Common interests: Arabs need China, and China needs Arabs

2022-12-09

By:Ahmed Salam

Over the years, a special emotion has been connecting me with China. My experience in this country dates back to my studies at Beijing University in 1998. After that, I worked as a press officer at the Egyptian Embassy in China and later became an expert on China. My personal experience is inextricably linked to the deepening of China-Arab relations, which over the years have witnessed accelerated and stable development and have truly served the common interests of the Chinese and Arab peoples.

In 1998, I was offered a public assignment to study at the Department of Journalism at Peking University. At that time, I knew almost nothing about China and I did not speak Chinese, which made it very difficult for me to study and work in China. So I started watching Channel 9 of China Central Television (CCTV) every day – at that time, CCTV had not established the Arabic channel yet. CCTV-9, which was the English channel of CCTV in those days, became an extraordinary window for me to learn about the Chinese culture and social life.

On September 1, 1998, I embarked on my journey to Beijing. There was no direct flight from Cairo to Beijing back then, so I had to transfer in Moscow. My studies in China had a tremendous impact on my career afterwards, as it allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of Chinese people’s life in all its aspects and helped me to appreciate the similarities between Chinese and Arabic cultures and customs. I visited China almost every year since I started to work. During the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, I was in charge of the press coverage of the Egyptian Olympic delegation. I also witnessed firsthand the remarkable development and rise of China in a very short period of time, which made me mesmerized by China and the Chinese people. I held the position of Press Officer at the Egyptian Embassy in China from 2009 to 2013. I was also privileged to be part of the press delegation that followed the Egyptian President throughout his several visits to China in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. In addition, I also participated in the coverage of several high-level China-Arab meetings in an array of fields, and I have been continuing my coverage in this regard via online formats after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Common interests for China and Arab states

Through my reporting and research on Egypt-China and Arab-China relations over the years, I have noticed that the relationship between the two sides has experienced rapid development, especially this past decade, which is arguably an exceptional decade for the development of Egypt-China and Arab-China relations. The two nations of Egypt and China have a time-honored friendly relationship based on mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. Both sides have been upholding the principle of developing a win-win relationship for mutual benefit, working together for common progress, and actively engaging in dialogue, exchange and mutual learning. Today, nearly 20 Arab countries have joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative. From anti-colonial struggles, to economic reforms, poverty eradication and sustainable national development, Arab youth are eager to learn about China’s development experience, as China has successfully defended its political independence and achieved economic development, making it an example to be followed on the world stage.

Milestones in Arab-China relations

In 1956, Egypt and China established diplomatic relations, which also making Egypt the first Arab country to recognize the new China. Since then, various Arab countries have established diplomatic relations with China one after another, for example, Iraq, in 1958, and several other Arab countries, between 1990 and 1992. Today, many Arab countries have forged strategic partnerships with China. In 2013, President Xi Jinping proposed the Belt and Road Initiative, which has instilled new momentum in the development of Arab-China relations. Arab countries are the main sources of crude oil for China, with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Oman and Kuwait being the largest exporters of oil to China. Besides, Qatar also exports large quantities of LNG to China.

In the framework of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, especially at the numerous ministerial meetings held under this framework, both sides have agreed to deepen multi-sectoral cooperation and strengthen the development of strategic partnership.

On January 22, 2016, President Xi Jinping delivered an important speech at the headquarters of the League of Arab States during his visit to Egypt. In the same year, China issued a policy paper for Arab countries, expressing its willingness to coordinate positions and dovetail strategies with Arab countries, promote the development of international production capacity and strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation in various domains. In July 2018, China and Arab countries agreed on the establishment of a future-oriented strategic partnership.

New Opportunities for China-Arab Cooperation

There are massive opportunities for cooperation between Arab states and China, especially given the Global Development Initiative recently proposed by China. This initiative aims to draw international attention to development issues, reinforce the global partnership for development, boost international development cooperation, accelerate the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieve global green development. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, UAE, Qatar, Morocco and other countries have all expressed their support for this initiative.

Opportunities for cooperation between Arab states and China are not only limited to investment in the mineral sector, they are also present in the exchange between Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Mauritania and other countries with China in the areas of technology, knowledge and industry. Arab countries are rich in industrial raw materials, for example, black sand is an important mineral resource in Egypt, especially in the northern part of Egypt, where black sand resources abound. In addition, gum Arabic is also an important and rare raw material in Arab countries. Gum Arabic produced in Sudan accounts for 80% of the world production, and most of it is used in food, medicine, military industry and other sectors.

Cooperation is in the common interest of both sides

There is no doubt that the two sides are eager to be partners in achieving mutual benefits and common development and will continue to deepen their friendship and cooperation. Over the past decade, the relationship between the two sides has made great strides at all levels. Despite the adverse impact of Covid-19 on economic and trade exchanges, the volume of trade between Arab states and China has steadily increased, reaching $330 billion in 2021, and China has become the largest trading partner of Arab countries. Meanwhile, China imported 264 million tons of crude oil from Arab countries last year, accounting for half of the country’s total crude oil imports. All these figures confirm that Arab-China relations are experiencing accelerated development.

The recently concluded 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China once again emphasized that China’s development cannot be separated from the world, and the world’s development also needs China. In fact, China’s development is in the immediate interest of Arab countries. All countries in the world are living in the same global village, and they need and depend on each other. China has always been willing to share its development experience and expertise with Arab countries. Egypt, for example, was one of the first countries to cooperate with China in the fight against Covid-19, and China has been generous in passing on its successful experience to other developing countries. In stark contrast, Western countries have engaged with Arab countries for the fundamental purpose of plundering the natural resources of the Arab world.

In December this year, three important summits will be held, namely, the China-Arab States Summit, Saudi Arabia-China Summit and China-GCC Summit. The two sides will surely take these three conferences as an opportunity to further unleash the potential of cooperation, promote a qualitative leap in their relations, inject more momentum into the economic development of both sides to seek more benefits for the Arab and Chinese peoples.

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Ahmed Salam is a columnist and an expert on China. He has published articles in media outlets and academic institutions such as AI Ahram, AI Akhbar, AI Gomhouria, the Egyptian State Information Service website, Al-Ain of the UAE, and the Future for Advanced Research and Studies in Abu Dhabi, UAE.