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Spotlight: Chinese president's Middle East tour goes far beyond oil
2016-01-16 19:54

by Xinhua writers Zheng Kaijun, Zhu Junqing and Shang Jun

BEIJING, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Those calling China a bystander in the Middle East will see Beijing take a proactive approach to the region of great geopolitical importance next week.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced Friday that President Xi Jinping will pay state visits to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran from Jan. 19 to Jan. 23.

While the world's second-largest economy needs oil to feed its development, the first visit by a Chinese top leader in more than five years since the start of the region's turmoil, goes far beyond ensuring its energy security.

With economic cooperation, the refugee crisis and terrorism expected to be unavoidable topics during Xi's visit, China will show the world that it is committed to peace and development in the Middle East.


For years, China's non-interference policy regarding Middle East issues, though appreciated by the Arab world, have been criticized by some Westerners as an excuse for "staying aloof" the hotspot region.

The truth, however, is that the importance and complexity of the situation there allows neither premature decisions nor hasty action.

"It takes adequate consideration, research and sound judgment" for China to form policies adapted to the rapid changes in the Middle East, said Wu Bingbing, head of the Institute of Arabic-Islamic Culture Studies at Peking University.

Just ahead of Xi's visit, China published its Arab Policy Paper, reaffirming the strategic significance that Beijing attaches to the region.

It is China's long-held diplomatic principle to consolidate and deepen China-Arab traditional friendship, read the paper, the first of its kind issued by the Chinese government.

It meanwhile underlines China's wish to enrich and deepen all-round, multi-layer and wide-ranging cooperation with Arab nations, and safeguard peace, stability and development of the region and the world at large.

The three countries to be visited all have strong links with China. And in the face of new regional development, "China needs to further strengthen cooperation and ties with them," said Hua Liming, a former Chinese ambassador to Iran.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a new chapter of their long-standing sectarian rift. Although China never takes sides, it will be a rare opportunity for China to call for calm and restraint from both sides.

As China's Arab Policy Paper puts it, China supports Arab countries' efforts in promoting solidarity.


During Xi's long-awaited trip, more concrete opportunities will be offered, particularly Xi's signature "Belt and Road" initiative.

The president may well discuss with the three nations ways to link the initiative with their respective development plans.

But it is not a one-size-fits-all game. China needs different modes of collaboration with different countries, said Yang Guang, director general of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

With such populous countries like Egypt and Iran, China should focus on production capacity cooperation that can generate more jobs for the local communities, Yang said.

Whilst for smaller economies, China should assist them in building service platforms with characteristics like financial centers, clearance centers, air transit hubs and trade ports, Yang said.

China should also help regional countries to improve connectivity by upgrading telecommunications and Internet access, he added, calling this a linchpin in the implementation of the initiative in the Middle East.

Majdi Amir, Egyptian ambassador to China, is among many who look forward to seeing the initiative bear fruit. As his country eyes an array of mega projects including the new Suez Canal to revitalize the economy, China's experiences could certainly help.

Many air and water routes that Egypt offers may facilitate China's investment in the region and even beyond, while Egypt will be given the chance to export more to China and receive more tourists from China, he added.

According to a tailor-made "1+2+3" cooperation pattern announced in 2014 for implementing the initiative in the region, high and new-tech fields of nuclear energy, space satellite and new energy are also where China and Middle East countries can achieve breakthroughs.


In its Arab Policy Paper, Beijing reiterates its commitment to peace and stability in the Middle East and its political solution to regional hotspot issues, signaling China's willingness to play an active and constructive role in the region.

Over the past decades, China has been undertaking due responsibility and making its contributions to promoting the Iran nuclear talks and defusing the Syrian crisis.

"Through promoting the Iran nuclear talks, China helps the international community find a way of solving chronic problems politically and peacefully, which is unprecedented," Wu pointed out.

China's consistent stance of narrowing differences in an open and inclusive manner and solving conflicts through dialogue and consultation have been better understood, accepted and even learned from.

In the Saudi-Iran spat, the United States, Russia, some European nations and countries with regional sway like Turkey have all spoken in one voice, expressing the hope that the pair can ravel out the mess in a peaceful way, which is in line with China's thinking, Wu said, adding that so is for the Syrian peace talks.

At a forum in Beijing last year, Lakhdar Brahimi, former UN/Arab League special envoy for Syria, said China, upholding the principle of justice and friendship, enjoys high reputation among Middle East countries.

Refuting the Western fallacy that China tries to shirk its due responsibility, Wu said: "It is absolutely the opposite. What China did is to adhere to its stance in political issues, and meet local people's practical demand in development and help them live better."

China has been taking its advantages in economic, trade, cultural, educational and technological fields to carry out win-win cooperation in Arab states to effectively improve people's life.

"It is much valuable that China has never imposed its own view on others, even when differences occur. This is China's respect to other countries," Wu said.

"China has its own solution and thinking ... Its persistence itself is a responsible stand and reserves more choice for solving problems," he said.


Chinese president to visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran

BEIJING, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping will pay state visits to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran from Jan. 19 to Jan. 23, the Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

Xi is invited respectively by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, said spokesperson Lu Kang in a press release.  Full story

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