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Beijing Summit: Opening a New Horizon in Chinese-Arab Convergence

Saturday 1 June 2024
Beijing Summit: Opening a New Horizon in Chinese-Arab Convergence

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Alwaght- Setting to become the world's economic superpower in the next two decades, China puts on agenda expansion of economic and political relations with the developing countries to this end.

Among the actors that can help Beijing in this path are the Arab countries that play a significant role in the world markets due to their rich oil and gas reserves and strategic geopolitical position. This has been a good motivation for the two sides in recent years to hold various summits.

In this connection, the Chinese foreign ministry stated that in addition to foreign ministers of other Arab countries, heads of Egypt, the UAE, Tunisia, and Bahrain visit China from May 28 to June 1 at the invitation of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Deng Li on Thursday said that Xi will join the summit and will make an important address. He added that the Chinese leader will hold talks with leaders of four countries and exchange views on bilateral relations and regional and international issues. 

"This meeting aims to deepen the consensus between China and the Arab countries and is chaired by senior diplomat Wang Yi and his Mauritanian counterpart. He said they will also issue a joint statement on the Palestinian conflict. 

China's ties with Arab countries revolve around energy demand and the Belt and Road Initiative (RBI). In 2015, China officially became the world's largest importer of crude oil, with almost half of its supply coming from West Asia. West Asia as a strategic crossroad for trade routes and sea lanes connecting Asia to Europe and Africa is eyed for placing China at the center of global trade networks. Currently, China's relations with the region are focused on the Persian Gulf countries due to their dominant role in the energy markets, but the leaders of Beijing also consider developing relations with other Arab countries.

Founded during visit to Cairo of then Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2004, China-Arab Cooperation Forum is a platform that connects China to 22 members of the members of Arab League. According to this mechanism, foreign ministers of 23 countries hold a summit every two years to discuss cooperation in politics, economy, and security. 

In recent years, senior officials have also met periodically to explore deeper cooperation in energy, technology and public health. In December 2022, at the first Arab-China summit in Riyadh, Xi Jinping urged a closer Sino-Arab community with a common future.

China, the biggest trade partner of Arabs 

In the Chinese-Arab closeness, economy is at the center of focus. China has been the biggest trade partner of Arab countries for many years. According to data published by the Chinese foreign ministry, trade volume between the two sides hit $398 billion in 2023, compared to $36.7 billion in 2004.

Experts believe that the current meeting will further bolster their ties, and it is expected that this meeting will provide opportunities for attracting further investment to Egypt that according to the government planning is moving to localization of the industry and transfer of foreign technology to local companies. 

Egypt is eager to work closely with the private sector and encourage direct foreign investment. In this regard, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is set to meet with the heads of several large Chinese companies.

Since Egypt is economically weaker than Persian Gulf Arab monarchies and a large part of its incomes come from Suez Canal transit, its leaders are pushing to use China's capabilities to expand their infrastructure. Having in mind that the US with the help of some Arab countries is seeking to build India-Middle East-Europe corridor to bypass Suez Canal, Egyptians are concerned about this plan and try to shore up their interactions with emerging Eastern power and stay safe from the harmful effects of the American plans. The cooperation between Egypt and China in the political fields, development of RBI, economy and trade, and cultural exchanges has continuously deepened and yielded useful results. 

Specifically, this new summit will further promote cooperation between the two sides in new energies, science and technology, and protection of nvironment. 

For rich countries like UAE and Saudi Arabia, strengthening economic relations with China is very important. Although these countries have been in the US-led Western camp tor several decades, in order to balance their relations with the East and the West, in recent years they have aligned themselves with Beijing. Currently, China is considered the largest trade partner of these countries and is far ahead of its Western rival the US, something showing that the new generation of Arab rulers have realized the role and place of China in the world.

Last week, Bloomberg reported that the UAE plays a key role in the RBI as the driving force of China's global infrastructure plan, and over 6,600 Chinese brands are registered in this Arab monarchy. By the end of 2022, the UAE hosted about $12 million direct Chinese investment, four times more that attracted by the Saudis. 

Arab News website in April, citing a study of the Dubai-headquartered Emirates NBD, reported that Saudi Arabia attracted $16.8 billion green investment in auto industry and semiconductors in 2023.

According to China customs data, the volume of trade between China and the Middle East has almost doubled from $262.5 billion to $507.2 billion in the period from 2017 to 2022. The Middle East has been China's fastest growing trade partner in 2022, growing 27.1 percent over 2021.

For Beijing, a very significant import is oil. China gets more than a third of its crude oil from the six countries of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, the main share of which is from Saudi Arabia. The trade volume of Saudi Arabia and the UAE with China is more than $150 billion, indicating that their bilateral ties are at a very good level. 

China is the world's largest oil and gas importer, and Arab countries are the world's major oil and gas producers. Five Arab countries are among China's top 10 providers of crude oil. In addition to the energy field, the cooperation between China and the Arabs has also achieved great progress in areas such as infrastructure, aerospace and new energies. In these fields, China has unique advantages and the Arab countries have strong development needs, and therefore the cooperation is beneficial to both sides.

Arab states seek to take advantage of Chinese capacities in economy and also in technologies especially new ones like AI, renewable energy, EVs, and infrastructural investment.

China also needs the help of Arab countries to realize its ambitious dreams. The RBI corridor is a megaproject and a part of this transit route passes through the Arab countries of the region. China is trying to involve many countries in its global plan and by making other countries dependent on this important corridor, it can take the pulse of the global markets by developing its trade relations with these countries. 

Saudi Arabia and other oil producing Arab countries have designed a strategy to diversify their oil-reliant economies under Vision 2030 to cut the dependence of their national economy on the oil. The Arab transformation strategy matches with China's RBI. Arab countries are at the crossroads of the RBI and are natural partners of this megaproject. All 22 Arab countries and the Arab League have signed cooperation documents with China for development of the RBI. In the past 10 years, China and Arab countries have implemented more than 200 major cooperation projects within the framework of the RBI and the two billion people on both sides have benefited from this cooperation. 

East-West Cold War for Arab region 

As China's economic and diplomatic weight in the region is increasing, the US remains a key security partner of the Persian Gulf Arab states. It operates large military bases in countries such as Bahrain and Qatar and supplies defense technology to them. 

Still, Arab countries are also looking for military cooperation with China and have taken steps to this direction. After the start of Ukraine war, the UAE and Saudi saw an escalation in their relations with the US and have tried to boost their relations with China in security. Military drills, security agreements, and arms purchase deals with China serve this aim. 

Although due to American pressure, this security convergence between the Arab states and China is still in its early stages, with the rails laid, the development of security cooperation between the two sides is not far from expected in the coming years.

Washington is seeking a new security-defense pact with Saudi Arabia that is expected to be part of a broader regional reorganizing within which the Saudis normalize their ties with Israel. The US is worried about China's powerful presence in Arab countries and is trying to push Arabs away from China through political and security pressures. For this purpose, Washington is following the policy of distancing Riyadh from Beijing at the same time as it plans to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. 

This American plan can slow down Chinese trade partnership with West Asia through setting up roadblocks ahead of Arab cooperation with China in advanced technologies with security aspects. There are signs that the US is pressing Arab countries to cut off ties with Beijing in such areas of science. 

The UAE's top AI firm, G42, recently agreed to ditch China for American technology, signaling its willingness to do the same by signing a $1.5 billion deal with Saudi Arabia's $100 billion AI fund.

Hongda Fan, a professor of the Middle East Studies Institute (MESI) of Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), told the Global Times that "despite the US pressures, Saudi Arabia does not put all of its eggs in one basket. Saudi Arabia's defense cooperation with the United States will not end at the cost of the country's relations with China." 

American policy circles are concerned that given the close military partnership of the US with the Persian Gulf countries, China's vast technological equipment in the Persian Gulf's digital infrastructure could be used for intelligence gathering purposes.

From another perspective, just unlike the US, which has been the source of problems and conflicts in the region, China has always been committed to establishing peace and stability in the region and resolving disputes and neutralizing conflicts through dialogue. In the mediation of Iran-Saudi Arabia rapprochement and support to the Palestinians against the Israeli crimes, China has shown it is a pro-peace actor in the region and this is a good incentive for Arab states to strengthen their relations with this Asian giant. 

China's growing economic and military power, combined with its permanent seat at the Security Council, ensures that its global influence will grow over time. This is the reason why Persian Gulf rulers recognize China as an important source of political support. While the Arabs are under pressure from the US on issues such as human rights and democracy, China is silent on the internal issues of these countries. It is expected that in this week's meeting in Beijing, the two sides will strengthen their contacts and promote a spirit of friendship by boosting their convergence. 

Chinese influence through the gate of Palestinian cause 

One of the important issues that has pushed China and the Arabs towards cooperation in recent years is Palestine. The Palestinian cause is fundamental to regional peace and stability, and it can be hoped that the Beijing summit will contribute to efforts to end the ongoing conflict in Gaza and establish long-term stability in the region. 

Since Biden’s administration backs Israel in Gaza war, China, along with the Arab states supports immediate ceasefire and recognition of an independent Palestinian state. This alignment with Arab world allows Beijing to expand its influence in countries that until recently were seeing China an economic partner and build new allies for its global battle for influence against the US. 

The meeting with the leaders of the Arab countries in Beijing is taking place as China is trying to introduce itself as a mediator in the Palestinian case. China has historically been sympathetic to the cause of Palestine and supports the so-called two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Observers believe that the Arab leaders' visit to Beijing, after the failure of the US and the West to exert serious pressure on the Israel, is aimed at finding a final solution and the possibility of holding an international peace conference. 

In an increasingly chaotic world, the Arab countries and China that hold similar views on the regional and international matters use each other's capacities to develop their specific paths and are working to cooperate to protect common interests of the Global South. Therefore, it can be expected that the Beijing summit will not only help expand new horizons for China-Arab cooperation in a broad range of fields, but also help facilitate communication and build consensus on issues of mutual interest.

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China Arab World Trade US Egypt Palestine

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Details of the funeral ceremony of the president and his companions

Details of the funeral ceremony of the president and his companions