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China is betting on the Arabs

July 18, 2018 at 12:22 am

China and Kuwait agree to establish strategic partnership – China president Xi Jinping and Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah [Twitter]

China has not presented itself as a competitor or a substitute for any other major country. It has, instead, put forward a distinct economic and developmental strategic vision, the Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the Silk Road Economic Belt.

Based on the the eighth China-Arab Cooperation Forum, held in Beijing last week, it is no exaggeration to say that the Arab development strategies, especially those of the Gulf, meet and intersect with the Chinese model in more than one track.

Examples of these are the strategic partnership initiated by Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz’s during his visit last year to China and the agreements signed by Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah a few days ago.

Since then Chinese President Xi Jinping also visited the UAE in his first foreign trip since the beginning of his new term in office

There is no doubt that the two sides are aware of the possible global implications of the US-China trade war, but their openness and cooperation predate this new reality.

Read: Kuwait denies renting its islands to China

There is definitely a benefit to the Arab and Chinese cooperation succeeding, as China has chosen to build its international position with investment and trade. The Gulf states have long recognized that their future is linked to the development and growth of their economies. Both sides are convinced that economic growth is a key to all interests, including politics.

There are differences, of course, but the Chinese president called for dealing with them “frankly” and not to fear or avoid them, based on the fact that there are no conflicts or contradictions between his country and the Arabs. He also bases this on the principles that China maintains, including respect for sovereignty and refraining from interference in the internal affairs of other states.

Perhaps President Xi wanted to hint at the criticisms of the foreign policy of Beijing heard directly from the Arab leaders. These are related to its position on the conflict with Iran, and the crises of Syria and Yemen, which are linked to the expansion of Iran. Therefore, he called for discussing these policies “openly”, hoping the Arabs would consider the fact that China does not directly involve itself in conflicts and would not exploit them to serve one country’s interests at the expense of another.

In any case, this remains a very important and detailed task and China is trying to approach it carefully and cautiously. While it does not deny the political dimension of any economic cooperation with the Arabs, it does not present itself as an alternative to America or Russia, but rather a different choice. It also insists its peaceful rise and it hopes others will deal with it in the same manner.

Meanwhile, Beijing sees the Arab response to the Belt and Road Initiative as support for its international status and position and should translate this in its political positions.

In the China- Arab Cooperation Forum, Xi Jinping found the perfect place to announce the allocation of more than $100 million to economic development aid in Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and $ 20 billion in loans for projects that provide jobs and create a positive social impact in Arab countries that need “economic reconstruction and industry recovery”.

This contribution was made by China in the context of the contributions and aspirations of the Gulf countries, not only to motivate partnership, but also to confirm that China is strongly betting on cooperation with the Arabs. Perhaps the current situation is the most suitable for the bet to be mutual, as long as the two sides seek peaceful and political solutions to all the regional conflicts.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.