Xi calls for enhanced China-Arab BRI cooperation to boost development, advance ties

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Aerial photo taken on Aug. 19, 2021 shows the main venue of fifth China-Arab States Expo in Yinchuan, northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. [Photo/Xinhua]

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Thursday China is ready to work with Arab states to jointly build the Belt and Road with high quality and advance China-Arab strategic partnership to a higher level.

Xi made the remarks in a congratulatory letter to the fifth China-Arab States Expo, which opened Thursday in Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in northwest China.

More than 1,000 domestic and overseas enterprises have registered as exhibitors in offline and virtual events.

As one of the expo's major events, the Belt and Road Investment Promotion Conference held on Thursday afternoon witnessed the signing of 13 cooperation projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), involving a total of 4 billion yuan, or about $617 million.

Fruitful cooperation

China and Arab states have in recent years continued to strengthen strategic coordination and synergy of actions, and the joint construction of the Belt and Road has achieved fruitful results, Xi said in the letter.

Bound by the history of the ancient Silk Road, China and Arab states are natural partners for BRI cooperation and have notable complementarity. So far, China has signed BRI cooperation documents with 19 Arab countries and the Arab League.

The initiative serves as an opportunity to achieve the common development of participating countries and advance China-Arab strategic partnership, as noted in a declaration of actions on China-Arab BRI cooperation inked in 2018.

Xi said that China remains the largest trading partner of Arab countries.

In 2020, the total trade volume between China and Arab states was $239.8 billion. Arab states' imports from China reached $122.9 billion, up 2.1% year on year despite the impact of the pandemic. That is proof of the great resilience, potential and concrete achievements of China-Arab cooperation.

Xi also said that in the face of COVID-19, China and Arab countries have joined hands to fight the pandemic, setting an example of helping each other and overcoming difficulties together.

China and Arab states have shown great sincerity in jointly countering pandemic challenges. Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was among the first foreign heads of state to hold a phone call with Xi voicing support for China's COVID-19 response back in 2020, and China and the United Arab Emirates jointly conducted the world's first international phase three clinical trials of inactivated COVID-19 vaccines. So far, China has donated and exported more than 72 million doses of vaccines to 17 Arab states and the Arab League.

"The construction of the BRI in the economic and health sectors, among others, has been gaining momentum during the pandemic, which demonstrates progress toward the construction of a China-Arab states community with a shared future, oriented to the new era," said Su Xiaohui, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies.

China will now work to meet the need for COVID-19 vaccines in Arab countries, and work with Arab states to further cooperate on the local production of vaccines, said Zhai Jun, China's special envoy on Middle East affairs, at the opening of the expo. "We will build on the BRI cooperation momentum to further synergize development strategies and help realize the dreams of national rejuvenation for both sides," he said.

Promoting cooperation, development

China is ready to work with Arab states to seek cooperation and development, promote peaceful development, achieve mutual benefit and win-win results, jointly build the Belt and Road with high quality, Xi noted in the letter.

The expo features exhibition areas with themes including the digital economy, clean energy and cross-border e-commerce.

"These arrangements stand as barometers of the continuous upgrading of the BRI in the post-pandemic era, indicating new growth areas in technology-empowered sectors -- not including infrastructure and production capacity cooperation -- as well as new cooperation dividends for both sides," said Ding Long, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute at the Shanghai International Studies University.

Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani said via video that Arab countries and China are highly complementary in economy and enjoy broad prospects for cooperation. He noted that Morocco has actively participated and played a constructive role in the BRI, and has seen great progress in the country's infrastructure.

Kazakhstan's First Deputy Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov said that the BRI has proven to be practical and successful, and the proposal of building a digital Silk Road and a green Silk Road will make contributions to the low-carbon development of the world.

Stressing that new opportunities will be brought to countries along the Belt and Road, Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi said that joint efforts to safeguard regional security and stability are vital for the further development of the initiative.

"China-Arab BRI cooperation will help rally forces to build clusters and highlands of advanced economies, providing powerful engines of technology, expertise and service so as to promote global recovery and contribute to maintaining an open world economy that benefits all," said Gao Shangtao, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at China Foreign Affairs University.

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