Summits set epoch-making milestone in history of China-Arab ties: Chinese ambassador to Saudi Arabia
Published: Dec 07, 2022 10:08 PM Updated: Dec 07, 2022 09:20 PM
Photo taken on July 12, 2022 shows the Mecca light rail operated during the Hajj season in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.The light rail system is built by the China Railway Construction Corporation. Photo: Xinhua

Photo taken on July 12, 2022 shows the Mecca light rail operated during the Hajj season in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.The light rail system is built by the China Railway Construction Corporation. Photo: Xinhua

Editor's Note: 
At the invitation of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, President Xi Jinping will attend the first China-Arab States Summit and the China-GCC Summit in Riyadh and pay a state visit to Saudi Arabia from December 7 to 10. How to understand the significance of the two summits and Xi's visit? What are the driving forces behind the continuously deepening China-Arab and China-GCC cooperation? Chinese ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chen Weiqing (Chen) shared his views with Global Times (GT) reporters Yu Jincui and Xing Xiaojing in Riyadh.  

GT: Regarding President Xi's visit to Saudi Arabia and the holding of the China-Arab and China-GCC summits, what're the considerations in terms of background and timing? 

The China-Arab States Summit, the China-GCC Summit and President Xi's state visit to Saudi Arabia are a major move of the head-of-state diplomacy of China's new journey for major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, and a major pioneering undertaking in new China's Middle East diplomacy.

After the successful conclusion of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), President Xi was invited to Bali, Indonesia to attend the 17th G20 Summit last month, and went to Bangkok, Thailand to attend the 29th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting and paid a visit to Thailand. The international community generally believes that in facing intertwined changes in the international situation, China has been a resounding voice to promote global development and lead global governance, demonstrating China's rational, confident and responsible role as a major country.

As another important visit after the 20th National Congress of the CPC, President Xi's attendance at the three events is a major act of diplomacy that coordinates both the domestic and international situation. It is an implementation of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, especially Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy, in the Middle East, as well as an effective measure to show the Arab world the purpose of the major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in the new era.

GT: For a long time, China has maintained good interactions with Arab countries and GCC countries. What is the significance of elevating the exchanges to the height of the summits of heads of state?

The two summits are first of their kind between China and the Arab countries, as well as China and the GCC countries. They are milestone events that will be recorded in the history of China-Arab relations and China-GCC relations, reflecting that the two sides' ties have been elevated to a new level after the rapid development over the past years. This is also the first time that the Arab League will collectively hold a summit with other countries, which fully demonstrates the high importance Arab countries attach to China and their eager expectation for strengthening cooperation with China. China will discuss with Arab and GCC countries to formulate overall future development goals and long-term cooperation plans in various fields, and publish a series of important outcome documents to jointly build a China-Arab community with a shared future for the new era.

The report to the 20th National Congress of the CPC points out: "China adheres to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in pursuing friendship and cooperation with other countries. It is committed to promoting a new type of international relations, deepening and expanding global partnerships based on equality, openness, and cooperation, and broadening the convergence of interests with other countries." It also mentions safeguarding "the common interests of the developing world." The Arab countries have paid close attention to the 20th National Congress of the CPC, and have high expectations for the new development opportunities brought about by Chinese modernization. Leaders and political parties of various Arab countries immediately called or sent letters to congratulate Xi on his election as general secretary of the CPC Central Committee.

During this visit to Saudi Arabia, President Xi will promote head-of-state diplomacy, determining the orientation and drawing a blueprint for the development of China-Arab, China-GCC and China-Saudi Arabia relations. It will definitely push China-Arab, China-GCC and China-Saudi Arabia relations to a new level, and lead major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in the new era to break new ground.

GT: Both China and Arab countries are important forces representing developing countries. How do you evaluate the China-Arab relations?

I would like to use a few words to describe and summarize the relationship between China and Arab countries.

First is peace. Arab countries have a splendid history of being a hub of ancient civilization, but they have been ravaged by wars, turbulences and conflicts in modern times, and descended into a "security lowland." What is commendable is that from a long-term historical perspective, China and Arab countries have never waged a war against each other, nor have they occupied an inch of each other's land.

Second is cooperation. Although China and Arab countries have different national conditions, it is both sides' common aspiration to seek development and promote cooperation. The economic structures of China and Arab countries are highly complementary, and there is huge potential and space for cooperation. For China, Arab countries have provided stable energy guarantees for China's economic engine, and have long been China's largest overseas crude oil supplier. In 2021, China imported 265 million tons of crude oil from Arab countries, accounting for 51.6 percent of China's total crude oil imports in the same period. Last month, QatarEnergy signed a 27-year deal to supply China's Sinopec with liquefied natural gas in the longest such LNG agreement to date. For Arab countries, China is a rare "free ride" they can take to accelerate their own development. At present, China is the largest trading partner of Arab countries. In 2021, the trade volume between China and Arab countries almost reached $330 billion, a year-on-year increase of 37 percent.

In the face of COVID-19 pandemic, China and Arab countries have joined hands to overcome difficulties. China has assisted and exported nearly 100 million doses of Chinese vaccines to Arab countries, and has carried out cooperation with many countries in localized vaccine production and drug research and development. With practical actions, the two sides practiced the same proverb in both Chinese and Arabic: A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Third is compatibility. The common pursuit and close cooperation between China and Arab countries on security and development issues are also reflected in the continuously strengthened strategic cooperation between the two sides on international and regional affairs. In 2017, President Xi proposed the "BRICS plus" cooperation model, which received active support and warm responses from all parties. In May, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi chaired the Video Dialogue of Foreign Ministers between BRICS and Emerging Markets and Developing Countries. Many Arab countries participated in the meeting and some have expressed their positive willingness to join the BRICS.

In September, President Xi attended the SCO summit in the ancient city of Samarkand in Central Asia, summarized the five points of the Shanghai Spirit, proposed to uphold a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security concept, and promoted construction of a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture. Attracted by the Shanghai Spirit, many Arab countries hope to join the SCO and seek a more equal, more pragmatic and broader cooperation platform. At present, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have become new dialogue partners of the SCO, and Bahrain, UAE and Kuwait are slated to become dialogue partners.

Fourth is integration. Throughout history, the friendly exchanges between the Chinese and Arab civilizations go back a long way, and the two civilizations share similar values. Mutual assistance, equality, mutual benefit, tolerance and mutual learning have always been the main theme of China-Arab exchanges. Since the beginning of the new century, the integration of concepts and interests between China and Arab countries has continued to deepen.

GT: You mentioned peace and cooperation between China and Arab countries. Based on your observation, how has China and Arab states supported and coordinated with each other in today's complicated international situation?

Chen: Since the 1950s, the then newly established People's Republic of China firmly supported the Arab peoples in their struggle for national liberation and supported the Arab countries in defending their national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Arab countries have also firmly supported China on issues concerning China's core interests. After US house speaker Nancy Pelosi recklessly visited the Taiwan island in August, Arab League secretary-general immediately issued a statement emphasizing the league's firm adherence to the one-China principle, and various Arab countries have expressed their adherence to the one-China principle through different channels. On issues related to Xinjiang, Hong Kong and human rights, Arab countries have repeatedly expressed their support for China at the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council, effectively safeguarding the common interests of China, Arab countries and developing countries.

In April, President Xi put forward the Global Security Initiative (GSI), which clearly answered the question of the time of how all countries can achieve common security. Realizing lasting security has always been the deepest desire of the Arab people. Once the Global Security Initiative was put forward, it was widely recognized and supported by Arab countries. At the second Middle East Security Forum held in September, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is also a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, said that China is willing to take the implementation of the GSI as an opportunity to work with Middle East countries and the international community to jointly promote the construction of a new security architecture in the Middle East, contributing Chinese wisdom to promoting regional security.
Chen Weiqing. Photo: Courtesy of Chinese Embassy in Saudi Arabia

Chen Weiqing. Photo: Courtesy of Chinese Embassy in Saudi Arabia

GT: Arab countries in recent years have actively participated in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The "made-in-China" products in 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar has also attracted global attention. How do you comment on the phenomenon?   

Chen: After President Xi proposed the BRI in 2013, Arab countries took the lead in joining the initiative, and currently 20 Arab countries have signed BRI cooperation documents with China. Under the framework of the joint construction of the BRI, China-Arab cooperation covers the fields of air, land and sea, including the BeiDou Navigation Satellite, joint lunar exploration, oil, natural gas, and mineral exploration, as well as the port cargo trade along the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. It is worth mentioning that products "made in China" can be seen on the currencies of many Arab countries.

At the recent World Cup in Qatar, which has attracted worldwide attention, we are delighted to see that from stadium construction, to public transportation, to network communication equipment and daily necessities, a "Chinese legion" of Chinese construction and manufacturing is shining on and off the field. This is undoubtedly a vivid microcosm of cooperation in various fields between China and the GCC countries.

GT: President Xi will hold meetings with leaders of the GCC countries. Can you introduce the achievements of China-GCC cooperation over the past years? 

Chen: The GCC countries are not only rich in oil and gas resources, but also the highlands of regional economic development and pioneers of reform and transformation. In these countries, nearly half of the population are under the age of 30, the sea, land and air infrastructure is complete and the internet penetration rate is over 90 percent, all of which gives the GCC countries unique advantages. In recent years, China-GCC relations have maintained healthy, stable and comprehensive development, and have been at the forefront of China's relations with Arab countries. China-GCC relations not only contain the positive characteristics of China-Arab relations, but also show distinctive vitality and highlights.

China has long been the largest trading partner of the GCC. Last year, China-GCC trade volume bucked the trend and increased by 44 percent. Among the top 10 sources of China's oil imports in 2021, GCC countries occupied four seats. In recent years, GCC countries have taken precautions, formulated plans for long-term future development, and vigorously promoted diversification of economic structure and industrial upgrading.

In this context, cooperation between China and the GCC has also gradually expanded from traditional energy to high-tech and emerging industries. The "Saudi Vision 2030," the UAE's "Projects of the 50" and the "Oman Vision 2040" are speeding up to coordinate with the high-quality joint construction of the BRI, forming a joint synergy. The GCC countries took the lead in promoting the use of China's 5G communication technology, and have carried out extensive and in-depth cooperation with Chinese companies in the fields of renewable energy, aerospace, artificial intelligence, big data, etc., becoming an important high-end market for Chinese companies overseas.

GT: In terms of governance, what inspirations and references could the Chinese experience offer to the Arab countries? 

Chen: The China-Arab States Cooperation Forum was established in 2004, and nine ministerial meetings have been held so far. Under this framework, the two sides have established a series of multilateral cooperation mechanisms. Once the book Xi Jinping: The Governance of China was launched in Arab countries, it aroused widespread heated discussions and positive responses. From national leaders and politicians, to media persons, think tank experts and scholars, and even ordinary people, they have all paid close attention to it and have studied President Xi's new ideas and strategies about the governance of China. This provides a fundamental basis for promoting the coordination of concepts and strategic cooperation between China and Arab countries, and points out the way forward.

In September 2021, President Xi grasped the general trend of the world, faced up to the problems of the times and proposed the Global Development Initiative. Arab countries responded positively, and more than 10 countries expressed their clear support for joining the Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative. In the report to the 20th National Congress of the CPC, Xi, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, expounded for the first time the distinctive features and far-reaching significance of Chinese modernization, which provides important reference and inspiration for Arab countries that are also exploring the path of national rejuvenation.

GT: China and Saudi Arabia established a relationship of comprehensive strategic partnership. Could you brief us on the development of China-Saudi Arabia relations and the two sides' cooperation in various fields in recent years? 

Chen: Saudi Arabia is an important country in the Arab and Islamic world, and it is the only Arab country in the G20. China has given priority to developing relations with Saudi Arabia.

Politically, China and Saudi Arabia have always upheld mutual respect. China firmly supports Saudi Arabia in independently exploring a political system and development path that suits its own national conditions. Saudi Arabia has always adhered to the one-China principle, and firmly supports China's legitimate stance on issues related to Taiwan, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. On international and regional affairs, as well as issues concerning democracy and human rights, both countries advocate maintaining the international order based on the UN Charter and international law, and oppose using relevant issues as an excuse to interfere in other countries' internal affairs.

In 2016, President Xi paid a state visit to Saudi Arabia, during which China and Saudi Arabia established a comprehensive strategic partnership and set up the China-Saudi Arabia High-level Joint Committee, effectively pushing the development of the two countries' relations into the fast lane. After the COVID-19 epidemic broke out in 2020, King Salman was the first foreign head of state to call President Xi to support China's fight against the epidemic. Against the backdrop of profound and complex changes in the current international and regional situation, the strategic and overall importance of China-Saudi Arabia relations has become more prominent.

Economically, China and Saudi Arabia have always adhered to mutual benefit and win-win cooperation. Saudi Arabia has long been China's main crude oil supplier and has been China's largest trading partner in the Middle East for more than 20 consecutive years. China has been Saudi Arabia's largest trading partner since 2013. Saudi Arabia is one of the first countries to support and participate in the joint construction of the BRI. The two sides' cooperation in the fields of energy and infrastructure has been continuously deepened and achieved fruitful results. In 2016, the Yasref Oil Refinery, jointly funded by Sinopec and Saudi Aramco, was put into operation. President Xi and King Salman attended the launch ceremony of the refinery. In addition, Chinese companies have carried out extensive cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the fields of 5G communications, cloud computing and big data. Despite the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, bilateral trade between China and Saudi Arabia increased by 30 percent year-on-year in 2021, fully demonstrating the resilience and potential of the economic and trade cooperation between the two countries.

In the field of humanities, Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud announced in 2019 to include Chinese language into the Saudi education system. Saudi people's enthusiasm to learn Chinese and understand China has continued to rise, and more and more schools offer Chinese courses and majors. This year, we held the Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competitions for college students in Saudi Arabia for the first time, which attracted the active participation of Saudi youths. At present, relevant colleges and universities of the two countries are actively promoting the operation of the first Confucius Institute in Saudi Arabia.

We believe that President Xi's visit to Saudi Arabia this time will definitely push China-Saudi Arabia relations to a new level and open a new glorious chapter in bilateral relations.