Premier Wen Jiabao Visits Three Gulf Countries
Building a Bright and Broad New Silk Road
On Premier Wen Jiabao's Visit to the Three Gulf Countries
From January 14 to 19, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited three Gulf countries, i.e. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar. As the first major diplomatic activity of Chinese leaders at the beginning of the year 2012, the visit has drawn worldwide attention.
Within six days, Wen exchanged in-depth views with leaders of the three countries on the bilateral relations and the important international and regional hotspot issues, met with heads of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), attended the World Future Energy Summit and the fourth entrepreneurs' conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF), held talks with Icelandic President Grimsson and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, participated in more than 40 activities and witnessed the signing of nearly 20 economic and trade, financial, infrastructure construction and cultural cooperation agreements.
During the visit, Wen stressed that the ancient Silk Road linked the Chinese and the Arab people together and now we are building a new Silk Road which will be a road of friendship, a road of political mutual trust, business integrity and solidarity between the Chinese and the Arab people and a road of exchanges between civilizations and cultures.
Public opinion believes that Wen's visit highlighted the theme of peace, cooperation and development, enhanced China's relations with the three Gulf countries with pragmatic and effective results, brought China and the Gulf countries to a new stage of all-round cooperation and strengthened China's relations with the Arab states and the Islamic world. The visit has great significance and far-reaching influence.
Reinforcing political mutual trust and consolidating and enhancing bilateral relations
The three Gulf countries have good relations with China, but there were not many high-level visits between the two sides.
This is the first visit of Wen to the Gulf countries. His visit to Saudi Arabia is 20 years away from the last visit paid by a Chinese premier to the country. It is also the first visit ever paid by a Chinese premier to the UAE and Qatar.
During the trip, Wen emphasized repeatedly that he makes the visit for the purpose of friendship and cooperation. China and the Arab states had similar historical experiences. There are no remaining issues or old scores to settle between the two sides. We have common interests and face the same task of development. As the current international situation remains complex and volatile and the international financial crisis is still exerting influence, China and the Arab states, as old friends, should help each other and cooperate sincerely more than ever.
The enhancement of bilateral relations is a major achievement of Wen's trip to the Gulf. China and Saudi Arabia decided to further lift up the strategic relations. China announced the establishment of strategic partnership with the UAE and agreed with Qatar to further strengthen contacts between the leaders and increase strategic mutual trust. External comments said that the visit consolidated the traditional friendship between China and the three countries and raised the bilateral relations to a higher level in history…
At nightfall of January 14, Wen arrived at Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia. Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of Saudi Arabia Nayef held a welcome dinner and later held a working meeting with Wen. On the next day, Wen and King and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia Abdullah held a meeting where the crown prince, princes and a number of cabinet ministers of Saudi Arabia were also present. After the meeting, the two leaders attended the signing ceremony of bilateral cooperation documents.
China and Saudi Arabia have developed friendly political relations after the establishment of diplomatic ties. In 2008, the two countries signed the Joint Statement on Strengthening Cooperation and Strategic Friendly Relations between the People's Republic of China and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. During the talks with Saudi King, Wen said that Saudi Arabia is a major country in the Arab and the Islamic world and plays an important role in regional and international affairs. China is willing to strengthen coordination and cooperation with Saudi Arabia on major issues and add more strategic connotation to the bilateral relations.
Subsequently, the two governments issued a joint statement, stressing their willingness to further enhance bilateral relations within the strategic framework, which the Saudi media reported massively and spoke highly of.
The UAE is the second stop of Wen's tour to the Gulf. He exchanged views with the UAE President Khalifa, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed and Vice President and Prime Minister Mohammed on issues of common concern. President Khalifa said that the UAE is willing to take the opportunity of establishing the strategic partnership to comprehensively strengthen cooperation with China.
Emirates News Agency commented that the establishment of bilateral strategic partnership shows the two countries have reached consensus on future cooperation which will not only promote the development of bilateral relations but also step up the bilateral coordination on regional and international issues.
Qatar is the last leg of Wen's Gulf trip. Wen met with Prime Minister Hamad, Emir Hamad and Crown Prince Tamim respectively. During the talks with Prime Minister Hamad on January 18, Wen said that China is willing to proceed from a strategic and long-term perspective and make joint efforts with Qatar to raise the bilateral relations to a higher level. His words received positive response from the Hamad.
Wen was warmly welcomed by the leaders and masses of the three Gulf countries throughout the trip. They expressed the strong desire to strengthen communication and cooperation with China. The results of the visit indicate that the development of relations between China and the Arab states has solid political and broad public opinion foundation and enjoys a bright future.
Elaborating China's position and properly handling regional hotspot issues
At present, the situation in West Asia and North Africa is undergoing major changes. The situation in the Gulf region is also complicated and hotspot issues keep emerging. According to some media, Wen visited a sensitive region in a sensitive period and was bound to face many sensitive issues. Therefore, the complexity and difficulty of the visit was imaginable.
When meeting with leaders of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, heads of the GCC and the OIC and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Wen discussed with them in details about the situation in West Asia and North Africa, the Gulf and the Middle East.
He said that the Chinese people, like people all over the world, were worried after the political unrest took place in some countries in the Gulf and the Middle East. As a big country, we hope to shoulder our due responsibilities, join hands with people throughout the world and stand side by side with the Gulf countries and the Arab people in order to solve the issues properly through peaceful and political means and bring tranquility to the region.
On January 18, Wen held a press conference with Chinese and foreign correspondents in the Doha hotel where he stayed and frankly answered questions about the Iraqi nuclear issue, the Strait of Hormuz, Syria and other hotspot issues.
Concerning the Iraqi nuclear issue, he said that first of all China resolutely opposes Iran's manufacturing and possession of nuclear weapons and stands for the establishment of nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. This is China's unswerving position. Second, China supports the continuous mediation of the six-country mechanism to solve the Iraqi nuclear issue peacefully as soon as possible. It also hopes the international community work together to push for early settlement. Third, China has normal trade relations with Iran, but we will never do trade at the cost of our principle. We support the UN resolutions involving the Iranian nuclear issue and will always comply with these resolutions.
With regard to the Strait of Hormuz, Wen said that we are all very concerned about the security of the Strait of Hormuz because it is an important international shipping channel. We believe that the security of the Strait of Hormuz and the normal shipping there should be guaranteed no matter under what circumstances because it is in the interest of the world and the entire mankind. Any extreme move on this issue will go against the will of countries and people in the world.
On Syria and the situation in West Asia and North Africa, Wen said that he indeed had repeatedly conducted in-depth discussions on the West Asia and North Africa situation and the current situation in the Gulf and the Middle East with foreign leaders. We hold three points of views on the issue of Syria. First, efforts should be made to seek a peaceful and political solution, oppose and prevent the killing of innocent civilians and restore the normal order in Syria as soon as possible. Second, the Syrian people's request for change and desire of maintaining their interest should be respected. Third, the role of the Arab League should be played. In particular, it should play its role of investigation and mediation on the Syrian issue so as to help solve the issue through peaceful and political means and via dialogue.
Strengthening economic and trade exchanges and entering a new stage of comprehensive cooperation
At present, both China and the Arab states, including the Gulf countries, are in a critical period of economic development and improving people's livelihood and face the pressing task of speeding up economic restructuring.
On January 18, Wen outlined three proposals on developing China-Arab relations at the fourth entrepreneurs' conference of the CASCF in Sharjah, the UAE. First, consolidate political mutual trust and deepen strategic cooperation. Second, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation and realize common development. Third, expand cultural exchanges and promote traditional friendship.
Wen especially emphasized the importance to further expand the bilateral trade, build the long-term, stable and mutually beneficial energy cooperative relations, promote mutual investment and boost the development of mutually beneficial China-Arab cooperation. Those statements were highly appreciated by the participants and leaders of the Gulf countries.
In general, Wen's visit extended the energy cooperation between China and the three Gulf countries to the upstream and downstream links and to the new energy sector; promoted the bilateral economic and trade cooperation in the fields of investment, science and technology, infrastructure and finance and pushed the China-GCC Free Trade Area (FTA) negotiations to make a crucial step towards the end. China's cooperation with the Gulf countries is showing the trend of all-round progress.
China's cooperation with the three countries has different focus. Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserve and export in the world. It is China's biggest oil supplier. Energy trade is undoubtedly an important part of the bilateral trade, but it is not all of the bilateral trade. Saudi Arabia is China's largest trading partner in West Asia and Africa. It is the call of the time to further broaden economic and trade cooperation.
On January 15, when meeting with King Abdullah, Wen made it clear that China expects to develop an all-round energy partnership with Saudi Arabia and expand the bilateral cooperation on trade, investment, infrastructure, high technology and finance. This initiative was endorsed by King Abdullah.
During the visit, Sinopec signed an agreement with Saudi Aramco on forming a joint venture refinery in Saudi Arabia and a cooperation agreement with Saudi Basic Industries Corporation on the polycarbonate ester production line. The two governments also signed the cooperation agreement on peaceful use of nuclear energy.
To expand the area and size of investment is also an issue of mutual concern. Wen said that the two-way investment between China and Saudi Arabia is relatively small and does not match the economic size and friendly relations of the two countries. The Chinese government encourages competitive and reputable Chinese companies to get more involved in the key infrastructure construction of Saudi Arabia, such as railway, port, electricity and communications. He stressed that the cooperation between small and medium-sized enterprises should be promoted while the cooperation of large enterprises moves forward. During the visit, the two sides signed the bilateral investment promotion and cooperation implementation plan.
The UAE only has a land area of over 80,000 square kilometers, but it is an important oil producer and the world's major financial, trade and aviation hub. Wen and leaders of the UAE pushed for a series of cooperation programs of which two drew the widest attention. One was the memorandum on energy cooperation and the other was the currency swap agreement with a total amount of RMB 35 billion. some media commented that the first one focuses on new energy and renewable energy which paves the way for the bilateral R&D cooperation on clean energy technologies and the second one makes a precedent for China-Arab financial cooperation and has extraordinary significance.
On January 16, Wen attended the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi and made a speech entitled China Unswervingly Follows the Path of Green and Sustainable Development. He put forward four proposals. First, give priority to energy efficiency. Second, develop renewable energy and clean energy. Third, actively promote energy technology revolution. Fourth, effectively protect energy security.
Qatar is one of the world's largest producers and exporters of liquefied gas. It has become China's second largest LNG supplier. China's demand for natural gas within the next decade will grow by 8% annually on average. On January 18, Wen told Prime Minister Hamad in Doha that China and Qatar should better combine their advantages of market and resources together. He hopes the two sides become long-term, stable and reliable energy partners.
China and Qatar cooperate in a wide range of areas. What Qatar needs most is to promote the downstream processing of petroleum. During Wen's visit, PetroChina, Qatar General Petroleum Corporation and Shell signed a cooperation agreement on building the joint venture refinery integration project in Taizhou, Zhejiang. The two sides also discussed the agreement related with finance and investment. The Qatar side suggested making part of the energy payment in RMB, which the Chinese side said it would carefully study.
Composed of six Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain, the GCC is the most dynamic regional organization with the highest degree of integration in the Middle East. In 2011, the bilateral trade between China and the GCC countries exceeded US$100 billion. One-third of China's oil imports come from the GCC countries. In 2004, China and the GCC launched the FTA negotiations. So far, five rounds of negotiations have been held and the negotiations reached the final critical stage.
On January 15, Wen met with the GCC Secretary General Al-Zayani in Riyadh and conducted consultations on the FTA negotiations. Wen said that the establishment of China-GCC FTA is a major initiative to deepen the China-Arab economic and trade cooperation and a milestone in the history of China-Arab relations. The negotiations are approaching the end. The two sides should view this important initiative from a macroscopic and strategic perspective and show greater political will to push the negotiations to achieve substantial results. During the subsequent talks with leaders of the three countries, Wen also mentioned the topic of pushing forward the China-GCC FTA.
Al-Zayani noted that Wen's strategic view and spirit and enthusiasm of cooperation made them more confident in the FTA.
Economic and trade cooperation is the oldest and most active component of China-Arab relations. Wen's trip to the three Gulf countries has injected greater vitality and power in the economic and trade cooperation in the new era.
Strengthening cultural exchanges and building the bridge between the hearts
Before the visit, some media once speculated that Wen's visit to the Gulf countries aims at oil. When meeting with the Chinese and foreign correspondents, Wen said that this viewpoint was too narrow. His biggest achievement was the enhancement of political mutual trust and deepest impression was the profound friendship of the Gulf people towards the Chinese people.
In the afternoon of January 17, on the way to the Dragon Mart of Dubai, Wen walked into a coffee shop to talk to the Arab people there. Sitting next to him there were both the UAE and the Jordanian people. They showed great enthusiasm about Wen's arrival. Hearing the news, UAE Vice President Mohammed was moved deeply. He wrote on his micro-blog the following: the Chinese Premier reached out to the ordinary people in the coffee shop and is very modest. Modesty is the value shared between the Chinese and the Arab cultures. The UAE will take the development of relations with China as a priority of its diplomatic policy.
Wen said that there are more than 1.5 billion of Muslims in the world and we respect the Muslim civilization. Similarly, China has nearly 20 million of Muslims and we respect their lifestyle. Religious freedom and ethnic equality are our important principles.
Visiting the Saudi friend's home, touring the Saudi Arabia museum and learning about the local history… such exchange activities during Wen's visit have shortened the distance between the Chinese and the Arab people.
The visit achieved a series of results of cultural cooperation. When meeting with Saudi King Abdullah, Wen said that an agreement has been signed to build the Peking University branch of King Abdulaziz Public Library. It will be the first branch of Saudi Arabia's King Abdulaziz Public Library in a non-Arab country and become an important platform of academic exchanges and cultural cooperation between China and the Arab and Islamic world.
When Wen met with the UAE leaders, the two sides agreed to strengthen exchanges and cooperation on culture, education, health, tourism and media. Wen stressed during talks with the Qatar leaders that the two sides should further enhance exchanges between the people, especially the youth.
Wen also met with the ICO Secretary General Ihsanoglu. He noted that China will closely coordinate with the ICO to make sound preparations for the Symposium on the Chinese and Islamic Civilizations to be held in Beijing.
Driven by leaders of both sides, China-Arab cultural exchanges have gone deeper. The closer the hearts of the Chinese and the Arab people are, the more solid China-Arab relations will be. The bilateral friendship will definitely pass on from generation to generation.