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China-Arab Cooperation Forum

China-Arab Cooperation Forum

Monday, 9 July, 2018 - 09:00
Ahmed Abul Gheit
Ahmed Abul Gheit is the Secretary General of the Arab League.

Relations between the Arabs and China are as old as the two ancient civilizations, and are so diverse that they encompass all aspects of human activity from commerce and economy to culture and popular ties.

These deep bonds were preceded by communication between China and the rest of the globe. The Arab-Islamic civilization was in fact the bridge between China and other world civilizations.

It is not surprising, then, that the time that witnessed the flourishing of the Arab-Islamic civilization - from the eighth century onwards - was the same as the apogee of the Chinese civilization, the peak of its glory, and its economic, scientific and human prosperity. This time in Europe was called the “dark Middle Ages”, as it was gloomy in the West and glowing and shining in the East, both among Arabs and Chinese.

Today, the relationship between the Arab world and China transcends the logic of mutual economic benefit or the desire for economic well-being. The fact is that relations between our peoples are based on deeper and closer historical and cultural ties that are reflected in the two sides’ close view of international affairs. Arab countries were the first to recognize the People’s Republic of China, after its establishment in 1949, and even before its recognition by the United Nations.

The Arab-Chinese relations witnessed an extraordinary development after the Bandung Conference in June 1955, at a time of ultimate international polarization. Arab countries also supported China’s quest for a seat in the United Nations in the early 1970s. Needless to say, support for the one-China principle is among the main pillars of Arab world policy towards China.

The establishment of the China-Arab Cooperation Forum in 2004 represented a real breakthrough in Arab relations - at the collective level - with China. The forum contributed to placing these relations within an institutional framework, so that their development and future potential could be monitored

and their shortcomings could be addressed by both sides in order to improve relations at all levels.

About fifteen cooperation mechanisms have been instituted within the framework of the forum in various political, economic, cultural and scientific fields. The historic visit of Chinese President Xi-Jinping to the headquarters of the League of Arab States in January 2016 gave unprecedented momentum to the Arab-Chinese relations and paved the way for broad prospects for progress and advancement.

Over the past 14 years, the Arab-China Cooperation Forum has contributed to strengthening relations between the two sides and enhancing cooperation and coordination between them. The volume of trade between Arab countries and China jumped from $36.4 billion when the forum was established to $191 billion in 2017, a clear evolution that made China - as many reports emphasized - the second largest trading partner of Arab countries.

There is no doubt that prospects for further trade development are open, beyond the traditional fields (especially energy) and towards broader and more diverse horizons. The two sides are looking forward to increasing the volume of trade exchange to $600 billion, especially within the framework of the "Belt and Road" initiative, in which Arab countries occupy a prominent position by virtue of their strategic location, economic potential and natural and human resources.

The initiative to revive the ancient Silk Road will unleash the potential of the Arab world and transform the capabilities into huge investments that the region needs to revive markets, raise employment rates and improve infrastructure.

The “Belt and Road” is an initiative with unprecedented potential for success. It recalls the time of the renaissance of the two Arab and Chinese civilizations... and allows for the comeback of this renaissance.

The Arab world sees China not only as a trading partner, but as a pioneer of unprecedented experience in achieving balanced economic growth and lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. China’s unique economic model (capitalism with Chinese characteristics) is the focus of the political, intellectual, economic and business leaders of the Arab world, and contains very important lessons in how to deal with the phenomenon of globalization with courage, creativity and confidence. I do not exaggerate if I say that China - thanks to this policy - has become one of the biggest winners of globalization, if not the biggest winner at all.

Cooperation and rapprochement between the two sides is not limited to the economic side. The structure of the international system and its current liquidity are driving more political coordination between the Arab world and China, especially that their positions stem from a similar reading of the international system. They both understand the need to respect sovereignty and to refrain from interfering in other countries’ internal affairs. They also realize the inevitability of countering terrorism in its totality as a serious threat to the stability and well-being of States and societies.

There is no doubt that China’s stance towards the Palestinian Cause - the central issue of the Arabs - is highly appreciated by the Arab side, especially since China's positions have never changed, whether in supporting the Palestinian right, backed by international legitimacy and international law and the need to end the occupation and to implement the two-state solution as the only possible key to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

I emphasize in this regard the four-point initiative of President Xi-Jinping to achieve a political settlement of the Palestinian issue and China’s foreign policy ideas on the Middle East, which are consistent with the Arab Peace Initiative, in its quest for an independent Palestinian State with full sovereignty over the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as its capital

In conclusion, I am certain that the China-Arab Cooperation Forum, in its eighth session that will be held in Beijing on July 10, 2018, will be a new element to add to the strong relations between the Arab world and China.

The Secretary General of the Arab League

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