China, Gulf countries to advance partnership

Cao Siqi and Wan Hengyi

Wuxi: China and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) issued a joint statement this week, calling for the establishment of a strategic partnership, promotion of the free trade agreement negotiations, and implementation of a free trade area.

The statement is seen as a direct reflection of the broad consensus reached when Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with Nayef bin Falah Al-Hajraf, secretary-general of the GCC, in Wuxi, East China’s Jiangsu Province. The secretary-general and foreign ministers of four Middle East countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain – were visiting China.

Chinese analysts on Middle East affairs said it highlights the strong will shared by China and the GCC in in-depth cooperation, and proves that the first-ever group visit of GCC countries to China, which is seen as “historically unprecedented” amid domestic resurgences in COVID-19 cases as well as the approaching of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, is not run-of-the-mill but has strategic significance.

During the meeting, Wang said that in recent years China and the GCC have consolidated their political mutual trust and deepened practical cooperation. China appreciates the GCC’s understanding of and support for China’s propositions on issues concerning China’s core interests and major concerns. China also firmly supports GCC countries in safeguarding their national independence, security and stability.

Nayef said that the GCC greatly appreciates China’s important influence and positive role in international and regional affairs, and has high expectations for the future of bilateral relations.

The two sides agreed that the conditions for China and the GCC to establish a strategic partnership are ripe, and they will accelerate this process. They will also work together to formulate and sign an action plan for strategic dialogue in the next three years. They also agreed to complete negotiations on a free trade agreement between China and the GCC at an early date.

Yin Gang, a researcher at the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the joint statement showcases the strong will on enhancing cooperation between China and the region. He predicted further high-level exchange visits with other countries.

“At the beginning of the New Year, China was engaged in diplomatic exchanges with the Gulf, indicating that China will attach great importance to political, economic, scientific and technological cooperation with countries in the Middle East,” Yin told the Global Times, noting that the statement lays a solid foundation for advancing the negotiations of the FTA.

The expert noted that as the US has reduced the existence and investment in the Middle East, the Arab countries know that they need a partner like China which is neutral and strong.

China’s consistent position is to develop equal relations with all countries, which is an important basis for mutual trust, Yin said, noting that stability in the region also could help China guarantee its security in energy imports and the advancement of its Belt and Road Initiative.