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Silk Road pit stop seen as link to Arab states

By Han Tianyang | China Daily | Updated: 2013-09-13 07:14

Silk Road pit stop seen as link to Arab states

Arab merchants inquire about business opportunities in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region at last year's China-Arab States Economic and Trade Forum, now renamed China-Arab States Expo. Photos Provided to China Daily

Scope of expo expanded beyond trade to include culture, tourism, Han Tianyang reports.

The first China-Arab States Expo will open on Sept 15 in Yinchuan, capital city of the Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

Comprising multiple business forums and exhibitions, the five-day event is designed to promote cooperation between China and the Arab countries in key areas like agriculture, energy, education, tourism and finance.

"Ningxia is an important stop on the Silk Road, where the Chinese and Arab civilizations have traditionally interacted on each other, and the Hui people in Ningxia share many similarities in terms of culture, religion and customs with the Arab people," said Liu Hui, chairwoman of the autonomous region.

"Therefore, Ningxia has distinct geographical and cultural advantages for promoting friendly cooperation between China and the Arab countries," she said.

Last year, the State Council approved a plan to construct an inland opening-up pilot economic zone in Ningxia and a bonded area in its capital city Yinchuan, making the autonomous region a spearhead in the drive to internationalize the economy and promote exchanges.

Since 2010, Ningxia has annually hosted the China-Arab States Economic and Trade Forum.

The event was renamed the China-Arab States Expo this year to reflect an expansion of its scope to include not just business cooperation but also political dialogue and cultural exchange.

In the past 10 years, trade between China and Arab countries has been increasing at an annual rate of 30 percent.

The number hit a record high of more than $200 billion last year, and the upward trend is likely to continue in the coming years.

Crude oil is still the dominant export from Arab countries to China.

But analysts said that new energy and new technology may overtake oil and petrochemical products to be a new highlight in the cooperation between the two parties.

Both sides are already cooperating to combat desertification and protect water resources.

The upcoming expo will not only have a forum on energy cooperation but also a comprehensive exhibition on new energy and new technology, organizers said.

Among the various activities there is also an aerospace technology exhibition, signaling that cooperation between China and Arab countries is now taking place on the frontiers of global technology.

Media that cover this year's expo will surely find financial cooperation to be a hot topic, organizers said. The Arab countries have become an increasingly important financial force in the world.

It is so strong that their investment in some Western, developed countries has already affected the financial markets there.

According to Morgan Stanley, nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council together hold a combined sovereign fund of $2.5 trillion and have invested widely across the world.

In the wake of the financial crisis in Europe and the US, some investments by the Arabian sovereign fund were hit. Investors in those countries need to find new destinations, so they are looking at the huge potential in the Chinese market.

The financial cooperation between China and GCC countries is now progressing steadily.

One way to avoid risk is for investors to look for a target region or industry that does not have an economic cycle synchronized with that of their home region, said Zhang Yansheng, secretary-general of the academic committee of the National Development and Reform Commission.

The economic cycle of China is not synchronized with that of the GCC countries, so it is to the benefit of both sides to invest in each other and minimize risk, Zhang said. He suggested that the government should make the best use of Ningxia's special connections with the Muslim world and build it a pioneering area in terms of financial cooperation with Arab countries.

Ningxia is home to a large amount of Chinese Muslims and has a number of mosques, giving it more of an Arabian character than any other region in China.

In April this year, the National Tourism Administration signed an agreement with the local government of Ningxia to promote the autonomous region as a tourism destination for Muslims.

According to the arrangement, the administration will help Ningxia to develop one or two Muslim recreational routes that have a strong brand as well as attractions that are known throughout China and abroad.

Arab countries have become a popular destination for Chinese tourists in recent years, too.

At the famous Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai, Chinese visitors account for about one-quarter of its guests and are a major contributor to its operating income.

In China, many universities offer courses in Arabic, and every year, a large number of graduates start to work in fields that put them in contact with Arab countries, allowing them to play an important role in promoting exchanges.

Culture, education and tourism are also focuses of this year's expo.

Related activities will include a World Muslim Travel Conference, China-Arab Culture and Art Exhibition Week as well as the China-Arab Publishing Cooperation Forum.


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