OPINION: Focus of Xi’s trip dialogue and development
BEIJING (China Daily/ANN) - Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded his whirlwind yet fruitful visit to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran over the weekend, his first diplomatic tour to the Middle East region since fully assuming office in 2013. It ushered in a new era, featuring comprehensive, long-term and stable development, for the bilateral partnership.
Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded his whirlwind yet fruitful visit to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran over the weekend, his first diplomatic tour to the Middle East region since fully assuming office in 2013. It ushered in a new era, featuring comprehensive, long-term and stable development, for the bilateral partnership.
In general, Xi’s three-nation Middle East tour has brought China comprehensive deepened relations with the three countries and taking them to new heights.
Xi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud Salman witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding on advancing the Belt and Road Initiative and production capacity cooperation, as well as other agreements on energy, telecommunication and aviation. The two countries also released a joint statement on forming a comprehensive strategic partnership.
In shared pursuit of enhancing the comprehensive strategic partnership they forged in 2014, China and Egypt signed 21 cooperation agreements on Thursday and endorsed a five-year plan pledging to co-build the Belt and Road Initiative.
Xi also brought fresh impetus to the China-proposed trans-Eurasia initiative, in which Iran has the potential to serve as a Middle East bridgehead, thanks to its pivotal geopolitical location and relative stability.
Major breakthroughs are foreseeable in the trade and people-to-people exchanges and energy-oriented cooperation between the two countries, given that the international sanctions on Iran have been lifted and the country craves economic boosters. In particular, with the help of Chinese-funded infrastructure, both nations will enjoy a high level of interconnectivity in the years to come.
The biggest highlight of all is the trip signaled Beijing is putting more concrete efforts into realising both the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, in a bid to better interconnect with the Middle East.
China will provide a total of $55 billion loan to the Middle East, including $15 billion special loan for industrialisation and $10 billion of commercial loans to support production capacity cooperation, and $10 billion preferential loan to the region. It also includes a $20 billion joint investment fund with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to invest in traditional energy, infrastructure development and high-end manufacturing industries in the region.
Besides the second phase of the China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone which will soon begin, China is also poised to take part in other major Egyptian infrastructure projects including the Suez Canal Corridor and the new administrative capital.
More importantly, China is expected to play a more constructive role in regional disputes, and promote peace talks instead of “looking for a proxy in the Middle East or seeking any sphere of influence”, as Xi made clear in his keynote speech at the Cairo-based Arab League Headquarters on Thursday.
Beijing has for decades espoused a policy of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. Being a staunch supporter of the Middle East peace process, it
is providing 50 million yuan ($7.6 million) to Palestine to improve local people’s well-being, as well as 230 million yuan of additional humanitarian assistance to the people of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya and Yemen.
But such a stance does not mean the country will “eventually pick sides”, as some Western media outlets have speculated, because enhancing the bonds between China and the Middle East is a result of shared willingness to cooperate with no political conditions attached. As Xi said in his speech on Thursday, dialogue and development are the key factors that will help restore peace and stability in the Middle East. That explains why China is the only major power which has managed to maintain friendly relations with the region.
(Li Shaoxian is a senior expert in Middle East studies at Ningxia University in Yinchuan, the Ningxia Hui autonomous region. The article is an excerpt of his interview with China Daily’s Cui Shoufeng.)