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China-Arab Cooperation Forum bolsters relations
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 09 - 06 - 2014

RIYADH – Beijing has witnessed recently a grand gathering of delegates from Arab states and the Arab League for the sixth Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab Cooperation Forum as well as celebration for the 10th anniversary of the Forum. It was a major diplomatic move of the Chinese government geared towards the entire Arab world under the new conditions and also a momentous event in the history of China-Arab relations, carrying the significance of building on past achievements and shaping the future.

The China-Arab Cooperation Forum was established in January 2004 following a joint announcement of China and Arab states at the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo and with a focus on long-term growth of China-Arab relations in the new century. It was a natural outcome of the growing political mutual trust and thriving practical cooperation between the two sides and was a highly relevant new measure taken by the two sides to ride the tide of globalization and regional cooperation. The establishment of the Forum, rooted in time-honored friendship, driven by mutually beneficial cooperation and aimed at common development, was a reflection of the strategic will and common choice of China and the Arab states.
A decade of efforts through thick and thin have now come to fruition. The China-Arab Cooperation Forum has developed, under the Forum's framework, over ten cooperation mechanisms including the Ministerial Conference, the Senior Officials' Meeting, the business conference & investment seminar, the seminar on China-Arab relations and inter-civilization dialogue, the friendship conference, the conference on energy cooperation, the forum on media cooperation, the senior health officials meeting and the Arab arts festival in China and Chinese arts festival in Arab states. With such tremendous enrichment of friendly exchanges and increased variety of win-win cooperation models, the China-Arab Cooperation Forum has become an important brand leading the growth of China-Arab relations.
The past decade has been one of increasingly mature political mutual trust between China and Arab states. In 2010, the Forum's fourth Ministerial Conference issued the Tianjin Declaration, announcing establishment of the “China-Arab strategic cooperative relationship for comprehensive cooperation and common development” under the framework of the Forum and unveiling a new stage in China-Arab collective dialogue and cooperation. Moreover, China established strategic relations with Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and set up with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) the China-GCC strategic dialogue mechanism. As always, China supported Arab states in independently exploring development paths compatible with their national conditions and in restoring the legitimate rights of their nations, including Palestine's right to an independent Palestinian state. Likewise, Arab states gave invaluable support to China on issues concerning China's major interests and core concerns, and provided generous assistance to China in time of disasters such as the Wenchuan earthquake. During the past ten years, the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Arab League adopted resolutions on many occasions on strengthening Arab-China friendly relations in various fields. Cooperation with China has become a consensus among Arab states.
The past decade has been one of soaring China-Arab trade and economic cooperation. Two-way trade surged from US$25.5 billion to US$238.9 billion, with the average annual growth rate exceeding 25 percent. China's import of crude oil from Arab states rose from 40.58 million tons to 133 million tons, growing by over 12 percent every year on average. The value of new engineering contracts signed by Chinese businesses in Arab states increased from $2.6 billion every year to $29.1 billion, registering an annual growth rate of percent on average. The annual increase in non-financial direct investment by Chinese businesses in Arab states also grew from $17.25 million to $2.04 billion. China is now the second biggest trading partner of the Arab world and the top trading partner of nine Arab states. The Arab world, in addition to being the seventh biggest trading partner of China, is also China's primary partner in energy and major market for engineering contracts and overseas investment. In recent years, China-Arab cooperation in emerging sectors including finance, space and new energy has also thrived and shown good momentum.
The past decade has also been one of exciting people-to-people and cultural exchanges between China and Arab states. Over 20 universities in China now offer Arabic language programs, 11 Confucius Institutes and one CRI Confucius Classroom have been set up in eight Arab states, and more than 10,000 students from Arab states are studying in China throughout the year. With eight Arab states becoming tourism destinations for Chinese citizens and 145 flights per week between China and Arab states, over 830,000 mutual visits were made every year. Over the past ten years, China trained 15,676 personnel of various professions for Arab states, sent altogether 5,338 medical personnel to nine Arab states and provided strong intellectual support for the development of various undertakings in Arab states. It is fair to say that China-Arab friendship enjoys more extensive and profound public support than ever before.
From the past decade of the growth of the Forum and China-Arab relations, one may sum up the following experience: the two sides have always treated each other with sincerity and trust and stayed the course of strategic cooperation; the two sides have always pursued pragmatic, efficient and mutually beneficial cooperation and sought common development by sharing opportunities; the two sides have always promoted the approach of openness, inclusiveness and seeking common ground while shelving differences and brought the people of the two sides closer through mutual learning; and the two sides have always moved along the trend of the times with great enterprise and ensured mutual enhancement and coordinated expansion of bilateral and collective cooperation.
The trend towards a multi-polar world and economic globalization is gathering momentum. – SG

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