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Tuesday, July 4, 2023
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Closer China-Arab ties expected
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    China Daily Global
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    Forum will enhance people-to-people bonds, mutual understanding and consensus between the two entities to build a community with a shared future for the new era

    The 10th China-Arab Cooperation Forum was held in Beijing on May 30 and this year marked the 20th anniversary of the forum. Over the past two decades, China-Arab ties have continued to reach new heights, from new-type partnership and strategic cooperative relations to strategic partnerships, and then to jointly building a China-Arab community with a shared future. The forum has made crucial contributions to that.

    Looking back, the forum has become an important channel for China and Arab countries to enhance political mutual trust, which is the cornerstone of stable and far-reaching China-Arab relations. Its political dialogue mechanism supports each other's core interests and major concerns. Among them, China firmly supports the establishment of an independent state of Palestine that enjoys full sovereignty based on the 1967 border and with East Jerusalem as its capital, and supports the state to become an official member of the United Nations; China stands up for the Middle East peace process, supports Arab states in choosing their own development path, and opposes linking terrorism with specific ethnic groups or religions. The Arab states uphold the one-China principle; they support China's efforts to maintain national security and further prosper democracy in Hong Kong under the framework of "one country, two systems"; they take a stand against religious extremists, ethnic separatists, and terrorist forces engaging in anti-China separatist activities; they also object to some Western countries' attempts to contain China by slapping economic sanctions and weaponizing trade.

    The forum has become an important platform for China and Arab countries to hold extensive consultations and jointly contribute to the Belt and Road Initiative, which offers sustained vitality to China-Arab cooperation. Its 19 regular exchange mechanisms, including the entrepreneurs' conference and the energy cooperation conference, have effectively promoted the mutual development of complementarity in economy and trade between the two sides. Since the establishment of the forum 20 years ago, the trade volume between China and Arab countries has increased from $36.7 billion in 2004 to $398 billion in 2023, an increase of about 11 times. China has signed cooperation documents on the BRI with all 22 Arab countries and the Arab League, achieving full coverage in the Arab world. Within this framework, the two sides have implemented more than 200 large projects, and the fruits of cooperation have benefited about 2 billion people.

    The forum has built a bridge for cultural exchanges between China and Arab countries. Over the past 20 years, people-to-people exchanges between the two sides have become increasingly frequent, with various cultural exchange mechanisms such as the Arabic Arts Festival, the Arab Women's Forum, and the China-Arab health cooperation forum making remarkable achievements.

    In March 2023, China, as a mediator, successfully facilitated the restoration of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, advancing the peace process in the Gulf region. In May 2024, China hosted a reconciliation conference between the Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Fatah) and the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) for the first time, striving to promote peace between Palestine and Israel. Looking ahead, the Global Development Initiative, Global Security Initiative, and Global Civilization Initiative will inject new vitality into China-Arab cooperation.

    First, the forum should work together with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to implement the Global Security Initiative. The Middle East region is not only a pivotal node of China's peripheral diplomacy, but also has a bearing on China's energy and economic cooperation zones, and is also a defense for China to combat the "three forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism and maintain stability of China's western border. Faced with the sheer momentum of hi-tech development in the Gulf region and the urgent demand for cooperation with China's high-end industrial chain, the Middle East has gradually become a pivot of the United States' strategy to contain China. This can be seen in its "India-Israel-United Arab Emirates-US" (I2U2) mechanism aimed at hedging the BRI. The Middle East and Central Asia are adjacent to each other, and it is a consensus for all parties to jointly get out of an awkward situation and pursue prosperity and peace in order to avoid development obstacles and ethnic ideologies being intertwined there through mixing and fermenting religious and cultural factors. As a multilateral platform for dialogue and cooperation, the forum can collaborate with the SCO, which focuses on regional security and stability, to achieve higher-level coordination and complementarity; jointly promote the construction of a security architecture in the Middle East; establish a "security cooperation seminar" mechanism; seek interaction and cooperation between China and Arab countries in resolving regional conflicts, opposing terrorism, maintaining maritime security and other security fields; and jointly create an environment for regional peace and stable development.

    Second, the forum should join hands with BRICS to promote the Global Development Initiative. At present, Arab countries show an unprecedentedly strong desire for peace, security, and stability, with its strategic autonomy enhanced and a strategic shift toward "looking East";oil producing countries in the Gulf region are also competing for a first-mover advantage in the fourth industrial revolution to ensure sustainable economic growth. The energy cooperation between China and Arab countries has expanded to various fields such as renewable and alternative energy, peaceful use of nuclear energy, and technology transfer. As an effective carrier for promoting the scale and effectiveness of China-Arab economic and trade cooperation, the forum collaborates with BRICS that focuses on the regional economy, supports the modernization of Arab countries, promotes collective development through regional growth, and drives the construction of a shared community of development through a community of shared interests.

    Third, the Global Civilization Initiative should be implemented on the basis of mutual learning among civilizations. Over the past decade, China's exchanges with Middle Eastern countries in finance, investment, technology, arms sales, politics, security and other fields have been increasing, developing from the low end of the industrial chain to the high end. This has brought about competition between China and the US in the economic and trade field in the region, while reminding us of the so-called clash of civilizations. Dialogue among civilizations should be an effective way to reverse and regulate the conflicting reality. The forum will be committed to creating a broader pattern of people-to-people exchanges, setting up the China-Arab Center for the Global Civilization Initiative with the Arab side, and accelerating the construction of platforms such as the Think Tank Alliance, the Youth Development Forum, the University Alliance, and the Cultural and Tourism Cooperation Research Center. Therefore, the people-to-people bonds will be enhanced, mutual understanding and consensus will be promoted through dialogue among civilizations, and a China-Arab community with a shared future for the new era will be built with utmost efforts.

    The author is deputy director of the China-Arab Research Institute at Ningxia University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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