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Cover Stories Series 2012> Sino-Egyptian Relations> Archive
UPDATED: July 9, 2012 NO. 28 JULY 12, 2012
Rejuvenating an Ancient Connection

CHINATOWN IN DUBAI: Costumers shop at Dubai's Dragon Mart on May 2. The mall covers an area of 180,000 square meters and is China's biggest mall in the Middle East (QIN HAISHI)

The time-honored Sino-Arab relationship has been rapidly expanding in recent years. China and Arab countries are working together in a wide range of fields, from promoting trade and investment to fighting against desertification. In a recent interview with Beijing Review reporter Ding Ying, Vice President of the China-Arab Exchange Association Qin Yong shared his opinions about the past, present and future China-Arab ties.

Beijing Review: How has the Sino-Arab communication been since the People's Republic of China was established in 1949? And what is the development of the Sino-Arab relationship in recent years?

Qin Yong: The Sino-Arab friendship can be traced back to over 2,000 years ago. As early as the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C-A.D. 25), Chinese diplomatic envoys visited Arab countries, and opened the famous Silk Road between ancient China and the Arab world.

The Sino-Arab relationship has grown even closer since 1949. In 1956, Egypt, Syria and Yemen established diplomatic relations with China, becoming the first group of Arab countries that set up relations with the People's Republic of China. In July 1990, Saudi Arabia established diplomatic relations with China. By that time China had formed diplomatic relations with all Arab countries.

Political communication and high level exchanges have been closer in recent years with the development of China's opening up that started in late 1970s. China and many Arab countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have established new types of all-round and cooperative partnerships.

Sino-Arab trade and economic cooperation based on the principle of practical, reciprocal and win-win cooperation has maintained a good tendency of development, with trade volume between China and Arab countries increasing more than 30 percent annually on average. Although some Arab countries have experienced political turmoil since 2011, the trade volume continues to rise. According to official statistics, their trade volume now exceeds $200 billion. The Arab world has become China's seventh biggest trade partner.

Sino-Arab cooperation has been developing in political, trade and cultural areas in recent years. Frequent high-level exchanges have not only enhanced mutual understanding, but also provided guarantees for boosting their coordination and cooperation on regional and international issues. In the field of trade, many non-governmental forums, seminars and conferences have been held to build new platforms for complementary and practical cooperation. They have also promoted cooperation in education and research through activities like cultural dialogues and festivals.

Arab countries' economic levels are quite different. But as a whole, the Arab world belongs to the Third World, and so does China. China and the Arab world have similar pasts and the same task of development. For now, China is the only power in the international arena that maintains good relationships with all countries in the Middle East.

Are there any obstacles to overcome in Sino-Arab relations?

Although their trade volume has been on the rise in recent years, it represents a small percentage of their total foreign trade. Besides, trade is unbalanced and involves only limited kinds of goods.

There are many factors blocking the development of Sino-Arab trade relations. Most of China's exports to the Arab world are durable consumer goods of low technology and low added value. Some products have quality problems, which greatly decreases the competitiveness of Chinese products. Because of Chinese companies' poor marketing strategies, some of China's high-quality and hi-tech products have yet to enter the Arab market.

We should admit that current Sino-Arab trade and economic cooperation still has a long way to go. China, the biggest developing country, has a similar domestic situation and environment as Middle East nations. Therefore, there is great potential for them to expand the range and volume of their trade in the coming years.

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