“Ours is a strategic and comprehensive partnership”

President Xi Jinping
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Here I am back in Riyadh, carrying the Chinese people’s heartfelt feelings of amity towards their Arab counterparts, to take part along with my Arab friends in the first China-Arab States and China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summits and conduct a state visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Building on our deep-rooted friendship and steering it toward new horizons, this visit will cement China’s historical ties with the Arab World, the GCC countries, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and usher in a new era in these relations.

First: A deep-rooted friendship spanning thousands of years

Exchanges between China and the Arab world date back to over 2,000 years of history. Ever since, tradespeople and travelers on the Silk Road and sailing ships on the maritime Spices Route have fostered countless cultural exchanges between the Arab and Chinese civilizations across the Asian Continent. Traditional Chinese porcelain, handmade paper, and printing press were passed to other nations westward, while mediaeval Arab astronomy, calendar calculation, medicine, and pharmaceutical knowledge were carried eastward toward China. Our two nations have exchanged beneficial inventions, inspired innovation, activated brilliant ideas, and distributed the achievements of cultural interaction to various corners of the world, thereby marking human history with a distinguished tale of interaction and mutual learning and benefit between east and west.

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Communication between China and Arabian Gulf countries has been recorded in ancient historical documents. The earliest official documentation of a Chinese envoy’s visit to the Arabian Gulf area was by Chinese imperial envoy Gan Ying who was dispatched by the Emperor of the Han Dynasty and “reached the western seas on his mission to reach the Roman Empire”. Likewise, more than 1,200 years ago, onboard a ship that sailed from the Omani seaport of Sohar, Arab sailor Abu Ubaid has reached the Chinese city of Guangzhou. This legendary visit inspired the fictional voyages of Sindbad the Sailor. In the 1980’s, the historical sea voyage by the Arab sailor Abu Ubaid was retraced in a journey aboard a replica ship named Sohar, in a beautiful revival of the friendly historical exchanges between the two countries, which extended to our modern times.

From time immemorial, China and Saudi Arabia have exchanged admiration of each other’s civilizations through friendly communication. Prophet Muhammad said: “Seek knowledge even as far as in China.” Likewise, over seven centuries ago, Chinese seaman Wang Dayuan was commissioned by the Chinese Yuan Imperial Dynasty to visit and convey respect to Mecca. He describes the city in his book “Daoyi zhilüe” (“A Brief Account of Island Barbarians”), considered a valuable ancient Chinese document about the Arabian Peninsula, as “distinguished with its harmonious sceneries, mild weather throughout the four seasons, fertile fields cultivated with huge amounts of rice, as well as safety and prosperity for its people”. In the same vein, some 600 years before our time, the Imperial Ming Dynasty dispatched the sailorman Zheng He to Jeddah and Medina several times during his far-reaching sea voyages, during which he left behind many stories of friendship and cross-cultural exchanges that are still told today. The recent unearthing of porcelain pieces dating back to the Song and Yuan Imperial Dynasties in the Saudi Al-Sarin seaport to the southwest of Mecca by a joint Saudi-Chinese archaeological expedition is another sign of the deep historical ties between our two nations.

Second: Solidarity and cooperation to build a strong Chinese-Arab community with a shared future in the new era

The modern Arab World constitutes a vital part of the developing world and an essential force for upholding international fairness and justice. The peoples of Arab nations seek progress, believe in independence, reject foreign interference, and refuse to yield to the policies of foreign might and dominance. Arab countries have boundless potentials with their various natural resources, distinguished industries, and remarkable accomplishments. Deep-rooted in history, the Arab culture not only promotes moderation and inclusiveness, but also encourages cross-cultural exchanges and rejects the notion of civilizational conflict. Hence, Arab countries have a significant position on the global political, economic, and cultural arena.

Since the 1950s, China embarked on a journey to establish diplomatic relations with Arab states based on mutual understanding, respect, support, and assistance, resulting in close friendly ties in which both parties deal with each other an equal footing. As a matter of fact, China and Arab states have not only built good partnerships that are based on mutual benefits, but also a brotherly bond that resists hardships. As we entered the 21st Century, Chinese-Arab ties kept moving forward steadily even amid shifts in international relations, making historical strides of unprecedented breadth and depth in terms of mutual political trust, economic benefit, and cultural exchange.

The last decade heralded a new era in Chinese-Arab ties marked by a series of iconic and extraordinary accomplishments on several levels. China established comprehensive strategic partnerships with Arab countries based on comprehensive cooperation and joint development for a better future, instituting strategic partnerships (including comprehensive strategic partnerships) with 12 Arab countries. We also signed memoranda of understanding relating to the “Belt and Road Initiative” with 20 Arab countries. In the same vein, some 17 Arab states expressed their support for the Global Development Initiative, while 15 Arab countries joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and 14 states took part in the China-League of Arab States Cooperation Initiative on Data Security. On the political level, Arab countries have been constant supporters of the One-China Principle and of China’s efforts to safeguard its vital interests. Likewise, China is a staunch supporter of Arab countries’ efforts to preserve their sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, and has consistently expressed unwavering support for the Palestinian and other Arab causes.

The Chinese-Arab friendship may be best demonstrated through the remarkable construction projects that have been achieved through bilateral cooperation, such as the Great Mosque of Algiers, the Lusail Stadium in Qatar, the new Central Bank of Kuwait headquarters, and the Merowe Dam in Sudan, where the Roseires Dam expansion project and the Upper Atbara and Setit Dam Complex project were also completed successfully. China also inaugurated 20 Confucius Institutes and two Confucius classrooms in various Arab countries. Over 40 Chinese universities now offer Arabic Language and Literature as a major, helping infuse young blood in the Chinese-Arab friendship.

Following the COVID-19 outbreak, China rushed to aid and support to Arab countries in the spirit of brotherhood, conducting effective cooperation in the fields of vaccine development and usage, joint prevention and control, and exchange of expertise and medicine, amongst other aspects of cooperation that set an example of joint international efforts to counter the pandemic.

China and Arab states also adopted 17 consecutive cooperation mechanisms within the framework of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, which helped expand and enhance mutual cooperation and strengthened the comprehensive and fruitful development of the solid Chinese-Arab ties, in an exemplary show of cooperation and solidarity among developing countries.

Amid the unprecedented major shifts on the international level in the last century, both China and the Arab countries face the historic mission of realizing national awakening and accelerating national development. In this context, China will work with Arab countries to enhance mutual friendship and build a strong Chinese-Arab community with a shared future in the new era. China and Arab states will continue to brandish the banner of non-interference in internal affairs, show mutual support for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and further their joint efforts to bolster fairness and justice on the international level.

China and its Arab counterparts will proceed with their cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative and expand cooperation in the fields of food security, energy, investment, funding, medicine, and others to boost the quality and depth of mutual interests and profits. Furthermore, China and the Arab countries will work hand in hand on implementing the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative to enhance stability in the shifting and troubled Arab region and instill positive energy to the causes of peace and development. In the same context, China and the Arab countries will continue to enshrine humanity’s common values of peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom, thereby overcoming cultural differences and the so-called conflict of civilizations through cross-cultural beneficial exchange, communication, and convergence to turn our earth into a global garden where civilizations of all kinds flourish and blossom.

Third: Moving forward hand in hand to build strategic partnerships between China and GCC states

The Gulf Cooperation Council, which represents the Arabian Gulf countries, has set an example with its outstanding achievements in the integration process, making the GCC one of the world’s most dynamic organizations. Thanks to their distinct geographical location, the GCC countries serve as a hub that connects the three continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa. Rich with energy resources, GCC states supply the entire world from its rich assets that amount to 30 percent and 20 percent of global oil and gas reserves respectively. They are also a fertile ground for high-tech industries, fostered by a distinctive entrepreneurial spirit. Over the last four decades, the GCC has been working on creating a joint market, economy, and financial system, with an increasingly significant role in regional and international affairs.

For a long time, China’s ties with the GCC countries have been developing on a steady basis. This extensive, far-reaching, and highly fruitful cooperation have fostered China-GCC relations, bringing forth great results in the last decade. For instance, China remains the GCC’s largest trading partner and the biggest importer of its petrochemical products. In 2021, trade between China and GCC states exceeded $230 billion, and exports of crude oil from GCC states to China reached some 200 million tons. In addition to extensive and in-depth cooperation in traditional fields such as production capacity, infrastructure, investment, and finance, collaboration on advanced technologies, such as 5G communications, new energy, space, and digital economy, is also gaining momentum. New concepts such as “smart manufacturing” and industry roadmaps are all paving the way for new horizons of cooperation between China and the GCC.

In anticipation of this future, China will leverage its strategic partnerships with the GCC countries to further cement this historical friendship and enhance mutual trust. Additionally, China will continue to support GCC countries’ efforts to uphold their sovereignty, independence, security, and stability and accelerate integration and diversified development.

China will also work with the GCC countries to formulate a new multi-dimensional model for energy cooperation, accelerate financial and investment cooperation, develop new prospects of humanitarian and cultural exchange, expand cooperation in innovation, and strengthen the convergence of mutual interests.

Fourth: Continued efforts to elevate the Chinese-Saudi comprehensive strategic relationship

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s top energy suppliers and a member of the G20. As a strategic partner and true friend to the Kingdom, China is delighted to see the Saudi people making great strides towards Vision 2030 under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. China is also thrilled to witness the Kingdom’s economic and social reforms and diversification achievements. Its commendable development initiatives, such as the Middle East Green and the Saudi Green Initiatives, brought the Kingdom to new heights and positioned it as an influential player on the international politics, economy, and energy landscapes. We, in China, are very proud of what our Saudi friends have thus far achieved.

Since the commencement of our diplomatic relations, the ties between our two countries have witnessed considerable development that was particularly noticeable in the last decade. Both of our countries respect each other’s sovereignty, development, history, and cultural traditions. We support each other’s efforts to uphold security and stability in our countries and enjoy close cooperation and coordination. Likewise, practical cooperation has witnessed rapid development, as manifested in the launching of several key projects, such as the Yanbu Refining Company, the Ethylene Complex Project at Gulei, the China-Saudi Arabia Industrial Park at Jazan, the Red Sea Project facility infrastructure, 5G communications, and joint moon explorations.

Cultural and popular exchange between the two countries has been also on the rise, as Saudi Arabia has introduced the Chinese language major to four universities and eight preparatory and secondary schools in the Kingdom, where Chinese is now an optional foreign language. The first joint Saudi-Chinese cartoon series production, “Kong Xiaoxi and Hakim”, proved to be quite popular among children, sowing the seeds of friendship between our two nations in young souls.

During this visit to Saudi Arabia, China will work with the Kingdom to further our comprehensive strategic partnership. We will continue to exchange understanding and support, and advocate together for upholding independence and rejecting all kinds of external interference. We will increase synergy between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, all the while deepening practical cooperation and enhancing convergence of interests and ties between the peoples of our countries. We will also boost our cooperation within the United Nations, the G20, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and other international forums and frameworks to practice true multilateralism and contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East and development and welfare in the world.

Last October, the Chinese Communist Party successfully convened its 20th Congress, and is now spearheading the Chinese people’s path toward a modern socialist state. As a firm power that preserves global peace and common development, China will relentlessly work on providing new opportunities to all countries across the world, including our Arab brothers, with whom we will endeavor to preserve our historical friendship and create a brighter future.

This article was originally published in, and translated from the Saudi daily, Al-Riyadh.

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