First China-Arab Gulf Summit fosters Beijing-GCC countries ties

Ahram Online , AP , AFP , Friday 9 Dec 2022

The First China-Arab Gulf Summit was held on Friday in the Saudi capital of Riyadh in the presence of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Arab Gulf leaders and representatives.

China-Arab Gulf Summit


The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud delivered a speech at the inaugural session of the summit stressing the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) keenness to boost strategic cooperation with China.

For his side, President Xi Jinping stressed in a speech that the summit represents an opprtunity to strengthen Chinese-GCC ties.

The summit aims to foster economic and commercial integration between Gulf countries and China as the top trade partner for the GCC countries.

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and other GCC leaders were among the attendees.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi arrived in Riyadh on Thursday to attend the first China-Arab Summit, which is set to be held later today.

El-Sisi met with President Xi and a number of Arab leaders to discuss boosting bilateral relations ahead of the summit.

"Natural partners"

Speaking to representatives of the GCC, Xi described the Gulf Arab states and China as natural partners for cooperation after meeting with other regional leaders as part of his trip to Riyadh.

Prince Mohammed made a point in his opening remarks, aired on state television, to applaud Qatar for its hosting of the World Cup. 

Xi's visit comes as China relies on the Gulf Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, for billions of dollars in crude oil imports to power his country's economy. 

``The kingdom believes that hydrocarbon energy sources will remain an important resource to meet the needs of the world for the coming decades,'' Prince Mohammed said. ``We are aware of the importance of sustainable development and preserving the environment.''

The GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The leader of the Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, did not attend, instead sending the ruler of the emirate of Fujairah, Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi. Kuwait's crown prince and a representative of Oman's sultan also attended.

During Xi's visit, Saudi officials said deals were signed between Riyadh and Beijing, including some involving Chinese technology company Huawei on cloud-computing, data centers and other high-tech ventures. The US has already has warned its Gulf Arab allies about working with Huawei over spying concerns.

Xi and King Salman also agreed to hold meetings between the two countries' leaders every two years, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Also on Thursday in Riyadh, Xi met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who is attending the broader summit today.

Xinhua also reported that Xi met Thursday with Sudanese leader Abdel-Fattah El-Burhan.

On Friday, Xi held one-on-one meetings Tunisian President Kais Saied, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani and Sheikh Tamim of Qatar.

Saudi-Chinese deals

"China will continue to firmly support the GCC countries in maintaining their own security... and build a collective security framework for the Gulf," Xi said at the start of the China-GCC summit.

"China will continue to import large quantities of crude oil from GCC countries on an ongoing basis," he said, also vowing to expand other areas of energy cooperation including liquefied natural gas imports.

Oil from Saudi Arabia alone accounted for 17 percent of China's imports last year, and last month Qatar announced a 27-year natural gas deal with China.

Earlier on Friday, a joint Chinese-Saudi statement spoke of "focusing on emissions rather than sources" in tackling climate change, the approach championed by the resource-rich Gulf monarchies.

Forty-six bilateral agreements and memorandums of understanding were announced on everything from housing to Chinese language teaching. Both sides are seeking economic and strategic benefits by deepening cooperation.

However, few details were released despite a Saudi state media report on Thursday that about $30 billion in deals would be signed during Xi's visit.

President Xi signing deals with King Salman. Photo courtesy of the Saudi Press Agency

Riyadh and Beijing stressed "deepening relations within the framework of the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries, and reaching new and promising horizons", the statement said.

Xi's visit follows US President Joe Biden's trip to Jeddah in July, before midterm elections, when he failed to persuade the Saudis to pump more oil to calm prices.

China, hit hard by its Covid lockdowns, is trying to revive its economy and widen its sphere of influence, notably through its Belt and Road Initiative which provides funding for infrastructure projects around the world.

Officials provided few details about the agenda for Friday's talks, but one potential area of focus was a China-GCC free trade agreement under discussion for nearly two decades.

Drawing those negotiations to a close would be "a matter of prestige for Beijing," said Robert Mogielnicki of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

A breakthrough on the trade pact could help Saudi Arabia, the Middle East's biggest economy, diversify its economy in line with the Vision 2030 reform agenda championed by Prince Mohammed.

Beijing's foreign ministry has described Xi's trip as the "largest-scale diplomatic activity between China and the Arab world" since the People's Republic of China was founded.

The visit earned a rebuke from the White House, which warned of "the influence that China is trying to grow around the world".

Washington called Beijing's objectives "not conducive to preserving the international rules-based order".

President Xi and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the summit. Photo courtesy of the Saudi Press Agency

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