China-Arab summit: A milestone

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 29 May 2024

China is hosting a summit with Arab leaders this week, with the Israeli war on Gaza on top of the agenda.

China-Arab summit: A milestone


President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi arrived in Beijing on Tuesday at the start of a five-day state visit to the People’s Republic of China during which he will hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and senior Chinese officials.

According to presidential spokesperson Ahmed Fahmi, the talks between Al-Sisi and Xi will focus on regional and international issues of mutual interest, including the Gaza war and ways to restore stability in the region.

Alongside Xi and other Arab leaders, including Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Eissa, Tunisian President Kais Saied and United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, President Al-Sisi will attend the opening session of the 10th ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum on Thursday.

Speaking at a press conference in Beijing on Monday, China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Deng Li said President Xi would attend the forum and deliver a keynote speech. The forum will be co-chaired by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Mauritanian counterpart Mohamed Salem Marzouq.

Deng Li said the growth of Chinese-Arab relations helps serve the interests of the peoples of China and the Arab states and aims to support peace and development in the Middle East and promote stability in a turbulent world. He pointed out that the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum had achieved remarkable successes since it was founded two decades ago.

“The Arab and Chinese sides agreed, at their first summit in 2022, to build a Chinese-Arab community with a shared future, confirming that Chinese-Arab relations had entered a new era of comprehensive development,” said Deng Li.

During the press conference, Deng Li added that Beijing’s position is that the peoples of the Middle East must determine the region’s future and that though China has become more diplomatically active in the region “our efforts to promote peace in the Middle East have never been absent.”

With the outbreak of the Gaza war, he said the risks of conflict in the region are rising and “as a responsible major country, China believes it has a duty to promote peace and alleviate the humanitarian crisis.”

“China, a giant economic powerhouse, wants to play a greater role in international politics, particularly in the Middle East,” said Ahmed Abaza, head of parliament’s Arab Affairs Committee. “Last year China brokered a détente between Iran and its long-time foe Saudi Arabia and now aims to position itself as a mediator in the conflict between Hamas and Israel.”

During a tour of the Middle East in January, China’s Foreign Minister met with President Al-Sisi in Cairo. The two countries released a joint statement on the Hamas-Israel conflict, expressing support for a “comprehensive, just, and lasting settlement”.

Abaza said China has always been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and supportive of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and noted that China’s president has called for an “international peace conference” to settle the conflict.

In November, Beijing hosted a meeting of foreign ministers of the Palestinian Authority, Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan for talks aimed at deescalating the war between Hamas and Israel.

Abaza also noted that Arab countries have consistently supported China on key issues including Taiwan, the South China Sea and the silk road development initiative and that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s accession to the BRICS group in January “had created more opportunities for cooperation between China and the Arab world”.

Former deputy foreign minister Ezzat Saad underlined the extent to which Sino-Arab relations have flourished, politically and economically, since President Xi came to power in 2013.

“In 2016, President Xi visited Cairo and submitted a paper to the Arab League on strengthening the partnership between China and the Arab countries,” said Saad. “As a result, 12 Arab countries have forged comprehensive strategic partnerships with China. Chinese investments in Arab countries are now close to $250 billion and the volume of trade between the two sides is estimated at $500 billion.”

Saad also noted that the summit in Beijing coincides with growing Arab complaints of Western double standards in reaction to ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza, arguing that “Arab countries see two major powers like China and Russia recognising Palestine as an independent state and using their veto powers in the UN Security Council to support this.”

Presidential spokesperson Fahmi said that while he is in Beijing, President Al-Sisi will meet with the heads of major Chinese companies “to discuss opportunities to attract greater Chinese investments to Egypt in light of state policies to localise the industry and facilitate technology transfers through collaboration with high-profile Egyptian private sector and foreign investors”.

Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics reported that the volume of trade between Egypt and China had increased from $11.9 billion in January 2022 to $ 15.7 billion in January 2024.

According to China’s Ambassador to Egypt Liao Liqiang, Egypt is currently the largest recipient of Chinese investments in the Arab world. “China’s investments in Egypt have reached nearly $ 7 billion, 90 percent of which were pumped in over the last five years, providing around 40,000 job opportunities,” he said.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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