved a medium-high growth rate of 6.9% and contributed to over 30% of global growth. Meanwhile, Arab peoples are working tirelessly to make their dream for peace, stability and development come true. Countries in the Arab region have made fruitful gains toward change and development, and their people yearn for a better life. These common dreams and aspirations are a strong bond that links the two sides.

During his visit to Arab states last January, President Xi delivered a speech to the entire Arab world at the Arab League headquarters, in which he outlined a comprehensive vision for China-Arab cooperation, announced a series of major cooperation initiatives and laid down a grand blueprint for future China-Arab relations. As the two sides work together to deliver the outcomes of President Xi's visit, China and Arab countries need to use this opportunity to build consensus and galvanize action to further improve the top-level design of forum mechanisms, promote the "Belt and Road" initiative in the Arab region, and create more synergy for the rejuvenation of the Chinese and Arab people.

- Enhance communication and coordination for greater peace and stability. A peaceful and harmonious regional environment is needed for the advancement of the "Belt and Road" which, in turn, can create a strong momentum for peace building in the region. China will continue to play a constructive part in regional affairs and encourage the parties to find the biggest common denominator through dialogue. China will get actively involved in the political settlement of hotspot issues in the Middle East such as the Syrian issue, support UN's mediation efforts, and support the parties in holding inclusive dialogues and expediting political and economic reconstruction. China will provide more public goods and help Arab countries build capacity in maintaining stability to facilitate peace and stability in the Middle East. China will stay in communication and coordination with Arab states, and will continue to respect each other's primary interests and core concerns on major international issues, support each other's legitimate demands and propositions, and firmly uphold international equity, justice, and the common interests of developing countries.

- Align development strategies to deepen practical cooperation. Both China and Arab states are at a crucial stage of development. The Chinese government has set out a vision for innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development in its 13th Five-Year Plan. Through the open, pragmatic and long-term platform offered by the "Belt and Road" initiative, China would like to promote a new cooperation model featuring "oil and gas plus" with Arab states, accelerate investment facilitation and the application of high and new technologies, and advance the development of key industrial parks. China is sincere and pursues no selfish interest in cooperating with Arab states on industrial capacity. We will combine our quality industrial capacity with the human resources of Arab states, help build much-needed industries such as steel, nonferrous metals, construction materials, glass, automobiles and power plants, and support Arab states in pursuing a new path of industrialization that is economic, people-based and green, that people from both sides will benefit more from China-Arab cooperation and that development on each side will reinforce that of the other.

- Increase cultural exchanges for closer bonds between peoples. "Amity between the people holds the key to friendship between countries". People-to-people exchanges have underpinned the traditional friendship between China and Arab states and constitutes an important pillar for the "Belt and Road" development. Building on the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, the two sides shall further enhance people-to-people exchanges and expand interactions and cooperation in education, culture, health, science, technology, tourism, youth, media, broadcasting and human resource training, so as to increase mutual understanding and friendship between our peoples,build a bridge of communication between China and Arab states, and jointly promote development and progress of human civilization.

- Engage in intercivilization dialogue to draw on each other's strength. The "Belt and Road" is not only a path towards mutual benefit, but more importantly, a path that enables integration and interactions between civilizations. China will, as always, firmly support Arab states in upholding cultural traditions, defusing sectarian conflicts, removing estrangement between ethnic groups, and countering the spread of extremist ideologies. China opposes any discrimination and prejudice against a particular ethnic group or religion. We will step up dialogue between the Chinese and Arab civilizations, advocate the culture of tolerance, share experience in promoting religious harmony and deradicalization, guard against extremist forces and ideologies, and work to promote our own cultural traditions, which in turn will provide more sustainable drivers for our development and prosperity.

2000 years ago, China and Arab states created a glorious history of mutual understanding and interactions along the ancient Silk Road. Today, the land and maritime Silk Roads have converged in the Arab region, connecting the two ends of the Asian continent and ushering in a new phase for all-round China-Arab cooperation. By jointly building the "Belt and Road", China wants to work with Arab states to enhance infrastructure connectivity, further communicate and align our development strategies, promote cultural interactions and integration, expand win-win cooperation and forge a broad platform that facilitates the realization of the "Chinese dream" and the revival of the Arab states. Let us make the most of the "Belt and Road" initiative to carry forward our traditional friendship, pursue mutual benefit and jointly advance the China-Arab strategic cooperative relations.
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