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'Relations between Arab countries and China will continue to deepen'

Ramy Salama


Researchers, scholars and experts in international relations at a seminar held on Saturday were almost unanimous in expressing the great potential for closer cooperation between China and the Arab world, while also expressing the view that the two sides would inevitably continue to deepen their ties in the foreseeable future.

Speaking at that event, organised by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies under the title 'The Arab World and China Future Prospects for Relations with a Rising Power', Jonathan Fulton, who teaches Political Science at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, stressed the pivotal role which the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are expected to play in these developing relations.

"The States of the GCC represent a crucial hub in the One Belt One Road initiative. Their geostrategic location links China to Middle Eastern, African and European markets, and their vast hydrocarbon reserves are an important factor in driving the development projects that comprise the One Belt One Road. The Sino-GCC cooperation can, therefore, be expected to expand as China's footprint expands across the Indian Ocean," he explained.

For his part, Marwan Kabalan, a leading researcher at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies underlined the increasingly close cooperation between the Arab states and China in the past, while judging that this trend can reasonably be expected to increase in the future.

"China has seen a rise and increasing influence on the world stage generally and in the Arab region especially, be it in terms of its economic relations with the countries of the region due to its increasing thirst for energy sources such as oil and gas, or in terms of political and security relations, and here I cite as evidence the increasing military presence of the Chinese navy in African waters and in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. Not to mention that China is the second largest trade partner of the Arab world," he said, outlining some of these trajectories of cooperation.

Gao Youzhen, a Middle East specialist who has formerly served as China's Ambassador to a number of Arab countries including Qatar, agreed with Kabalan's analysis of the positive and productive relations between the two sides in the past, as well as with his prognosis of increasing ties between the Arab world and China in the future.

"China and the Arab states have had friendly relations since ancient times. Intensive exchange between the Arabs and China flourished via the old Silk Road in terms of trade in silk, ceramics, tea, gum, and others. Currently, relations are deepening further in the framework of the partnership for building the 'Economic Belt and New Silk Road' in the spirit of the original Silk Road. Friendly cooperation between the Chinese and the Arabs holds out great prospects which will serve the interests of both China and the Arab states," he noted.

More than 40 speakers from China, the Arab world and beyond are participating in the two-day seminar, which continues at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Sunday.

The meeting takes place at a time when China's increased engagement with the Arab world is becoming visible. This was underscored by China's 'Belt and Road' initiative, a series of infrastructure projects which are aimed at tying China to many of the old 'Silk Road' countries. When completed, the 'Belt and Road', announced by China's President Xi Jingping, will make it possible for goods and people to move more easily between the far east of China and Europe though the Middle East and North Africa. This builds on an already strong economic and trade relationship between the Arab region and China supplies from the Gulf States already provide a large proportion of Beijing's energy needs.


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