SOLIDARITY: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao poses with participants at the Fourth Ministerial Meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in Tianjin on May 13 (ZHANG DUO)
China and Arab nations have vowed to elevate their relationship to a strategic level—a new consensus, analysts say, that reflects their long-term mutual trust and shared aspirations for development.
In a declaration released at the Fourth Ministerial Meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF) in north China's Tianjin Municipality from May 13-14, both sides announced the foundation of a "strategic cooperative relationship featuring comprehensive cooperation and common development."
Foreign ministers and representatives from 22 Arab nations attended the meeting, co-chaired by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Libyan Foreign Minister Mousa Kousa, and Secretary General of the League of Arab States Amre Moussa.
In addition to the declaration, the meeting also issued a communiqué along with an action plan to chart the course for Sino-Arab cooperation over the next two years.
A strategic view
China first forged diplomatic ties with Arab states, most notably Egypt and Syria, in 1956. More than four decades later, Chinese President Hu Jintao laid down principles on building a "new partnership" between China and Arab nations during his first state visit to Egypt in January 2004.
At the Third CASCF Ministerial Meeting in Bahrain four years later, Beijing and regional representatives reaffirmed their desire to establish a "new partnership for peace and sustainable development."
The decision by China and its Arab friends to upgrade their relationship to a strategic level at the Fourth CASCF Ministerial Meeting in Tianjin further underscored their interdependence, said Dong Manyuan, a research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies. China, he noted, would be hard-pressed to achieve its rapid economic development without the support of Arab countries.
Indeed, on the other hand, Arab nations would, at best, face their own set of complexities were it not for the trade and investment that Beijing allows their economies.
The numbers tell the story. Last year, Sino-Arab trade soared to $107.4 billion—up from $36.4 billion in 2004 when the CASCF was inaugurated, while mutual direct investment rose to $5.5 billion from $1.1 billion.
Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan and Iraq are among China's major oil suppliers. China, for its part, provides Arab countries with vast amounts of industrial products and consumer goods.
As part of its "looking eastward" strategy, the Gulf Cooperation Council, a political and economic union grouping six Arab states in the Gulf region, is seeking to create a free trade area with China. The initiative has now motivated other Arab nations to cultivate closer ties with the East Asian power, Dong said.
A strategic relationship between China and the Arab world, noted Dong, must also be grounded in mutual trust, as well as the support each other can employ when it comes to common international issues and joint efforts to uphold the interests of developing countries.
Over the years, China has given strong backing to Arab countries' efforts to explore development paths suitable to their own conditions, noted Wen. It has also played an active role in promoting the Middle East peace process.
The Fourth CASCF Ministerial Meeting, held in Tianjin's Binhai New Area, allowed Arab representatives to witness China's rapid economic growth and its solid progress in changing the mode of its development, said Dong.
ARAB HOSPITALITY: Wang Chen, Minister of the Information Office of China's State Council, attends the opening ceremony of the Second China-Arab Press Cooperation Forum on May 6 in Manama, Bahrain, along with Bahrain's Minister of Culture and Information Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa [(second right, front) (WANG BO)]
The locale of this summit was both ideal and symbolic. The Binhai New Area is a burgeoning economic powerhouse in the east of Tianjin facing the Bohai Sea. Pillar industries in the area include those of aviation, petrochemicals, hi-tech manufacturing, biomedicine and alternative energy technologies.
China's accomplishments could help bolster Arab nations' confidence in the potential rewards of Sino-Arab cooperation, Dong said.
In recent years, for instance, Sino-Arab relations have made powerful headway within the framework of the CASCF, he said.
The relations are advancing smoothly, he added, without "major problems."
Despite the fact that most of the world's oil and natural gas reserves are located in the Arab region, Sino-Arab collaborations have consistently diversified well beyond the energy sector.
For its part, the action plan for 2010-12 signed by Yang and Moussa in Tianjin outlined a wide array of areas in future cooperation—ranging from culture and agriculture to infrastructure.
While continuing to purchase oil and natural gas from Arab nations, Beijing also expressed its desire to import other types of products, too, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in his keynote speech.
China, he added, also stands ready to export hi-tech machinery and electronic products to Arab nations, Wen said, while encouraging Chinese companies to invest further in Arab countries. Beijing, he added, will continue to welcome investment from companies in the Middle East.