|Chinese and Arab businessmen talk at the 2015 China-Arab State Expo, in Yinchuan, capital of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, on September 13, 2015 (XINHUA)
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the building of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road in hopes of connecting Asian, European and African countries more closely and promoting mutually beneficial cooperation. This initiative has garnered support from Egypt, Saudi Arabia as well as other countries along the routes of the proposed belt and road; while seven Arab nations, including the two previously mentioned, have become founding members of the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)-an important financing platform for the Belt and Road Initiative and other regional infrastructure projects. In many ways, the AIIB, which was officially inaugurated in Beijing on January 16, has become a new vehicle for cooperation between China and the Arab world.
When meeting a delegation from the Gulf Cooperation Council in January 2014, Xi stressed that Arab countries, which lie in the western intersection of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, are China's natural and important partners. He added that China highly values the commitment and support from Arab countries in helping to build the belt and road.
Window for cooperation
China has long-enjoyed close relations with the Arab world based on mutually beneficial cooperation as well as respective needs for knowledge and technology transfer and economic development. As early as 1,000 years ago, Chinese and Arab civilizations began close exchange and engagement with each other through the ancient Silk Road that traverses the Middle East to link China and Europe. Such interaction has survived over centuries.
In the 21st century, economic globalization and the rapid development of information technology have made the world a "small village," and China-Arab relations have experienced great leaps forward. Since 2004, in particular, when the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum was launched as a major platform for bilateral cooperation, the relationship has gained more prominence and caught substantial attention accordingly.
In the face of great social transformations in much of the Arab world in recent years, China adheres to its consistent stance and principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. China understands the aspirations of the people in some countries in the region-including Egypt-for change. It also advocates that domestic political disputes should be settled through dialogue and political solutions instead of violence.
China has actively promoted the political settlement of hot-button issues in the Middle East, especially the Syrian conflict. It supports Arab countries' independent choices regarding paths of development and is willing to enhance exchanges with these countries in regards to seeking common interests. It will continue to provide economic, technical and humanitarian assistance to nations in need. Finally, China believes strongly in the power of people-to-people exchanges, which are a cornerstone for sound China-Arab ties.
Both China and Arab countries are facing new challenges in maintaining regional peace and stability, promoting domestic development as well as protecting resources and the environment due to complicated changes in the international landscape. How to achieve sustainable development has concerned every country.
On June 5, 2014, when addressing the opening ceremony of the Sixth Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, Xi proposed the two sides construct the overland and maritime silk roads based on the principle of discussion, co-construction and sharing, and build a community of common interests and a community of common destiny. He also proposed the two sides establish a "1+2+3" cooperation pattern.
The "1" in the proposal means taking energy cooperation as the core, with the focus on deepening bilateral cooperation through the whole industrial chain in the field of oil and gas, maintaining the security of energy transport routes and establishing mutually beneficial, reliable and long-term China-Arab relations. The "2" refers to making infrastructure construction and trade and investment facilitation as "two wings" of the cooperation, trying to enhance collaboration between China and Arab countries in major development programs and landmark projects concerning people's livelihoods. And the "3"points to new breakthroughs in three hi- and new-technology fields of nuclear energy, space satellite and renewable energy, in order to upgrade the pragmatic partnerships between China and Arab nations.
In the hi-tech fields, Xi proposed establishing three centers for project cooperation-the China-Arab Technology Transfer Center, the Arab Training Center for Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy and the Center for Application of China's Beidou Navigation Satellite System in Arab.
At present, the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative has become the axis of China-Arab cooperation, particularly in the fields of trade, energy, infrastructure construction and high technology. The three centers for project cooperation proposed by Xi are under construction. These projects will effectively boost innovation and the development of new sources of growth for both sides once they come into operation.
Looking to the future, China and Arab nations face historic opportunities to achieve prosperity for their citizens. For its part, China is willing to make further efforts together with Arab partners to elevate bilateral relationship to new heights in line with the time-honored Silk Road Spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and shared benefits.
People-to-people exchanges are an indispensable part of the China-Arab partnership, thus, it should be placed in the position of equal importance with economic and trade cooperation. In short, the overland and maritime silk roads that both sides are working on will embody achievements in both aspects.
China has signed agreements for cooperation with almost every Arab country in the fields of education, culture and healthcare. They have also regularly exchanged visits of personnel from different sectors. At present, there are 19 Confucius institutes and classrooms in the Middle East to teach Chinese language and culture. Meanwhile, the number of students from Arab countries studying in China in 2013 had increased 14 times than that of 2003. In addition, the holding of a variety of cultural forums, "year of culture" programs and art festivals have greatly increased mutual understanding of Chinese and Arab peoples.
The commitment to finding common interests is the inexhaustible motive behind this cooperation. Nevertheless, the current turbulence in the Middle East and the rise of terrorist activities in all corners of the globe have brought new challenges. There is obviously still a long way to go to promote mutual respect and learning between different civilizations.
The shared pursuit of prosperity has more closely linked China and Arab nations together and highlights the importance of matching their respective development strategies. Moving forward, China and Arab countries must constantly deepen cooperation and upgrade their strategic cooperative relationship, to realize a community of common interests and a community of common destiny together for the benefit of all.
The author is China's special envoy on the Middle East issue and a former Chinese ambassador to Egypt and Saudi Arabia
Copyedited by Mara Lee Durrell
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