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Strengthen the Forum and Upgrade China-Arab Relations

2014-06-03 15:09

On 5 June, Beijing will witness a grand gathering of delegates from Arab states and the Arab League for the sixth Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab Cooperation Forum as well as celebration for the 10th anniversary of the Forum. This will be a major diplomatic move of the Chinese government geared towards the entire Arab world under the new conditions and also a momentous event in the history of China-Arab relations, carrying the significance of building on past achievements and shaping the future.

The China-Arab Cooperation Forum was established in January 2004 following a joint announcement of China and Arab states at the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo and with a focus on long-term growth of China-Arab relations in the new century. It was a natural outcome of the growing political mutual trust and thriving practical cooperation between the two sides and was a highly relevant new measure taken by the two sides to ride the tide of globalization and regional cooperation. The establishment of the Forum, rooted in time-honored friendship, driven by mutually beneficial cooperation and aimed at common development, was a reflection of the strategic will and common choice of China and the Arab states.

A decade of efforts through thick and thin have now come to fruition. The China-Arab Cooperation Forum has developed, under the Forum's framework, over ten cooperation mechanisms including the Ministerial Conference, the Senior Officials' Meeting, the business conference & investment seminar, the seminar on China-Arab relations and inter-civilization dialogue, the friendship conference, the conference on energy cooperation, the forum on media cooperation, the senior health officials meeting and the Arab arts festival in China and Chinese arts festival in Arab states. With such tremendous enrichment of friendly exchanges and increased variety of win-win cooperation models, the China-Arab Cooperation Forum has become an important brand leading the growth of China-Arab relations.

The past decade has been one of increasingly mature political mutual trust between China and Arab states. In 2010, the Forum's fourth Ministerial Conference issued the Tianjin Declaration, announcing establishment of the "China-Arab strategic cooperative relationship for comprehensive cooperation and common development" under the framework of the Forum and unveiling a new stage in China-Arab collective dialogue and cooperation. Moreover, China established strategic relations with Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and set up with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) the China-GCC strategic dialogue mechanism. As always, China supported Arab states in independently exploring development paths compatible with their national conditions and in restoring the legitimate rights of their nations, including Palestine's right to an independent Palestinian state. Likewise, Arab states gave invaluable support to China on issues concerning China's major interests and core concerns, and provided generous assistance to China in time of disasters such as the Wenchuan earthquake. During the past ten years, the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Arab League adopted resolutions on many occasions on strengthening Arab-China friendly relations in various fields. Cooperation with China has become a consensus among Arab states.

The past decade has been one of soaring China-Arab trade and economic cooperation. Two-way trade surged from US$25.5 billion to US$238.9 billion, with the average annual growth rate exceeding 25%. China's import of crude oil from Arab states rose from 40.58 million tons to 133 million tons, growing by over 12% every year on average. The value of new engineering contracts signed by Chinese businesses in Arab states increased from US$2.6 billion every year to US$29.1 billion, registering an annual growth rate of 27% on average. The annual increase in non-financial direct investment by Chinese businesses in Arab states also grew from US$17.25 million to US$2.04 billion. China is now the second biggest trading partner of the Arab world and the top trading partner of nine Arab states. The Arab world, in addition to being the seventh biggest trading partner of China, is also China's primary partner in energy and major market for engineering contracts and overseas investment. In recent years, China-Arab cooperation in emerging sectors including finance, space and new energy has also thrived and shown good momentum.

The past decade has also been one of exciting people-to-people and cultural exchanges between China and Arab states. Over 20 universities in China now offer Arabic language programs, 11 Confucius Institutes and one CRI Confucius Classroom have been set up in eight Arab states, and more than 10,000 students from Arab states are studying in China throughout the year. With eight Arab states becoming tourism destinations for Chinese citizens and 145 flights per week between China and Arab states, over 830,000 mutual visits were made every year. Over the past ten years, China trained 15,676 personnel of various professions for Arab states, sent altogether 5,338 medical personnel to nine Arab states and provided strong intellectual support for the development of various undertakings in Arab states. It is fair to say that China-Arab friendship enjoys more extensive and profound public support than ever before.

From the past decade of the growth of the Forum and China-Arab relations, one may sum up the following experience: the two sides have always treated each other with sincerity and trust and stayed the course of strategic cooperation; the two sides have always pursued pragmatic, efficient and mutually beneficial cooperation and sought common development by sharing opportunities; the two sides have always promoted the approach of openness, inclusiveness and seeking common ground while shelving differences and brought the people of the two sides closer through mutual learning; and the two sides have always moved along the trend of the times with great enterprise and ensured mutual enhancement and coordinated expansion of bilateral and collective cooperation.

The trend towards a multi-polar world and economic globalization is gathering momentum. Cultural diversity and informationization are advancing steadily. New scientific and technological breakthroughs are on the horizon in many different areas. As important members of the developing world, both China and Arab states are at a critical juncture of transformation and development. In China, the third plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) has made a strategic decision to deepen reform in a comprehensive way. The Chinese people are marching towards the two "centenary goals" (i.e. to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects when the CPC celebrates its centenary and turn China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious when the People's Republic of China marks its centenary) and working to translate into reality their Chinese dream, a dream about the great renewal of the Chinese nation. As this takes place, the Middle East, too, is experiencing major changes, adjustments and transformation like never before. Arab states have accelerated their exploration of changes on their own initiative. The 1.3 billion Chinese people and the 300 million people in Arab states need to seize the opportunity and work together to counter challenges and achieve common development.

At the Forum's sixth Ministerial Conference, the two sides will adopt a Beijing declaration, an action plan for 2014-2016, and a development plan for 2014-2024 to draw up an ambitious blueprint for the development of China-Arab relations and that of the Forum in the coming decade. China will expound its policy towards Arab states under the new situation and propose new ideas and measures for closer practical cooperation. The Conference will not only start a new decade of greater success in the development of the Forum but also sound a clarion call for the upgrading of China-Arab relations.

- The deepening of China-Arab strategic cooperation needs a solid foundation. The two sides need to maintain the momentum of high-level exchanges, ensure the success of the ministerial conference, the senior officials' meeting and other meeting mechanisms at various levels within the Forum's framework, conduct dialogue and consultation on global issues in political, economic and security fields, and demonstrate the strategic importance of their relations. The two sides need to give mutual support with regard to issues concerning each other's core and major interests, step up coordination and collaboration in regional and international affairs, turn the balance of power in favor of developing countries, and advance shared interests.

- The deepening of China-Arab strategic cooperation needs inexhaustible impetus. Located at the west ends of the economic belt along the Silk Road and the 21st-century maritime silk road, Arab states are natural and important cooperation partners for China in building the economic belt and the maritime silk road. China wants to reinforce cooperation with Arab states in both traditional sectors like energy, trade and infrastructure and emerging sectors like nuclear energy, space and new energy with a view to sharing development benefits and promoting common prosperity. Arab states, on their part, want to align their "look east" strategy with China's western development strategy, give play to their comparative strengths, and win themselves more opportunities and space for development. The two sides need to plan for the growth of their relations in the next 10 years around the priority of building the economic belt and the maritime silk road, which will become a source of inexhaustible impetus for China-Arab relations. As long as we have this source of impetus, the mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Arab states will last long and achieve big.

- The deepening of the China-Arab strategic cooperation needs the rich nourishment from people-to-people exchanges. The two sides need to continue their good work on institutionalized events such as the seminar on inter-civilization dialogue, the forum on media cooperation, the friendship conference and the arts festival, expand cooperation on education, health, science and technology, tourism and human resources training, and make good use of the "troika" mechanism involving youth, scholar and elite delegations in a bid to further cement popular support for China-Arab friendship. Both the Chinese and the Arab civilizations have profound depths and unique features and both hold the intellectual power in high regard. This is of special and positive value to the progress of human civilization and will remain so in the future. Closer people-to-people interactions between China and Arab states will contribute more oriental wisdom to the harmonious co-existence of different civilizations and more oriental ideas to the shaping of values in the global governance system.

As an old Chinese saying goes, "Nothing separates people with common goals and ideals, not even mountains and seas." Over 2,000 years ago, ancestors of the Chinese and Arab nations overcame ethnic, cultural and geographic limits to paint a picture of harmony and friendly exchanges between China and Arab states along the ancient Silk Road. Today, China and Arab states are working together to build the economic belt and the maritime silk road to revive the modern-day silk road. This will open a door to new opportunities for China-Arab relations. China will work with Arab states to seize the historical opportunity, follow the win-win principle and act with creativity to achieve China's great dream of national revival in the course of deepening China-Arab cooperation. Let the 10th anniversary be a new starting point for China and Arab states to join hands, keep the momentum, and usher in a brighter future for China-Arab relations and the China-Arab Cooperation Forum.

(The author is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of China.)

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