China and Arab countries share a long history of exemplary interactions. The past 2,000 years have witnessed uninterrupted exchanges between the Chinese and Arab peoples through land and sea links, which facilitated mutual learning between two great civilisations. Since the mid-20th century, we have supported each other in our respective struggles for national independence and development, writing a new chapter of friendship and cooperation. The inception of the CASCF in 2004 has further upgraded China-Arab relations, by adding a new driver in addition to the bilateral channels, and has thus accelerated the growth of China-Arab cooperation across the board.
As President Xi aptly puts it, China and Arab countries, who are natural partners in Belt and Road cooperation, need to follow the Silk Road spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit, and seek greater synergy in our respective pursuits of national renewal. The visionary guidance and commitment coming from our leaders have lent a fresh impetus to relations.
The last four years have seen multiple highlights in the fruitful exchanges and cooperation between China and Arab states, with a special focus on Belt and Road cooperation.
Over the past four years, we have maintained frequent high-level exchanges, including President Xi’s successful visits to the Middle East and the visits to China by the heads of state of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Palestine. Such exchanges have contributed to deepening political trust and kept bilateral ties running at a high level. China has established or upgraded its strategic relations with 11 Arab countries. It has supported Arab countries in exploring their own paths of development, and Palestine in restoring the lawful rights of its people. Arab countries, on their part, have given China valuable support on issues concerning its core and major interests.
The scope of our results-oriented business cooperation and people-to-people exchanges has kept growing to cover a wide range of areas, including satellite launch and cotton production. The CASCF institution building has made significant progress. The effective operation of over ten mechanisms, including the ministerial meeting, the senior officials’ meeting, the entrepreneurs conference, and the energy cooperation conference, has fuelled our Belt and Road cooperation in various respects.
Over the past four years, we have worked in concert to cement the “1+2+3” cooperation framework featuring one focus (energy cooperation), two priority areas (infrastructure and trade and investment facilitation), and three high-tech sectors for breakthroughs (nuclear energy, aviation satellite and new energy). Sustained efforts have been made to advance the “four action plans”, namely cooperation in four major fields of promoting stability, identifying new forms of cooperation, conducting production capacity cooperation, and deepening friendship.
Our pursuit of greater complementarity between development strategies has resulted in new progress in China-Arab cooperation. China has signed Belt and Road cooperation MOUs with nine Arab states and production capacity cooperation agreements with five Arab states. Both the Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank have invested in Arab countries. In 2017, China-Arab trade approached $200 billion (Dh734 billion), up by 11.9 per cent year-on-year, and direct Chinese investment in Arab countries reached $1.26 billion, an increase of 9.3 per cent.
Over the past four years, we have added new dimensions to our cooperation in the traditional areas of energy, infrastructure and trade. The Hassyan clean coal power plant in Dubai, equipped with the world-leading ultra-supercritical technology, and the Attarat power plant in Jordan, a dream come true of oil shale power generation, have taken China-Arab power cooperation to a new level. Several large infrastructure projects are well underway, including Phase II of the Khalifa Port in the UAE and the train project in the 10th of Ramadan City of Egypt. They are expected to make the development of Arab countries better connected. Moreover, the cluster effect of the China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone is being felt. Our cooperation has continued to upgrade and deepen through innovation. We have inaugurated a Technology Transfer Centre, and held a successful Beidou Cooperation Forum. China has helped Algeria put its first communications satellite into orbit, setting an example for such cooperation between China and Arab states. The China-Arab States Research Centre on Reform and Development and the China-Arab States Forum on Reform and Development, two platforms for experience sharing in governance, reform and development, have been warmly received by Arab countries.
Over the past four years, we have added more substances to our mutually beneficial cooperation in home-grown development, social progress and personnel exchanges, delivering tangible benefits to our peoples. China has drawn up plans to provide assistance to Palestine and humanitarian assistance to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Libya and Yemen, as was announced by President Xi. It has trained over 6,000 people of different professions for Arab countries.
While encouraging competitive production capacity to go global, China has helped Arab countries build up capacity for home-grown development in light of their need for economic diversification in the Middle East. In this process, China has paid special attention to helping Arab countries improve their people’s lives, which is essential for the local economy. For instance, a Chinese enterprise opened China’s first overseas fibreglass production base in the Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, creating over 2,000 local jobs and making Egypt the largest fibreglass producer in Africa and third largest producer in the world.
Arab countries, for their part, have facilitated visits of Chinese nationals to the region. Today, nine Arab countries give visa-free or visa-upon-landing treatment to Chinese nationals, and 150 passenger flights and 45 cargo flights are run between China and Arab countries every week. As a result, the number of Chinese tourist arrivals in the region is soaring year by year. In the opposite direction, Arabian specialities of premium quality, including long-staple cotton from Egypt, olive oil from Tunisia, chocolate from Lebanon and dates from the Gulf Arab countries, have entered Chinese households with the help of e-commerce platforms.
The world today is at a critical juncture of major development, transformation and adjustment. China is making big strides in its new journey toward the two centenary goals and showing a stronger commitment to deepening reform on all fronts and opening wider to the world. Likewise, Arab countries have unveiled major initiatives of future-oriented reforms for national rejuvenation. Our development visions are getting more aligned and more complementary, placing China-Arab relations at a new starting point. Under the changing circumstances, we need to work together for a new type of international relations, for a community with a shared future for mankind, and for a peaceful external environment and an equitable world order conducive our national rejuvenation.
At the forthcoming eighth ministerial meeting, China and Arab countries will follow the guidance of our leaders, explore ways to advance future-oriented cooperation centred around the BRI, and further upgrade China-Arab relations.
China and Arab countries will become partners in promoting peace and stability. We need to strengthen coordination, continue to support each other on issues of major interests and core concerns, and safeguard the common interests of developing countries. We should promote political settlement of hotspot issues and uphold common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security as we strive to restore peace and tranquillity to the Middle East at an early date and do our share in bringing about a world of prosperity and stability.
China and Arab countries will become partners in pursuing reform, development and shared prosperity. We need to support each other in exploring development paths tailored to national conditions. We can achieve common progress and development by tapping into complementarity of our respective strengths and needs, by seeking synergy of our development strategies at a faster pace, and by increasing experience sharing on governance. In our pursuit of development, we must stay committed to a people-centred approach and deliver more benefits to our peoples.
China and Arab countries will become partners in conducting practical cooperation for win-win outcomes. We need to follow the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, as we broaden cooperation in infrastructure, aviation satellite and energy and carry out key projects such as ports and industrial parks. China looks forward to signing with more Arab countries the MOU on Belt and Road cooperation to take our practical cooperation to a higher level. China and Arab countries will become partners in championing cultural exchanges and mutual learning. We will encourage more people-to-people exchanges and deepen cooperation in science, education, culture, health and information. By building more bridges for interactions, we will enhance mutual understanding and friendship between our peoples and contribute to the progress of human civilisation.
A new blueprint brings new hope. A new beginning heralds new achievements. I am convinced that the giant ship of China-Arab friendship and cooperation will ride the wave toward a bright future.