(MEMRI via JNS) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi kicked off his six-country tour of the Middle East on March 24 with a visit to Saudi Arabia. The other stops on his tour included Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman.
It is worth noting that Wang’s Middle Eastern tour is the latest in a series of high-level meetings for the foreign minister, who in March also participated in the high-level Sino-U.S. dialogue in Alaska with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. On March 13, Wang also spoke via telephone with the foreign ministers of Iraq and Jordan.
While in Saudi Arabia, Wang gave an interview to Al-Arabiya, the transcript of which follows:
Wang Yi: Seven years ago, after my first trip to the Middle East as China’s foreign minister, I gave an interview to an Arab media outlet. I recall that toward the end of the interview, I was asked whether China would play a bigger role in the region. I replied that China would be happy to respond to the wishes of Middle East countries and that China’s role in the region would only be enhanced, not diminished.
Seven years later, as I visit the Middle East and give another interview to an Arab media, it sets me reflecting on the past seven years. For China, it has been seven years of remarkable development achievements, of all-round progress in relations with Middle East countries, and of a more active role in Middle East affairs.
For the Middle East countries, the past seven years have seen them stand up to difficulties and challenges, strive for stability and peace, and explore paths for their own development. We salute their hard work.
My [return] to this region of rich history and great civilizations coincides with quite a few anniversaries: the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the 30th anniversary of the Madrid Peace Conference and the 40th anniversary of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). History keeps moving forward, and the situation in the Middle East has experienced ups and downs. Yet countries in the region have never ceased their pursuit for peace and security, or their quest for development and prosperity. Today, they are exploring a new path of development and governance, and are working to advance the Middle East peace process and promote cooperation in the Persian Gulf.
For China, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the restoration of its U.N. seat and the 20th anniversary of its accession to the WTO. China has become a staunch defender, builder and contributor to the current international order. We have established diplomatic relations with all the countries in the Middle East and elevated our relations with 13 Middle East countries to strategic partnerships. China is now the biggest trading partner and a major investor in the Middle East. Looking ahead, China’s relations and cooperation with countries in the Middle East will enjoy even greater prospects.
Q: Since taking office, the Biden administration has indicated an intention to adjust its Middle East policy, triggering new changes in the regional situation and hotspot issues. The Iranian nuclear issue may return to the framework of the JCPOA. New developments are unfolding in Yemen, Syria, Palestine, Libya and other flare-ups. How would you characterize China’s current Middle East policy?
A: The Middle East was a highland of brilliant civilizations in human history. Yet, due to protracted conflicts and turmoil in more recent history, the region descended into a security lowland. After all, the Middle East belongs to the people of the region. For the region to emerge from chaos and enjoy stability, it must break free from the shadows of big-power geopolitical rivalry and independently explore development paths suited to its regional realities. It must stay impervious to external pressure and interference, and follow an inclusive and reconciliatory approach to build a security architecture that accommodates the legitimate concerns of all sides.
The world cannot enjoy real tranquility if the Middle East keeps suffering from instability. The international community should neither overstep its responsibility nor simply sit by and look on. The right thing to do is to fully respect the will of regional countries and contribute to stability and peace in the Middle East.
As we speak, COVID-19 is still spreading in the region, turbulence persists and hotspot issues are evolving amid twists and turns. The region is again at a crossroads. Against this backdrop, China wishes to propose a five-point initiative on achieving security and stability in the Middle East:
First, advocating mutual respect. The Middle East is home to unique civilizations which have cultivated unique social and political systems. The characteristics, models and paths of the Middle East must be respected. It is important to change the traditional mindset and see Middle East countries as partners for cooperation, development and peace, instead of perceiving the region through the lens of geo-competition. It is important to support Middle East countries in exploring their own paths of development, and support regional countries and their peoples in playing a major role in pursuing political settlement of such regional hotspot issues as Syria, Yemen and Libya. It is important to promote dialogue and exchanges among civilizations to achieve peaceful coexistence of all ethnicities in the Middle East. China will continue to play its constructive role to this end.
Second, upholding equity and justice. Nothing represents equity and justice in the Middle East more than a sound solution to the question of Palestine and earnest implementation of the two-state solution. We support active mediation by the international community toward this objective and holding an authoritative international meeting on this matter when conditions are ripe. In its presidency of the U.N. Security Council this May, China will encourage the Security Council to fully deliberate on the question of Palestine to reaffirm the two-state solution. We will continue to invite peace advocates from Palestine and Israel to China for dialogue. We also welcome Palestinian and Israeli representatives to China for direct negotiations.
Third, achieving non-proliferation. Based on the merits in the evolution of the Iranian nuclear issue, relevant parties need to move in the same direction with concrete actions, and discuss and formulate the roadmap and timeframe for the United States and Iran to resume compliance with the JCPOA. The pressing task is for the U.S. to take substantive measures to lift its unilateral sanctions on Iran and long-arm jurisdiction on third parties, and for Iran to resume reciprocal compliance with its nuclear commitments, in an effort to achieve early harvest. At the same time, the international community should support efforts by regional countries in establishing a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
Fourth, jointly fostering collective security. In promoting security and stability in the Middle East, the legitimate concerns of all parties should be accommodated. It is important to encourage equal dialogue and consultation, mutual understanding and accommodation and improved relations among Gulf [Persian Gulf] countries. It is imperative to resolutely combat terrorism and advance de-radicalization. We propose holding in China a multilateral dialogue conference for regional security in the Gulf [Persian Gulf] region to explore the establishment of a Middle East trust mechanism. We may start with such subjects as ensuring the safety of oil facilities and shipping lanes, and build step by step a framework for collective, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security in the Middle East.
Fifth, accelerating development cooperation. Enduring peace and security in the Middle East require development, cooperation and integration. It is necessary to come together to defeat the coronavirus and achieve economic and social recovery as soon as possible. It is important to help post-conflict countries rebuild, support greater diversity in the economic growth of oil-producing countries, and assist other Middle East countries in achieving development and revitalization, in light of the resource endowments of different countries in the region. China will continue to hold the China-Arab Reform and Development Forum and the Middle East Security Forum to increase the sharing of governance experience with Middle East countries.
China has signed documents on Belt and Road cooperation with 19 Middle East countries and carried out distinctive collaboration with each of them. China is working with all regional countries in fighting COVID-19. It will deepen vaccine cooperation in light of the needs of regional countries and discuss with them trilateral vaccine cooperation with Africa. As it fosters a new development paradigm, China is ready to share with Middle East countries its market opportunities, work with Arab countries to actively prepare for the China-Arab states summit, promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, and expand new areas of growth such as high and new technologies. We also look forward to the early conclusion of a free-trade agreement with the GCC.
China is prepared to stay in close touch with all sides on the five-point initiative and work closely to promote peace, security and development in the Middle East.
Q: China has often put forward good initiatives on promoting regional peace and stability, and we applaud your latest five-point initiative on achieving security and stability in the Middle East. A few days ago, Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud of Saudi Arabia also proposed a new initiative on resolving the Yemen crisis. What’s your comment?
A: China welcomes Saudi Arabia’s initiative on the Yemen issue. We support all initiatives that are conducive to peace and stability in the region. China commends Saudi Arabia’s efforts to ease the situation in Yemen. We hope to see in Yemen a comprehensive ceasefire as soon as possible, an early return to the process of political settlement, and the resumption of peace, stability and order.
Q: You chose Saudi Arabia as the first stop of your visit to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. How do you comment on China-Saudi Arabia relations? It is said that you will meet with the GCC secretary-general. What is your view on China-GCC relations?
A: Saudi Arabia is a major country in the Arab and Islamic world, and the world’s leading energy supplier. In recent years, under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has been vigorously advancing economic diversification and social reforms, and playing an increasingly important role in regional and international affairs. Last year, Saudi Arabia successfully hosted the Extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit on COVID-19 and the 2020 G20 Riyadh Summit, giving new impetus for global governance. Once again, my congratulations to Saudi Arabia.
Since China and Saudi Arabia established diplomatic ties 31 years ago, bilateral relations have grown rapidly on all fronts. President Xi Jinping and King Salman have exchanged visits. The two sides established the comprehensive strategic partnership and the High-level Joint Committee. Our political trust keeps deepening as we support each other on issues concerning core interests and accommodate each other’s major concerns. For many years, Saudi Arabia has been China’s biggest crude oil supplier, largest trading partner in West Asia and Africa, and largest market for Chinese engineering contracts in the region. Cooperation in infrastructure, new energy, satellite and telecommunication is also making headway. More and more people in Saudi Arabia have taken an interest in learning the Chinese language. All this speaks volumes about the strength of our comprehensive strategic partnership.
When COVID-19 struck last year, the two countries came to each other’s aid. The government and people of all sectors of Saudi Arabia extended generous assistance to China. And China provided Saudi Arabia with emergency supplies and sent its medical experts to help boost Saudi Arabia’s testing ability. Our joint response is a new chapter of solidarity and cooperation in trying times.
Given the profound changes taking place in the international and regional landscape, the strategic and overarching importance of the China-Saudi Arabia relationship has become more evident. China will work with Saudi Arabia to solidify political mutual trust, synergize the Belt and Road Initiative and the Saudi Vision 2030, and take bilateral relations to a new high.
During my current visit, I will also meet with GCC Secretary-General Nayef Al Hajraf. This year marks the 40th anniversary of China’s ties with the GCC. The relationship enjoys a good momentum and is fruitful. It features effective cooperation against COVID-19. China has signed Belt and Road cooperation documents with all GCC members. Two-way trade between China and GCC members exceeded $160 billion in 2020, making China the largest trading partner for the GCC and its biggest export market of petrochemicals. The two sides are stepping up discussions on establishing a free trade area between them. China is ready to work with the GCC for new and greater progress in the relationship.
Q: Arab states and China are planning for a summit and have agreed to build a China-Arab states community with a shared future. What is your assessment of China-Arab relations at present? What needs to be done to make this community a reality?
A: China-Arab relations have forged ahead and demonstrated strong vitality despite many once-in-a-century changes in the international landscape and a pandemic unseen in our lifetime. It has become a fine example of state-to-state relations and South-South cooperation.
In 2020, there were three impressive markers, or three ‘number ones,’ in China-Arab relations. With two-way trade approaching $240 billion last year, China comfortably [maintained its position] as the largest trading partner of Arab states. Half of China’s crude oil imports came from Arab states, who contributed the [largest share] of China’s oil imports. At the ninth Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, the two sides agreed to hold the first-ever China-Arab states summit. Saudi Arabia has kindly offered to be the host. We are having close consultations with Saudi Arabia to make this summit a memorable event in the history of China-Arab relations.
Building a China-Arab states community with a shared future has become the goal and guiding vision for the development of our relations. China will work with the Arab states toward this vision through efforts on the following fronts:
First, China and Arab states should build a community with a shared future based on common convictions and pursuits. Both sides should uphold the international norm of non-interference in others’ internal affairs, continue to support each other on core interests and major concerns, and remain close partners in pursuit of our independently-chosen development paths. Under the current circumstances, it is particularly important for China and Arab states to stand together against slandering, defamation, interference and pressurizing in the name of human rights. We should offset the impact of all sorts of uncertainties with the stability of our relations, enhance solidarity and coordination, oppose unilateralism, and defend international justice. We should uphold the U.N.-cantered international system as well as the international order underpinned by international law, and jointly promote a new type of international relations.
Second, China and Arab states should build a community with a shared future featuring tranquility and harmony. The two sides should pull together in fighting terrorism, step up cooperation on de-radicalization, and oppose associating terrorism with any ethnic group or religion. We should share governance experience, advocate inter-civilization dialogue, embrace openness and inclusiveness, and oppose arrogance and prejudice. We will build up our own capacity for security, jointly tackle security challenges and establish a framework for collective, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security in the Middle East.
Third, China and Arab states should build a community with a shared future in pursuit of development and prosperity. We should further synergize our development strategies and harmonize standards and rules to boost development in the Arab states and realize our shared dream of national rejuvenation. We should advance high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, deepen cooperation in such traditional areas as energy and industrial capacity, explore high-tech cooperation on 5G, artificial intelligence, aviation and aerospace, and make digitalization, health and green development new highlights in cooperation.
Q: Can you say something about China’s efforts in fighting COVID-19? What do you think of China-Arab cooperation on COVID response?
A: COVID-19 came unanticipated, with unprecedented impact. Under the leadership and personal direction of President Xi Jinping, we put the people and their lives first, and raced against time to battle the virus. We have adopted the most stringent, or the “most hardcore” control measures, which enabled us to curb the spread of the virus within just over one month, reduce daily new domestic infections to single digits within two months, and bring the situation under control within three months. These represent strategic accomplishments in China’s battle against COVID-19.
The COVID-control efforts in China served as a critical line of defense for the rest of the world, buying precious time for other countries. In the meantime, China shared without reservation its prevention, control, diagnostic and therapeutic experience, and provided much-needed medical supplies to other countries, serving as an important supplier and a source of strength in this global fight.
During this pandemic, mutual assistance between China and Arab states has set a fine example of solidarity and cooperation in difficult times.
In this joint fight, our most fundamental belief lies in our shared future. In a pandemic like COVID-19, [all of] humanity, China and Arab states included, have a common stake. King Salman of Saudi Arabia was the first head of state to call President Xi Jinping to voice support for China’s anti-epidemic efforts. Burj Khalifa in the UAE, the world’s tallest building, and some other Arab landmarks, lit up messages such as “Wuhan Jiayou” (Stay strong, Wuhan), which warmed our hearts.
China has conducted anti-COVID cooperation with all Arab states. We reached out to the people of Palestine and Palestinian refugees in surrounding areas, and people in Syria and other conflict zones. We provided a large amount of ventilators, test reagents, forehead thermometers, masks, goggles and protective suits. Over 50 medical expert virtual meetings with all Arab states and the Arab League were held, and nearly 100 visits were made by Chinese medical experts to eight Arab states.
In this joint fight, the most outstanding feature is our pioneering spirit. Arab states are among the first to cooperate with China on vaccines. As the first foreign country to host phase-III trials for the Chinese vaccine, the UAE has made a significant contribution to the success of the R&D of the vaccine. As we speak, the Chinese government is earnestly fulfilling its commitment of making China’s vaccines global public goods. We have donated and exported over 17 million doses to 17 Arab states and the Arab League, offering tangible support to Arab states’ fight against the virus.
In this joint fight, the most precious bond is our shared belief. At the ninth Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum held last year, we issued a joint statement on solidarity against COVID-19. Together, we underscored the importance of closer international cooperation and support for the lead role of the WHO. We called for coordinated international COVID response to build a bulwark against the virus. By standing up against attempts to politicize or label the virus, China and Arab states played an important role in building global consensus and pooling global resources against the pandemic.
Q: Could you talk about the situation in Xinjiang? China’s National People’s Congress adopted the Decision on Improving the Electoral System of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. What impact will it have on Hong Kong’s security and political system?
A: Fundamentally, the issues related to Xinjiang are about the fight against violence, terrorism and separatism. There was a time when Xinjiang was a target of frequent violent and terrorist activities, which gravely undermined the right to survival and development entitled to all ethnic groups living there. In recent years, putting the well-being of the people front and center, the Xinjiang region responded actively to the call of the U.N., drew on the useful practices of many countries, and redoubled preventive counter-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts. At the same time, it has worked hard to advance economic and social development and improve lives for people in Xinjiang.
As a result, no violent terrorist incident has taken place in Xinjiang over the past four years and more, giving local people a genuine sense of security. Over the past five years, Xinjiang’s economy has grown at an annual average rate of 6.1 percent, and per capita disposable income 5.8 percent, giving local people a genuine sense of happiness. A decisive victory has been achieved against extreme poverty in Xinjiang. All the 3 million people under the current poverty line have graduated from poverty. The Human Development Index (HDI) has nearly doubled compared with 30 years ago, giving local people a genuine sense of fulfillment.
Between 2010 and 2018, Xinjiang’s Uyghur population grew from 10.17 million to 12.72 million, an increase of over 25 percent, much faster than the two-percent growth of Han population in Xinjiang during the same period. How can this be called an “ethnic genocide”?
In Xinjiang, the freedom of religious belief of all ethnic groups is protected in accordance with the law. The Quran has been translated and published in Uyghur and three other ethnic languages. After a visit to Xinjiang, the Pakistani Ambassador to China said in amazement that “there are several mosques on the same street.” Public services and facilities in local mosques have seen steady improvement. In particular, all local clerical personnel have access to training programs on Islamic classics, facilities to perform ritual purification, radio and TV, medical, health and other services. How can this be called “religious oppression”?
The past five years saw the number of employed people in Xinjiang grow by nearly 2 million, or 17.2 percent. All ethnic groups there enjoy free choice of employment, full labor rights and interests, and remuneration. How can this be called “forced labor”?
In contrast, some Western countries used to include assimilation of indigenous people in government agenda and forced large numbers of children to convert to Christianity and learn English. In Xinjiang, the languages and cultures of all ethnic groups have always been well protected. The Uyghur and nine other ethnic languages, both written and spoken, are widely used in the judiciary, government, education system, press and publication. For instance, one can find five languages, including Uyghur, on China’s currency: the renminbi note.
Attempts to smear and stigmatize China on Xinjiang are driven by a hidden agenda. They are designed to damage China’s image through unfounded allegations, sow discord between China and Arab and Islamic countries, and eventually impede and undermine China’s development. Such attempts contravene human conscience and go against the present-day trend. They are doomed to fail.
Earlier this month, China’s National People’s Congress adopted the Decision on Improving the Electoral System of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Hong Kong is part of China. Its electoral system is a local electoral system of China. The Central Authorities’ decision to improve Hong Kong’s electoral system is totally constitutional and legal.
The Decision is mainly about ensuring the implementation of the basic principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong.” To love one’s country is a basic moral requirement for every citizen whichever country they belong to. It is the case for all countries in the world. This is even more true for people in public office, for whom patriotism is a fundamental political ethic in governing a country. In the United States and many European countries, allegiance to the constitution and state is the most basic requirement for public officeholders. In the same logic, requiring Hong Kong be administered by patriots is completely natural and justified.
The intended improvement of Hong Kong’s electoral system will widen the scope of candidates and increase representation. It is conducive to the better protection of Hong Kong people’s democratic rights. It will help remove existing institutional deficiencies and risks, promote sustained prosperity and stability in Hong Kong, and provide stronger safeguards for the lawful interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong.
To have patriots administer Hong Kong does not mean there is no room for differing views. People can still oversee and criticize the administration of the SAR government, and the freedom of speech and all democratic rights will be protected, provided that the “red-line” of patriotism is not crossed. The Decision will not compromise Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. It will only contribute to the sound and sustained implementation of One Country, Two Systems.
Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs. In recent years, we have seen foreign attempts to manipulate Hong Kong affairs and meddle in local elections. This is blatant interference in China’s internal affairs. The real purpose is to destabilize Hong Kong and then China. We have the firm resolve and confidence in safeguarding China’s sovereignty, security and development interests, and in advancing One Country, Two Systems under which the people of Hong Kong administer Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy. Hong Kong will enjoy an even brighter future.
I want to underscore that, when it comes to China’s internal affairs including Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the countries and peoples in the Middle East are clear-eyed about the truth, and have been resolute in supporting China. An outcome document of the Ninth Ministerial Meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum stressed China’s important efforts to care for the ethnic minorities and expressed support for China’s just position regarding Hong Kong. At the recently concluded session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, 21 Arab states spoke up for justice in support of China. China highly appreciates that. We would like to work with Arab and Islamic countries in the region to continue upholding the principle of non-interference and jointly safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of developing countries.
This article was first published by MEMRI.