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China's Growing Role in the Middle East

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke to the press after wrapping up a six-nation tour to the Middle East. Wang traveled to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, the UAE, Bahrain, and Oman. I am summarising key points from Wang’s comments from PD and Xinhua English:

He said that these countries “are representatives of the three major civilizations in the history of the Middle East. Each has distinct political, economic, social, and cultural characteristics and plays a unique role in regional affairs. At the same time, the six countries are all developing countries, all emerging economies, and all friendly countries to China. Facing the challenges of a century of change and the epidemic of the century, as well as the intricate disputes in the Middle East, countries in the region are exploring a development path that suits their own national conditions in order to realize their national dreams; externally, they are deeply reflecting on the consequences of external interference and strive to find and maintain long-term stability in the region.”

Wang said that during the visit he put forward “a five-point initiative on achieving security and stability in the Middle East,” which emphasised the following (Not quoting wherever I’ve edited significantly):

  • First, China supports regional countries in excluding external parties from interfering in their internal affairs and supports their adherence to independence and exploration of social systems and governance models with their own characteristics.

  • Second, “China supports regional countries in getting rid of the shadow of geopolitical competition among major powers...and building a security framework that takes into account the legitimate concerns of all parties.”

  • Third, “China does not seek self-interest in the Middle East, does not engage in geopolitical competition, does not divide the region into spheres of influence, upholds the spirit of equality and friendliness, respects the independent choice of regional countries, and is willing to make China's contribution to the peace and development of the Middle East through sincere cooperation.”

Wang said that he reached broad consensus over wide-ranging issues with the leaders of the six countries, which all welcomed China to play a bigger role in Middle East affairs. “China and the countries agreed that the sovereign independence and national dignity of all countries should be respected, and independent and diverse ways of development should be promoted,” he said. Wang added that they agreed to oppose interfering in other countries’ internal affairs and slandering other countries under the guise of human rights, safeguard the international system with the United Nations as the core and the international order based on international law, multilateralism, and international equity and justice.

This was interesting: “This year is the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring, the legacy of the turmoil that occurred 10 years ago is still stubborn, but 10 years of reflection and exploration have also brought new hope, seeking stability, promoting development and taking their own path gradually become the regional consensus. The Middle East should not be a victim of the great power game, should not become a victim of geopolitical conflicts, and should not fall behind in the world development trend.”

Wang added: “I put forward a five-point initiative on China's efforts to achieve security and stability in the Middle East, including advocating mutual respect, upholding fairness and justice, realizing nuclear non-proliferation, building collective security and accelerating development cooperation...The Middle East belongs only to the people of the Middle East and is not anyone's territory. As a sincere friend of the Middle East countries, China will, in the next phase, closely communicate and coordinate with all parties concerned around the implementation of the above-mentioned initiatives, focusing on the following things.”

First, on the Israel-Palestine issue, he backed the two-state solution. “We will hold a seminar for Palestinian-Israeli peacemakers in due course,” he said. On Iran, he said: “Chinese officials have gone to Moscow to discuss with Iran and Russia the roadmap and timetable for restarting the Iranian nuclear comprehensive agreement. We are also willing to maintain close communication with all parties on holding a multilateral forum on security in the Gulf region in China. This new platform can also be started from track 2 or track 1.5, starting with topics such as securing oil facilities and waterways, starting with the easy ones before the difficult ones and building mutual trust.” He then talked about vaccines and holding the Sino-Arab Reform and Development Forum and the Middle East Security Forum during the year.

The subsequent chunks of the interview are around China’s pandemic diplomacy in the region and trade and economic engagement. “In 2020, China-Arab trade volume is nearly 240 billion U.S. dollars, and China is the largest trading partner of Arab countries; China imports 250 million tons of crude oil from Arab countries, accounting for half of China's total imports in the same period. The key projects of China-Arab ‘Belt and Road’ are being resumed in an orderly manner, and the cooperation in 5G, big data, artificial intelligence, aerospace and other high technology is flourishing, and the recognition of Chinese products, Chinese technology and Chinese standards is increasing in the region,” Wang said.

Finally, he spoke about the issue of human rights. Do read this chunk below to get the Chinese perspective and the normative change internationally that Beijing desires.

“The six countries visited and China are both developing countries and share similar views on human rights issues. We believe that the human rights views of certain Western countries do not represent the international view of human rights, and that the human rights views of developing countries should be listened to, respected and absorbed more, so as to enrich the connotation of human rights, promote the progress of society and maintain the harmony of the world. We agree that human rights should be comprehensive and balanced. Both political and social rights and the right to survival and development should be emphasized; both democracy and freedom and fairness and justice should be talked about. The human rights situation of a country should be judged by its own people, and should not be decided by other countries according to their own likes and dislikes..."

"...Different civilizations and countries in the world do not have the same understanding of human rights, and countries can conduct equal and constructive dialogues on this issue to enhance mutual understanding and jointly promote the progress of human rights. However, we oppose the politicization of human rights issues. The practice of some Western powers interfering in the internal affairs of other countries under the banner of human rights, using human rights issues as a political tool, wantonly attacking and smearing other countries, and suppressing developing countries is contrary to the true concept of human rights and is an act of hegemony.

This post is an excerpt from by weekday People's Daily Tracker.

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