A Landmark in China-Arab Cooperation and Multilateralism

China and Arab cooperation will certainly develop on a robust track, with increasingly important implications in the years to come.

The world has witnessed significant triple summits in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia on December 7-9, 2022, namely, the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Saudi Arabia, the first China-Arab States Summit and China-Gulf Countries Cooperation (GCC) Summit.

With far-reaching geopolitical and geoeconomic influence, the state visit and the two summits mark the China-Arab states cooperation has been lifted to a new height and represent a new milestone of cooperation on strategy, energy, trade, investment, finance, technology and people-to-people exchange between the world’s second largest economy and the Arab world.

The Riyadh Declaration of China-Arab States Summit highlights the following key points: all parties agree to strengthen comprehensive cooperation for joint development, advance China-Arab strategic partnership, adhere to the UN Charter and principles and mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, safeguard the international order and multilateralism based on international laws, reaffirm the Palestine issue as the key issue of the Middle East, support Global Development Initiative (GDI) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) proposed by China, jointly build a China-Arab community with a shared future in the new era, increase exchanges among different civilizations and respect all countries independently choose the path of development and social and political systems suited to their national condition.

The Riyadh Declaration also shows strong supports for One China principle by reaffirming that Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory and opposing “Taiwan independence” in all its forms.

Chinese President Xi Jinping holds talks with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud at the royal palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 8, 2022. (Photo/Xinhua)

Solid foundation of friendship and cooperation

China and the Arab world have a long history of friendship and cooperation. By 1965, People’s Republic of China (PRC) had established diplomatic relations with all Arabian countries. China always firmly supports sovereignty and territorial integrity of Arabian countries and supports the just cause of Palestinian people. The Arab world firmly supports PRC’s resumption of its legitimate seat in the UN and Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity, and firmly oppose the foreign interference in China’s internal affairs involving Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang regions.

The China-Arab Cooperation Forum has achieved fruitful results over the past 18 years since it was founded in 2004. China is the largest trading partner of Arab Union. The two-way trade hit $330.3 billion in 2021 which is 1.5 times more than 10 years ago. The first 10 months of 2022 saw the two-way trade volume increased by 35.3 percent year-on-year, hitting $319.3 billion, and almost twice as large as the U.S. trade volume with Middle East and Africa combined ($162.9 billion).

With close cooperation in the BRI, total Chinese FDI in Arab countries reached $27.0 billion by the end of 2021, 2.6 times increase in 10 years. As the largest oil supplier of China, Arab countries exported 364 million tons of oil in 2021, accounting for 51.4 percent of China’s total oil imports. China’s cooperation with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and other members of GCC, not limited to oil supply, has expanded to aerospace, digital technology, clean energy and green development, which precisely meets the needs for long-term development plans of the Arab countries, including Vision 2030 of Saudi Arabia.

New prospects for building community with a shared future

The first China-Arab States Summit marks a larger scale of China’s peaceful cooperation with the developing world as more cooperation frameworks are established and developed.

Established in 2001 in Shanghai, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has enlarged its membership from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan as founding members, to India and Pakistan which were admitted into the organization in 2017, and now to Iran, with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt as partner countries. Thus, the SCO covers central Asia, part of south Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, King Abdullah II of Jordan, King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Crown Prince of Kuwait Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Tunisian President Kais Saied, Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Comorian President Azali Assoumani, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani, Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, Algerian Prime Minister Ayman Benabderrahmane, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and other leaders of 21 Arab League countries and Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and other heads of international organizations attend the first China-Arab States Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 9, 2022. (Photo/Xinhua)

China has also upgraded its strategic partnership with ASEAN during the recent China-ASEAN Summit. The BRICS Summit, held in September, 2022, decided to accept new members, covering Asia, Africa, Middle East and Latin America. China also has regular cooperation mechanism at ministerial level with Africa (China-Africa Cooperation Forum) covering 53 African states and Africa Union (AU), and that with Latin America and Caribbeans countries (China-CLACS Forum at ministerial level). Before the current summit, China had cooperation mechanism with Gulf Countries Cooperation (GCC) at ministerial level. Now, a new cooperation mechanism between China and 22 Arab countries, spanning from West Asia, Middle East to North Africa, at the crossroads of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean, has been upgraded to the level of state leaders.

The first China-Arab States Summit also marks a significant advancement in South-South cooperation. It makes the global South more closely interconnected. From the Arabian countries, we can reach eastbound to Asia, southbound to Sub-Sahara Africa, and westbound to Latin America and Caribbeans, and all way to Pacific Island countries, covering over 100 countries and overwhelming majority of world population.

The China-Arab cooperation sets another example for South-South cooperation as it is based on the core principles: strategic partnership facing the 21st century, adherence to UN Charter, respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, peaceful cooperation and mutual benefit for building community with a shared future.

During this summit, China and Arab countries clinched a number of large projects, ranging from long-term oil or gas supply, infrastructure projects in Arab countries, digital technology, solar photovoltaic, satellite launching, etc. These projects are completely based on the actual needs of the Arabian countries, and converge with their own social economic development plans. More importantly, China neither attaches political conditions to the cooperation nor seeks unilateral benefits. The cooperation also helps promote the joint construction of BRI and contribute to the realization of UN 2030 SDGs. So, this cooperation model and its fruits serve as excellent, feasible examples for South countries to enhance their cooperation and accelerate domestic development.

This photo taken on Aug. 11, 2022 shows the exterior view of Lusail Stadium, the main venue for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qatar. (Photo/Xinhua)

The first China-Arab States Summit provides a convincing example that South-South cooperation is not limited to the low-end technology and economy. In the medieval times, the Arab world made great contributions to science, technology and social development. The modern geometry, astronomic science, marine navigation and pharmaceutical sciences, to a large extent, originated from Arab countries. Both the Arab civilization and Chinese civilization had created splendid achievements in history. Today, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and other Arabian countries are moving towards modernization with research and application of cutting-edge technologies such as new generation of IT, digital economy, big data, green energy, biotechnology, etc. It can be expected that the Arab world will emerge as a new world economic highland and transportation hub in the future. The China-Arab cooperation shows that the South countries can narrow the development gap with the North through their complementary cooperation. It will, in turn, play an important role in reshaping the world economic order in the future.

The China-Arab cooperation promotes world peace, multilateralism and international order. The Riyadh Declaration pledges to uphold the international order and multilateralism based on international laws, not the U.S. version of “rule-based international order”. What are the international laws? The Riyadh Declaration defines that clearly: the objective and principles of the UN Charter, including mutual respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity, no use of force or threat to use force in international relations, and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. In comparison, the “rule-based international order” that Washington often talks about actually implies that the international order is dominated by rule makers who are obviously the West led by the U.S. and it is just a political tool to serve a small group.

The Riyadh Declaration advocates humanity’s common values of peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom, while rejecting the double standard of “values” and the use of human rights as a tool to interfere in internal affairs. It also calls for respect to all countries’ own choice in their democratic development road and social-political system, in opposition to interference in internal affairs of other countries on the pretext of “democracy”.

The first China-Arab States Summit and its achievements represent the fundamental interests of the vast majority of the developing world, thus serves as a lighthouse in the current turbulent world, showing the shared future of humanity. Hence, China and Arab cooperation will certainly develop on a robust track, with increasingly important implications in the years to come.