China’s Arab outreach adds a new chapter to time-honored relations
By Ma Miaomiao  ·  2022-12-19  ·   Source: NO.51 DECEMBER 22, 2022


Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at the First China-Arab States Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on December 9 (XINHUA) 

The Chinese men’s football team may not be competing in this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar, but China is still very much a part of the tournament, not only building stadiums and other major infrastructure, but also contributing to its success from right under the players’ feet. That’s because the turf covering each pitch is kept green using an intelligent watering system developed by Ningxia University. 

The technology uses wind and solar energy, the Internet of Things and a network of porous underground pipes to deliver water when and where it is needed and, in addition to its role in Qatar, has also been applied to projects in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The application of this smart technology is just one of the many exchanges that is underpinning the joint development between China and the Arab world.

“China and Arab states enjoy a long history of friendly exchanges. We have come to know and befriend each other through the ancient Silk Road. We have shared weal and woe in our respective struggles for national liberation. We have conducted win-win cooperation in the tide of economic globalization. And we have upheld fairness and justice in the changing international environment,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the First China-Arab States Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on December 9.

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, Xi added.

During Xi’s state visit to Saudi Arabia from December 7 to 10, he also attended the China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit.

Calling Xi’s attendance at the two summits and his meetings with leaders of Saudi Arabia

another great pioneering undertaking in China’s diplomacy, Wang Yi, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister, said it has demonstrated the strategic choice of China and Arab countries to strengthen solidarity and coordination in the face of global challenges.


Leaders attend the China-Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on December 9 (XINHUA) 


Before the First China-Arab States Summit took place, the two sides were conducting exchanges and cooperation through mechanisms such as China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, which was established in 2004.

Then, in 2014, during the Sixth Ministerial Conference of China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, Xi proposed to establish a China-Arab states technology transfer center. A year later, the project was launched in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in northwest China, which made it possible for the irrigation technology developed by Ningxia University to reach Arab countries.

China and Arab states agreed to elevate the forum to summit level at its Ninth Ministerial Conference, held online in 2020, and reached important consensus on building a Sino-Arab community with a shared future and

supporting each other on issues concerning core interests.

Located at the junction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, components of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, Arab countries are natural partners for pushing forward their development.

The Belt and Road Initiative aims to boost connectivity along and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes. China has signed Belt and Road cooperation documents with 20 Arab countries and the Arab League (AL). Together, they have already implemented more than 200 major projects in energy, infrastructure and other fields under the initiative, yielding fruitful results and benefiting nearly 2 billion people on both sides, according to a report released by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on December 1.

In his speech at the China-Arab States Summit, Xi said the convening of the summit “is a milestone in the history of Sino-Arab relations and will take us to a more promising future of friendship and cooperation.”

“As strategic partners, we should carry forward the spirit of Sino-Arab friendship, strengthen solidarity and cooperation, and foster a closer Sino-Arab community with a shared future,” he added.

Leaders from 21 AL countries, AL Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, as well as heads of other international organizations also attended the summit.

China’s success is so 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, Aboul Gheit told Xinhua News Agency.

“The Arab world needs the Chinese vision, effort, development and investments, and China needs the friendships of its historical partners,” the AL chief added.

The China-GCC Summit on December 9 marked the first time leaders of China and GCC states, namely, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain, got together. Xi expounded on how to establish the strategic partnership from the four aspects of unity, development, security and civilization at the event.

Xi said China has a vast consumer market and a complete industrial system, while the GCC, with rich energy and resources, is embracing diversified economic development. He added that they are natural partners for cooperation and called on the two sides to be partners for greater solidarity, common development, common security and cultural prosperity.

GCC countries are among the world’s major energy exporters and feature the highest level of development in the Arab world, according to Li Shaoxian, Director of the China-Arab States Research Institute of Ningxia University. He added that they are leading other Arab states in cooperation with China.

“The two summits elevate the cooperation mechanisms between China and Arab states, making the future bilateral high-level interactions more frequent and significant,” Liu Zhongmin, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times. 


Workers at the site of China-built King Salman International Complex for Maritime Industries and Services in Saudi Arabia on October 1 (XINHUA) 


China will, in the next three to five years, work with Arab nations to advance eight major cooperation initiatives in areas including development support, food security, public health, green innovation, energy security, intercultural dialogue, youth development, and security and stability, Xi said.

These initiatives highlight the idea of common development, which shows that China attaches great importance to the real concerns of Arab states, Liao Baizhi, a researcher with the Middle East Institute of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told International Business Daily. By looking for new areas of collaboration, it is hoped that bilateral ties will be strengthened in an all-round way, he added.

Xi also proposed five major areas for cooperation in the next three to five years with GCC countries, including energy, finance and investment, innovation and new technologies, as well as aerospace, and language and culture.

China will continue to import more crude oil and liquefied natural gas from GCC countries and strengthen cooperation in oil and gas development as well as in clean and low-carbon energy technologies, Xi said. He also called on the two sides to carry out oil and gas trade settlement in renminbi.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest exporter of oil and Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas. In 2021, China’s crude oil imports from Arab countries reached 264 million tons, accounting for 51.47 percent of its total imports in the same period, according to China’s central government statistics.

The future work will not be limited to traditional areas, but also be expanded to more opportunities, Dong Manyuan, a researcher with the China Institute of International Studies, told People’s Daily.

Such exploration in the new-energy sector has already begun. For example, a Sino-Arab clean energy training center for projects in the field of solar and wind power together with smart grid technologies was established in 2018.

On November 20, when the FIFA World Cup kicked off at the Al Bayt Stadium in Doha, the stable supply of clean power was from a photovoltaic power station built by Power-China Guizhou Engineering Co.­—another example for bilateral collaboration.

Role of China 

The increasingly in-depth exchanges and teamwork between China and Arab states further demonstrates the irreplaceable and important role played by China in maintaining regional peace, promoting regional stability and development, as well as building people-to-people bonds with the region, Dong said.

In the latest joint statements between China and Arab states and GCC countries, respectively, the leaders elaborated on regional security issues including Palestine, Yemen and Libya.

China and Saudi Arabia have agreed to strengthen cooperation to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. They also called on Iran to work with the International Atomic Energy Agency and maintain the nonproliferation regime, according to their joint statement issued on December 8.

China looks to play a constructive role on the security issues in the region, emphasizing the importance of solidarity and pushing forward joint and sustainable security, which is in line with the Global Security Initiative put forward by Xi, Liu said.

In fact, China has always played the role of facilitating regional peace talks. Arab countries are well aware that China has good intentions to bring peace and stability to the region. “So they look forward to China playing a bigger role in the future,” Li said.

(Printed Edition title:Toward a Common Future) 

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson 

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