Cementing ties with Arab world

Updated: 2012-01-14 07:49

By Wang Hui (China Daily)

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Premier Wen's visit to the Arabian Peninsula is significant not only for bilateral ties, but also the region and world beyond

Premier Wen Jiabao's six-day visit to the Arabian Peninsula, which begins on Saturday, has drawn widespread interest both at home and abroad.

The visit comes at a time when the United States and its Western allies are mounting pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear program and the "Arab Spring" has brought about dramatic and profound changes in the Arab world's geopolitical landscape. Against this backdrop, the significance of Wen's trip, which will take him to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), goes far beyond China's ties with the Arab nations and the Islamic world.

Given the robust trade ties between China and the three Arab nations, Wen's visit will have a considerable impact on the world economy, because deep Sino-Arab cooperation in energy will contribute to the stability of the world's energy market and global trade as a whole.

In recent years, especially after the inauguration of China-Arab Cooperation Forum in 2004, Sino-Arab relations have developed more rapidly. China's trade with Arab League countries has been on the fast track of growth. The volume of China-Arab League trade, the seventh largest for China, is estimated to have crossed a record $190 billion in 2011.

Cooperation in energy is undoubtedly the cornerstone of bilateral trade. According to Chinese media reports, China now imports more than 55 percent of its crude oil needs, and 47 percent of that comes from the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is China's top oil supplier, while Qatar is its largest supplier of liquefied natural gas.

To buttress its fast-growing economy, China needs a stable and continuous supply of huge volumes of fuel. The Middle East is the world's largest fuel exporter, but then it needs a long-term and stable fuel consumer to maintain its position. Sino-Arab energy cooperation caters to the interests of and is strategically important for both sides.

No wonder, China and the Arab nations attach great importance to a stable energy cooperation. Besides, normal supply and consumption of energy between the two sides also help check fluctuations in energy prices.

Nonetheless, energy alone does not signify the importance of Sino-Arab interaction. Under the framework of the China-Arab Cooperation Forum, the two sides have established more than a dozen cooperative mechanisms covering areas such as culture, finance, environmental protection, agriculture and infrastructure.

Chinese enterprises have increased their investments and technology transfer in infrastructure construction, mechanical manufacturing, and light and textile industries in the Arab world. By the end of 2010, China's accumulated investment in the Arab states had crossed $15 billion, while Arab enterprises' investment in China added up to $2.6 billion, making it one of the fastest growing sources of foreign investment in China.

The two sides have promoted civilization dialogues to deepen mutual understanding and increase the exchanges between the two peoples, too, and held the fourth conference on civilization dialogue just last month in Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, vowing to promote peace, tolerance and understanding.

China and the Arab nations have held an annual economic and trade forum in Yinchuan, capital of Ningxia Hui autonomous region since 2010. Hui people are largely offspring of Muslims from the Middle East and Central Asia, and Ningxia, home to 10 percent of China's 20 million Muslims, is bracing up to serve as a bridge for trade and cultural exchanges between China and the Arab states.

Unlike Western countries, which tend to impose their own values and political systems on others, China interacts with the Arab world on the principle of equality, equity, mutual respect and mutual benefit.

The US, more often than not, tilts toward Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians, infuriating many in the Arab world. In contrast, China has always supported the rightful demands of the Palestinians on the world stage, earning praise from the Arab world. Throughout the history of Sino-Arab friendship that dates back to the ancient Silk Road era, China has never pursued exclusive political agenda at the expense of the Middle East or other sides.

China's stance has been increasingly welcomed in the Arab world and many Arab states have chosen to "Look East" for cooperation and support to deal with regional and world issues.

Wen's visit to the Arabian Peninsula will help consolidate old friendship, cement political mutual trust and chart the future for a strategic partnership between China and the Arab nations. It will strengthen China's ties with the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council, too, which are playing a bigger role in regional affairs now.

With the region undergoing profound changes since the "Arab Spring" began more than a year ago, regional stability will figure high in Wen's talks with leaders of the three Arab countries. And the world will be waiting for the outcome of their meetings, for Sino-Arab mutual concerns and agreements will influence every turn the region takes for peace and stability.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily.

(China Daily 01/14/2012 page5)