By Ding Long
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is visiting the Arab world right now, which will take him to Syria, Egypt and Algeria. This is another important Middle East trip after his visit to the six Gulf states in March this year, and the two visits have basically covered all main countries in the region.
Such intensive diplomatic activities in the middle of the raging pandemic are rarely seen in China’s diplomatic history, fully demonstrating that the relations between China and Middle Eastern countries have reached a new height, and the latter is occupying a higher position in China’s diplomatic agenda. Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s itinerary and the outcomes of his visits indicate three features of the trips.
First, China pays close attention to security in the Middle East. The Middle East has the most serious security deficit in the world and suffers deeply from armed conflicts and humanitarian crises. The Syrian civil war has lasted ten years, a new round of conflicts has just broken out between Palestine and Israel two months ago, while several conflicts have dragged on for many years. Resolving the conflicts in the region has become an important indicator of the effectiveness of international governance. Yet despite its chronic turbulence, the region has not established any security mechanism, platform or dialogue all these years. The first stop of Wang Yi’s Middle East trip was Syria, after which he went to Egypt and put forth three suggestions on implementing the “two-state solution” that he underscored as the fundamental approach – all these conveyed China’s expectation for the Middle East to move from chaos to governance. Its efforts to mediate for peace through negotiation and push for conflict resolution and establishment of security mechanism speak volumes of its fulfillment of a major country’s responsibilities.
Second, China pays close attention to the development of the Middle East. Unlike the West that approaches the Middle East issue through military interference and ideological manipulation, China believes that the root cause of all Middle East’s problems is hindered development, and the key to solving its problems is also the development. By jointly building the Belt and Road, Middle Eastern countries can improve their infrastructure, raise the level of industrialization, and help with the reconstruction of war-ravaged countries – this is the fundamental way to address the high unemployment rate, high inflation rate, backward manufacturing and sluggish export that are impeding their development. The agreements and projects of economic and trade cooperation reached during Wang Yi’s recent tour manifested China’s philosophy of promoting peace through development in the Middle East.
Third, equal importance is placed on bilateral and multilateral cooperation. During Foreign Minister Wang’s latest Middle East trip, China signed several bilateral cooperation agreements with the three countries. Wang also met with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States and the two sides issued a joint statement on jointly building the China-Arab States community of shared future and hosting the China-Arab Summit, which marked a new height of collective dialogue and cooperation between the two sides that is based on the China-Arab Cooperation Forum. China’s approach differs widely from the West’s divisive and factional approach in the Arab world.
The recent visit has drawn much attention and caused many conjectures from the international media, and there is a popular theory that China is trying to fill the power vacuum left by the withdrawal of American troops, which is barely tenable.
For one thing, the so-called “filling in the power vacuum” implies that China might create a sphere of influence in the Middle East, which is other major countries’ basic way of doing things in the region. As a typical example, the US meddled in the Middle East mainly with military means – building alliances, securing proxies, imposing economic sanctions or military interference in rivals or enemies, to change the regime. But this approach, as proved by facts, has done nothing but aggravating the social unrest, economic woe and living difficulties in the region. China has no intention of repeating such an old and failed path, which boils down to getting involved in regional conflicts through military means. Therefore, whether the other major country leaves or stays does not influence China’s outlook on the Middle East’s security and development that is characterized by peace negotiation and promoting peace with development.
For another, China has never interfered in the internal affairs of Middle Eastern countries and has insisted the Middle Eastern people shall have the final say in their own affairs. With a similarly painful history of foreign colonization and interference, China identifies with the miseries suffered by the Middle Eastern people today and feels for them. Therefore, it doesn’t want to become part of the problem, but part of the solution – something the Western countries cannot understand as they are too used to colonial rule and armed interference in regional countries’ internal affairs and throwing their weight around, creating a sphere of influence under the disguise of democracy, freedom and human rights. This is exactly why China’s Middle East policy has been recognized by regional countries, and the local people look forward to China playing a bigger role in the region.
Last but not least, China aims at win-win benefits in the Middle East. When pursuing economic and trade cooperation with Middle Eastern countries, China adheres to the basic principle of win-win benefits. It accommodates the development concerns of those countries, works hard to align the Belt and Road Initiative with their development strategies, and places equal emphasis on their economic development and livelihood improvement and China’s economic returns, in sharp contrast to Western colonialism.
Some Chinese scholars have expressed concerns about China’s recent Middle East diplomacy, citing the region as a “graveyard of empires” where China may get mired too if they get too close. But such worry is needless, as China has no intention of getting involved in the local conflicts or creating a sphere of influence. Promoting development is the cornerstone of China’s Middle East policy and promoting peace negotiation is the basic approach,which is constructive and beneficial both for itself and for the countries concerned.
(The author is a professor ofthe Middle East Studies Institute ofShanghai International Studies University)
Editor’s note: This article is originally published on huanqiu.com, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.