The Riyadh Arab-China summit has valuable symbolic significance
The Riyadh Arab-China Summit for Cooperation and Development, being hosted by Saudi Arabia today, will no doubt establish an important and exceptional beginning to the strategic partnership between Arab countries and China.
The summit’s agenda indicates that great, open horizons await the realm of Arab-Chinese economic and development cooperation, amid major changes in the international arena that require greater efforts to draw up a cooperation strategy.
This will establish a new future, reformulate the multipolar international situation and limit unipolarity. Herein lies a very promising opportunity, especially since both the Arabs and the Chinese agree on this.
I salute the person who thought about holding this summit because it shows the foresight of their vision with regard to diversification of political, economic and security relations, not only for Saudi Arabia as the host but for all the other participating Arab countries.
It will be an opportunity to improve relations between the two sides, especially since China believes the Arab region is of great importance due to its strategic location and its richness in energy resources.
China needs us as much as we need it. It is the largest importer of crude oil in the world and half of its needs come from Arab countries. There are five Gulf countries among the top 10 oil suppliers to China (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Oman, Kuwait and the UAE), with Saudi Arabia alone accounted for 17.4 percent of China’s total crude oil imports in 2021.
Beijing also needs the Arab African countries as it seeks to enhance its interest in this region for economic reasons, including the Belt and Road Initiative.
China established comprehensive strategic partnerships with Algeria and Egypt in 2014 and a strategic partnership with Morocco in 2016. It also seeks to consolidate its trade relations with Tunisia and Libya by signing memorandums of understanding within the framework of a 2018 initiative.
The Arab countries need China too, and there is no doubt about that. Beijing is the largest trading partner for the Arab world, with the volume of trade between them reaching about $330 billion in 2021, an increase of 37 percent over 2020.
Still, the trade exchange between China and the Arabs remains within traditional aspects; it is still confined to typical patterns of exchange and in limited areas, such as energy, infrastructure and commodity exchange, especially Chinese industrial products.
The summit’s agenda indicates that great, open horizons await the Arab-Chinese economic and development cooperation
It has not expanded as required in the areas of the digital economy and communications, including satellites and fifth-generation cellular technology.
Likewise, in terms of achieving food security for about 2 billion people in the Arab region, significant progress is yet to be made, although it is an area of exceptional importance.
In addition, no tangible progress has been made in terms of economic integration that addresses the needs of the Arab-Chinese market and neighboring markets, while the available and potential energies have not been sufficiently exploited.
There are exceptional opportunities that can be invested in by the Arabs and China. Among these are opportunities for joint investment in the fields of mining, especially in Algeria, Mauritania and Sudan, and opportunities for establishing joint industrial bases in which Chinese knowledge, technology and expertise are employed and the raw materials that abound in Arab countries are utilized.
A very important symposium was hosted by the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization’s Institute of Arab Research and Studies in November. It was titled “The Arab-Chinese Summit: Prospects and Visions.”
One of the most important discussions tackled how China, despite being a large country, pursues diplomacy with unique characteristics, such as “power partnerships,” which is very much in line with the Arab desire to build a multipolar global community.
If we were to use a decent diplomatic term for Chinese diplomacy, it would be Track II, which is a term that was first used by Joseph Montville in 1981 to describe informal diplomatic meetings between countries, away from the official track.
China pursues these as an unofficial path through its cultural and media tools, highlighting its role in establishing international peace and security and trying to resolve modern conflicts, in which it is difficult to negotiate in an official diplomatic manner.
What distinguishes this Chinese diplomacy is that it is actually based on the appropriate formula in its international relations and not the best formula, which is what the Arabs aspire to at this stage, or more precisely what they should aspire to.
Common human values and security interests are the motives for any future partnership and I believe that the Arab-Chinese rapprochement achieves this vision.
Are we really on the verge of a new era in the world? I believe so, especially in light of the official US declaration that China is its No. 1 strategic competitor.
Meanwhile, Arab countries also want to preserve their freedom of choice in terms of cooperation with the various major powers, based on the national interests of each country. Just as an Arab-US summit was held a few months ago in the presence of President Joe Biden, an Arab-China summit will be held this week in the presence of President Xi Jinping.
An Arab-Chinese partnership would establish a new era that builds on the historical roots between China and the Arab world, which go back to the ancient Silk Road.
Today, their ties are not based on history alone, but rather on common principles and political consensus on many regional and international issues, as well as the respect of China and the Arab countries for the principles of sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, non-aggression and non-interference in internal affairs.
We are on the verge of a new multipolar world, in which the form of conflicts will change and the map of international relations will be redrawn so that new forces and directions will emerge, but without other powers fading out.
Whatever the results of the China-Arab summit, its mere convening has a valuable symbolic significance, reflecting the growing convergence of interests between the Arabs and the Chinese.
• Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide. Twitter: @ALMenawy