China's GCC and Arab outreach: Adding a new chapter to ancient relations
Updated 17:29, 26-Dec-2022
Ali Obaid Al Dhaheri
China's GCC and Arab outreach: Adding a new chapter to ancient relations

China's GCC and Arab outreach Adding a new chapter to ancient relations.mp3


Editor's note: Decision Makers is a global platform for decision makers to share their insights on events shaping today's world. Ali Obaid Al Dhaheri is the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the People's Republic of China. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily those of CGTN.

International diplomacy is a dynamic process. Institutional frameworks and established protocols exist to guide our leaders, while the longevity of our multilateral relations provide the foundations for negotiation. Still, above all, we cannot underestimate the power of personal rapport – the importance of being able to meet face-to-face to discuss the most pressing global issues of our times, at the very highest levels.

The last three years have brought us many challenges. As the international community begins to emerge from the shadows of a global pandemic, as a diplomat, I take reassurance from the fact that high-profile diplomatic events have seen a revival in recent months. From the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Uzbekistan and the 27th session of the Conference of Parties (COP27) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Egypt, to the G20 meeting in Indonesia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Cambodia, we have gradually witnessed the rhythm of in-person diplomacy kicking back into action, at a time when international cooperation is more important than ever. This cooperative spirit is the expectation with which we as Emiratis will welcome the world for COP28 in Dubai next year.

As the Middle East re-establishes itself as a meeting place of civilizations, another landmark occasion has recently taken place. Last week, we saw Chinese President Xi Jinping arrive in Riyadh with a state visit that was marked by two seminal events: the inaugural China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and China-Arab summits. We commend our partners in Saudi Arabia for bringing our leaders together in such a comprehensive way for the very first time.

Chinese President Xi Jinping holds talks with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud at the royal palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 8, 2022. /Xinhua
Chinese President Xi Jinping holds talks with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud at the royal palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 8, 2022. /Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping holds talks with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud at the royal palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 8, 2022. /Xinhua

One of my most memorable moments as a diplomat came earlier this year, when I had the honor of accompanying the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, to the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. It is a true testament to the strength of our bilateral relationship that, at the height of a global pandemic, H.H. Sheikh Mohamed personally made the trip to China and was warmly welcomed by President Xi.

Nonetheless, for many of our partners in the Gulf region and wider Middle East, last week's summits have really been the first opportunity for Arab leaders to meet their Chinese counterparts since the pandemic began. Cooperation agreements were signed, investment deals were struck, and international security issues were discussed. The summits should rightly be heralded as signature triumphs in international diplomacy and multilateral cooperation.

The GCC is certainly no monolith – its member countries have their own unique cultures, societies and interests. This is even more the case with the wider Arab world – a vibrant and diverse network of countries spanning the whole length of the Middle East and North Africa region. Yet together we represent an entire civilization, bound to one another by history and tradition. It is these foundations that define the kindred spirit that Arab peoples share with the people of China: Our civilizations are ancient, our histories are rich and our traditions have shaped the modern world. 

Last week's summits represent a new and auspicious chapter in the brotherly relationships between China and the Arab world. Our future is bright and full of promise, yet we should not forget that our peoples have relied on each other for centuries. China's cooperation with the Arab world goes all the way back to the seventh century, to the age of empires, when the world saw a flourishing of new trade networks arise across the Eurasian continent. This era was defined as much by commerce as it was by an expansion of collaboration in science – an intercultural exchange of knowledge, in medicine, mathematics, and astronomy.

Fast forward to the present day, in which China and my own country, the UAE, are modern, enterprising nations at the very forefront of cutting-edge ingenuity and innovation. In the 38 years since the UAE and China first established diplomatic ties, our two countries have nurtured our mutual relationship to ever-ascending heights. China has become our most important trading partner, while the UAE serves as China's most vital logistics and financial hub in the region. Especially since the signing of our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership four years ago, China and the UAE have expanded their cooperation across many areas, including sustainable development, artificial intelligence and food security. Both our countries are committed to pushing the boundaries of science and technology for the betterment of mankind.

Centuries ago, our Arab ancestors developed the maritime "Spice Routes," bringing extensive avenues of commerce to complement China's iconic "Silk Road." Today, the collaborative spirit of these networks lives on, through China's visionary Belt and Road Initiative. Through this initiative, the multifaceted collaboration between China and the Arab world has been rejuvenated; it has entered a new paradigm. The UAE, for our part, plays a pivotal role in this network, connecting China with the wider Middle East and North Africa.

Speaking at the China-GCC summit, President Xi Jinping remarked on the historical bonds between our peoples: "Both belonging to the family of Eastern civilizations, China and GCC countries have similar culture and values. And the peoples enjoy close bonds of friendship." He mentioned how the two sides are natural partners for cooperation, and have consistently maintained solidarity in times of adversity.

In China and across the Arab world, our leaders are committed to building a prosperous and fulfilling future, not just for their own people, but for mankind more broadly. This is something that can only be achieved through sincere and earnest cooperation at the international level. The UAE is always open to this sort of cooperation, and we will continue to work with our friends in China, the Arab world, as well as other like-minded countries, to achieve the same visionary goals that President Xi himself has expressed – to promote a global community with a shared future and joint prosperity for all.

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