China eyes early completion of talks on free trade deal with Gulf countries amid growing ties
Published: Aug 05, 2023 04:11 AM
Press conference room for the China-Arab States Summit at King Abdul Aziz International Conference Center on Friday in Riyadh. Photo: Xing Xiaojing and Yu Jincui in Riyadh

Press conference room for the China-Arab States Summit at King Abdul Aziz International Conference Center on Friday in Riyadh. Photo: Xing Xiaojing and Yu Jincui in Riyadh

China is eyeing on an early completion of talks on a free trade agreement (FTA) with the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), as China-GCC ties and economic cooperation have been expanding rapidly amid frequent official exchanges. 

Wang Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and minister of foreign affairs, said during a phone call with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Friday that the two sides should strive for an early conclusion of the China-GCC FTA and promote greater development in China-Arab and China-GCC relations.  

China supports the UAE in hosting the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and stands ready to strengthen strategic coordination with the UAE side on the international stage, jointly uphold true multilateralism, oppose unilateralism and bullying, safeguard the basic norms of international relations, and safeguard international fairness and justice, Wang said, according to the Xinhua News Agency. 

Following the first-ever China-GCC Summit in December 2022, China's relations and cooperation with members of the GCC, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have been expanding rapidly. And the China-GCC FTA, talks of which first started in 2004, is among the top priorities for both sides in expanding bilateral cooperation.  

China-UAE bilateral cooperation have also been expanding in recent months in a variety of areas. In May, the UAE's Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation signed three agreements with Chinese nuclear energy organizations on nuclear energy cooperation. In March, China completed first-ever yuan-settled liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade on LNG imported from the UAE.  

In addition to economic cooperation, the two sides are also expanding cooperation in other areas such as military. The air forces of China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will conduct a joint training exercise in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in August, the Ministry of National Defense announced Monday, according to Xinhua. 

China's cooperation with other Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia are also expanding steadily. At the 10th Arab-China Business Conference in Saudi Arabia in June, dozens of cooperation deals were signed covering a wide range of sectors, including technology, renewables, agriculture, real estate, minerals, supply chains, tourism, and healthcare. 

At the conference, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman made global headlines when he said he "totally ignore[s]" US criticism of the kingdom's ties with China. "We came to recognize the reality of today that China is taking, had taken a lead, will continue to take that lead. We don't have to compete with China, we have to collaborate with China," he said. 

Bilateral cooperation between China and Saudi Arabia has also been growing. In the latest example, Saudia, the national flag carrier of Saudi Arabia, launched a new direct flight between Jeddah and Beijing, according to the Chinese Embassy in Saudi Arabia on Friday. Also on Friday, citing unnamed sources, Reuters reported that China and Saudi Arabia's stock exchanges are in talks to allow exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to list on each other's bourses, which would be a major move.  

In another sign of growing cooperation between China Arab countries, sixth China-Arab States Expo will be held from September 21-24 in Yinchuan, capital of Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.