There is an old Chinese saying: distance cannot separate true friends who feel close to each other even when they are thousands of miles apart. The friendship between China and Arab states dates back to ancient times. Over the past 2,000 years, the ancient Silk Road has formed a bond between Chinese and Arab people.
Through long stretches of history, matters of peace and co-operation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning, mutual benefit and win-win results have always been the main theme of exchanges between China and Arab states.
In the new era, as China and Arab states are natural strategic partners in jointly promoting the Belt and Road Initiative, the unique advantages and synergy of their development co-operation are becoming more prominent. China and Arab countries have already established a sound relationship that is mutually reinforcing and complementing in multilateral and bilateral, official and public aspects. Our practical co-operation has entered a new stage.
The China-Arab States Cooperation Forum was launched in 2004 as a strategic choice for long-term development in the 21st century. With concerted efforts made by both sides, the mechanism has been continuously improved, which indicates the enormous potential of China-Arab co-operation. It has set a good example for co-operation between developing countries and this month the eighth ministerial conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum will be convened in Beijing, with the theme of jointly promoting the Belt and Road Initiative, peace and development and joining hands to advance the China-Arab States Strategic Partnership in the new era.
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The two sides will make further plans to promote development in common areas and identify new areas for co-ordination with the aim of creating a bright future and an alignment of strategies.
As an Arab poet once wrote: “When you turn to the sun, you will see hope”. President Xi Jinping has said to Arab friends that China will “support and promote the peace, development, industrialisation and stability in the Middle East and be its partner in people-to-people exchanges”. This new idea which embodies Chinese wisdom is not only a precious spiritual gift given by the Chinese leader to Arab people but is also the fundamental guidance for Chinese diplomacy toward Arab states.
Our political relationship has been continuously consolidated. China has established comprehensive strategic partnership, strategic partnership or strategic co-operative partnership with 10 Arab countries.
China and Arab states respect each other's core interests and major concerns, keep close communication and co-ordinate on regional and global affairs and have made positive contributions to the peace, stability and development in the region and the world at large.
Bilateral economic and trade co-operation are witnessing robust growth. China is now the second largest trading partner of Arab states as a whole and the largest trading partner with 10 of them. In 2017, overall trade volume between China and Arab states was more than $191 billion, an increase of 11.9 per cent compared with the previous year; direct investment from China to Arab states was $1.26 billion and project contracts newly signed between China and Arab countries were more than $32 billion.
Fruitful results have been achieved in jointly promoting the Belt and Road Initiative. China has already signed a memorandum of understanding on the Belt and Road Initiative with nine Arab states and industrial co-operation documents with four Arab states.
China and the Arab states have developed a "1+2+3" co-operation pattern, where energy is the top priority, infrastructure construction and trade and investment facilitation are two focuses and three new high-tech areas, namely nuclear energy, space satellite and new energy, are key areas to instigate change.
As the UAE and six other Arab states become the founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, our interests are further inter-related. Cultural and people-to-people exchanges are getting more dynamic; China and many Arab nations have established cultural centres, celebrated cultural events and participated in arts festivals in each other’s countries.
This partnership promises a bright future. As the world and the region are going through profound and complex adjustments, the international order and the Middle East situation are undergoing historical transformation. It is increasingly urgent for both sides to safeguard peace and promote development.
We need to maintain bilateral visits at all levels, expand exchanges in all fields and build long-term strategic mutual trust in the future. We need to firmly support each other’s core interests and major concerns, strengthen communication and co-ordination on regional and global issues and jointly deal with traditional and non-traditional security challenges as well as tap complementary advantages. We also need to promote mutual learning and communication between different civilisations, build a community of a shared future for mankind and work together to create a harmonious world with long-standing peace and common prosperity.
As an Arab proverb goes: “Choose a suitable partner before you start a journey”. In the context of jointly advancing the Belt and Road Initiative, China and the UAE are the right partners and share a common aspiration for development. The golden age of our bilateral relationship will soon come. The UAE is an exemplary model of opening up in the Middle East and has the deepest, broadest and most fruitful co-operation with China among all Middle East countries.
In recent years, our political mutual trust has been continuously deepened and solid steps have been taken to co-operate under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. In 2017, our bilateral trade volume topped $41 billion. The UAE is the first country to reach agreement with China to exempt regular passports from pre-entry visa requirements. For the first time, Chinese citizens travelling to the UAE exceeded one million last year.
The initiative proposed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, of teaching Chinese language in 100 UAE schools is well underway, with the first batch of 20 teachers already teaching Chinese in 11 schools. Looking ahead, the two sides will further enrich the contents of our strategic partnership, help the UAE become an example of Chinese-Arab cooperation and inject fresh impetus into the development of the Middle East.
“Boundless is the ocean where we sail with the wind.” We have reached a new historical starting point in the China-Arab relationship, facing a time of greater development opportunity and comprehensive co-operation in the new era.
Ni Jian is the Chinese ambassador to the UAE