Middle East stability is key in wake of tanker attacks, says Chinese minister

Li-Cheng Wen, a high-level ambassador to the region, spoke of China's concerns during a visit to the UAE

An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019. ISNA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
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A Chinese minister said it is vital for the 'whole world' that an oil tanker attack in the Gulf of Oman does not threaten stability in the Middle East.

Li-Cheng Wen, a high-level ambassador to the region, said the Asian superpower was concerned about the delicate situation and called for "positive" action to be taken to prevent tensions rising further.

The US Government has claimed Iran is responsible for the attacks on Japanese and Norwegian-operated tankers last Thursday.

The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, said the incident represented a "major and dangerous escalation" that required the support of the international community to help protect regional security.

"It is a sensitive time," Mr Li told The National. "This area is very essential to the whole world and we call on all actors to play a positive role."

Mr Li's comments came on the sidelines of a major Arab-Chinese Co-operation Forum, being held at Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi, where representatives of the Arab League and a major delegation from China debated the grave issues swirling around the region.

The tanker attacks, wars in Libya, Yemen and Syria, reforming the United Nations, the Palestinian situation and boosting trade links with the UAE and wider region dominated the agenda.

Mr Li - ambassador with responsibility for the forum - said China’s position on Palestine was clear.

“This issue is essential for Arab countries. We support the right of Palestinian people to establish an independent country.”

Discussing links between his nation and the UAE, he said the visit of China's President Xi Jinping marked a turning point for both countries. Mr Xi’s trip coincided with a huge celebration of Chinese culture across the country.

“Even now we feel the positive influence of the visit because it gave great energy to mutual relations,” said Mr Li.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, June 18, 2019.  16th Session of the Arab-Chinese cooperation forum held at the Etihad Towers, Corniche.
Victor Besa/The National
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Reporter:  John Dennehy

Ties between the two countries have its origins in ancient trade routes between east and west. These connections were underlined by recent archaeological finds of rare Chinese porcelain in Ras Al Khaimah dating to the 13th Century. “We have a long history of exchange and we want to build on that,” he said.

Today, bilateral trade between China and the UAE is more than $50 billion (Dh183bn). Dozens of direct flights operate between both countries and citizens enjoy visa-free travel. Close to 180,000 Chinese nationals call the UAE home.

China and the Arab world, meanwhile, have been strengthening ties for years. But the pace has accelerated recently as part of Mr Xi's “Belt and Road” initiative.

The project aims to revive the ancient Silk Road and reinvigorate trade routes between Asia, Europe and Africa. Mr Xi last July pledged billions of dollars in loans to Middle East nations in what he called an "oil and gas-plus" model to generate some of this growth.

Mr Li said the potential in the region and the UAE to benefit from the Belt and Road plan was immense and could act as a springboard for broader co-operation across culture and tourism.

“We want to strengthen co-operation to build the Belt and Road across railways, sea transportation, ports and infrastructure,” he said.

“And to build different types of economic zones. By these ways, we can build ties.”

China claims a policy of "non-interference" when offering financial aid and says it can resolve political, religious and cultural tension.

The forum concludes on Wednesday.