Opinions on President Xi's Middle East Trip

By Wei Jia
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, January 26, 2016
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2. China could play a unique role in Middle East peace

Social stability and regional peace are crucial for local economies in the Middle East to prosper. With Syria torn by a civil war and ISIS casting a deadly shadow over the region and beyond, the Middle East is looking for a way out of the predicament after military interventions led by the U.S. only made the situation worse.

Ma Xiaolin, president of blshe.com and a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University argues that China's efforts to help Middle East countries maintain peace and stability in the region are in line with its comprehensive diplomatic strategy as a rising major power. The fact that China maintains friendly relations with most of the regional powers, whose economies incidentally are complementary to the Chinese economy, gives it a unique edge in bilateral relationships.

Ahmed Eliba, a researcher at the Regional Center for Strategic Studies, describes President Xi's speech at the Arab League headquarters as totally different from those they used to hear from the West, because China is offering a third way that seeks peace and security through development and balanced political relationships that are based on common interests.

Tim Collard, a columnist of China.org.cn, thinks China is uniquely positioned to play a positive role in the Middle East because "there is no history of imperial or Cold War-based interference, and China has established a respected neutrality on the Arab-Israel issue. All this means it is excellently placed to make an effective soft-power based contribution, and to be listened to by all parties."

3. The challenges

The road of cooperation between China and the Middle East, however, is not without bumps, as the two ancient civilizations, despite their shared willingness to forge a close tie that is mutually beneficial and has implications for the wider world, still have to overcome some barriers.

Zhang Jingwei believes that there are three unfavorable factors in achieving a deepening of China-Arab cooperation and fully realizing the Belt and Road initiative in that part of the world: the first is growing regional unrest and terrorist attacks caused by actions of the Islamic State. The second is the geopolitical game being played out in Syria and the Middle East in general between the United States and Russia. The third is the differences in culture and lifestyle that may affect economic and trade cooperation.

Echoing Zhang's views, Farzam Kamalabadi argues that although a major boost in bilateral collaboration is imminent in light of this historic visit, blocks and barriers will remain solid. These include mental, habitual, cultural, linguistic and lifestyle comfort zone barriers, a lack of history of broad-based mutual participation, a lack of mutual "weaning" from the West, a lack of large-scale, top-level Arab presence in China, and deplorably close-to-zero Arab investor participation in China, and vice versa, except in Dubai, which has mostly small traders of Chinese products.

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