Beijing Xiangshan Forum provides platform of communication for the world in turbulence
Published: Oct 31, 2023 10:18 PM
China's Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong delivered a speech at the 10th Beijing Xiangshan Forum on October 31, 2023. Photo: Liu Xuanzun/GT

China's Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong delivered a speech at the 10th Beijing Xiangshan Forum on October 31, 2023. Photo: Liu Xuanzun/GT

The three-day 10th Beijing Xiangshan Forum concluded on Tuesday, marking the  China-hosted international event for military diplomacy and security affairs out as probably the only platform currently able to receive attendees from Russia, Ukraine, Israel and Iran, especially after the outbreaks of the Ukraine crisis and the latest Palestine-Israel conflict. The Global Times was in attendance to interview delegates from all these countries to hear their voices about the ongoing crises.

Delegates from countries that are suffering from military conflicts all thanked China for hosting such an event, which allowed them to communicate with other countries, because at forums or conferences hosted by other countries, some nations are excluded and isolated, leaving them with no opportunity to communicate with more people and openly exchange their views with each other. 

This world in turbulence desperately needs channels for communication, and by hosting the Beijing Xiangshan Forum, China provided a unique, non-biased, fair and neutral platform for everyone, including those embroiled in conflict or in tensions, so they are able to be enlightened by the wisdom of others and receive valuable information to better solve the crises and long-standing problems, said some attendees, including military delegates and scholars.

China's Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong said in a speech at the forum on Tuesday that China would hold high-level conferences on the Global Security Initiative (GSI) at an appropriate time. Experts and many delegates reached by the Global Times at the forum said that the so-called rules-based international order has already caused at least two major geopolitical crises in Europe and the Middle East, so it is time for the world to form a new order that can realize "common security" and "lasting peace," which are the themes of the forum. They said the China-proposed GSI is an important contribution to this global demand.

Unfortunately, during the three-day forum, attendees from the US military were reluctant to express their views openly although the organizer gave them the floor to speak, with observers saying that the US delegates did not want to be too high-profile and show too much support to a China-hosted forum of security affairs. They wanted to attend close-door conferences, and this proved that Washington was curious about the forum, but not confident enough to share its thoughts with the international community, especially to countries that are in disagreement or that have tensions with the US, or are being suppressed and bullied by the US.

Giving voice to multiple parties  

Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo, deputy director of the Beijing Xiangshan Forum Secretariat, told the Global Times that China has made and is continuing to make efforts to mediate conflicts around the globe, and the case of reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran is significant proof of this. The forum is an important part of China's mediation efforts. 

"We invited the parties in conflict, as well as the interest-involved parties, to talk about the issue together," Zhao said, adding that in a panel discussion about Middle East affairs on Monday, delegates from Israel and Iran had direct discussions. At other international forums, it is rare that Israelis can meet with delegates from Muslim countries, especially Iran.

"Having communication is the first step toward seeking solutions. China will play a greater role in the Middle East in the future," Zhao said. 

Carice Witte, founder and executive director of SIGNAL (Sino-Israel Global Network & Academic Leadership), an Israeli policy organization that specializes in China-Israel relations, told the Global Times that "I am an old friend to this forum. The Beijing Xiangshan forum is one of the best in the world, because it brings together people from all over the world and someone like me from Israel, who does not have a chance to meet with many people from Muslim states. It is an excellent opportunity for communication and dialogue."

Witte said she had a long discussion with attendees from Afghanistan and Pakistan, adding they can build friendships as normal people do, and they can listen to each other and understand each other. "That brings a lot of hope for what our governments might do in the future," Witte said.

She said the Pakistani interlocutor, in general, was "being harsh" on Israel and "leaning toward the Palestinians," but there was a lot of openness to hearing about her personal experience and the difficulties that her family has suffered with the attacks by Hamas.

On the colleague from Afghanistan, Witte said "he gave me a number of thoughts and ideas" based on his experience in Afghanistan about how to deal with the similar challenges on ethnical and sectarian problems, and this is helpful for her. She will bring these back to Israel and help Israel to better deal with Palestinians in the future.

Seyed Hamzeh Safavi, director of Institute for Islamic World Futures Studies in Iran, has given many media interviews during the forum, which proves the importance of voices from Iran. Safavi is the Iranian scholar who talked to Witte in a panel discussion on Monday. 

Safavi highly praised the value of the Beijing Xiangshan Forum. He told the Global Times that "I have never seen a big conference like this," with so many delegates, including senior officials, high-ranking military commanders and officers, intellectuals and researchers from so many countries, and they can talk to each other freely, so "it was very useful."

Safavi noted that China is playing significant role in the Middle East. "China's mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia was a very good example. The Middle East always suffers from the third party's intervention. But in history, I think this was a first step and the first example for a foreign power to play a very good role between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Thanks to the Chinese effort for that." 

However, it is important to point out that Tehran and Riyadh wanted to shake hands before China's mediation, Safavi said. The two countries had reached the idea that "we cannot continue our problem. It's better to end it and shake hands," and then "They came to this maturity."

"Unfortunately, nowadays, I do not see this maturity from to the Israeli side." 

Seeking fair order  

Another ongoing conflict of great concern to the international community is the Ukraine crisis, and both Russia and Ukraine sent delegates to the Beijing Xiangshan Forum. This is probably the only international event of its nature that can welcome attendees from both countries.

A member of the Ukraine delegation who asked for anonymity said that China is a powerful country with a huge international influence, as significant as the US, and if China wants to play a role to help solve the Ukraine crisis, it can bring significant change to the current situation.

Evgeny Buzhinsky, a retired lieutenant general and chairman of PIR Center, a leading Russian NGO that specializes in the study of nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, and global security issues, told the Global Times that negotiations with Ukraine at this moment are unlikely because the two sides cannot agree on the conditions for peace talks.  

The anonymous Ukrainian delegate expressed a similar attitude toward Russia.  

The wars in Ukraine and the Middle East prove that the international order that was dominated by the US-led West is unreliable, unstable, and is collapsing, and this is the reason why more and more geo-political crises have occurred, said experts. 

If the US had kept its promise and not pushed military deployments to the border of Russia via NATO expansion and hyped an anti-Russia color revolution in Ukraine, maybe the Ukraine conflict would not have happened in the first place, and on the Palestine-Israel issue, if the US' stance on the two-state solution had remained consistent and it had not tolerated Israel's provocations and harm against Palestinians in past decades, the latest conflict could have be avoided, analysts noted.    

Zhang Weiwei, director of the China Institute at Fudan University, told the Global Times that the world can no longer rely on the US-dominated "rules-based order" because the facts prove that the rules the US champions are not reliable. 

Times have changed, and the US needs to better understand that the right to development and the concern of security among others should be respected. Some of those countries will fight when they have not been treated fairly or get bullied, because they no longer believe there is a reliable order able to protect them, analysts said.  

The China-proposed initiatives, including the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Civilization Initiative, as well as the Belt and Road Initiative are based on the idea of building a community of shared future for mankind, Zhang said, noting that these values reflect respect for every country. It is about "you are among us and we are among you," he said.

The Global Security Initiative is China's contribution to a new international order, said some foreign attendees. Buzhinsky said the new international order will be based on international laws, not "rules" set by the US and its allies. 

Safavi said the new international order should not be one-sided, as on the Middle East issue, the US stands only with Israel, but no one has said China is backing Israel or Palestine, so the order must be fair and non-biased. In terms of this, the China-proposed initiatives are better than the US-claimed order, and the role that China plays is also better than the US one, he said.