By Yang Jiechi
On 31 May, the Fifth Ministerial Meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF) will be held in Tunisia. At the beginning of 2004, President Hu Jintao paid a historic visit to the headquarters of the League of Arab States and put forward four principles for developing the new type of partnership between China and Arab countries, namely, to promote political relations on the basis of mutual respect, to forge closer trade and economic links so as to achieve common development, to expand cultural exchanges through drawing upon each other's experience, and to strengthen cooperation in international affairs with the aim of safeguarding world peace and promoting common development. These principles chart the course for the growth of China-Arab relations in the new century and are positively echoed by Arab leaders. It was during President Hu's visit at that time that China and Arab countries announced the establishment of the CASCF, providing the two sides with an important platform of collective dialogue and cooperation. In the past eight years, the CASCF has held four ministerial meetings. The friendly exchanges and cooperation between China and Arab countries in political affairs, economy, trade and people-to-people ties continue to deepen and the two sides maintain close communication and coordination in regional and international affairs. With concrete actions, we have implemented the consensus between our leaders and steadily pushed forward the new type of partnership between China and Arab countries.
The upcoming ministerial meeting will be the highest level regular event of the CASCF after the establishment of the China-Arab strategic cooperative relationship under the CASCF framework in 2010. Chinese and Arab foreign ministers as well as the Secretary General of the Arab League will get together to discuss ways and methods to further expand and deepen China-Arab win-win cooperation in all areas. They will identify priority areas for China-Arab cooperation in the next two years and formulate relevant action plans in a joint effort to advance China-Arab relations. Both sides have high hopes for this meeting.
The friendship between China and Arab countries goes back a long time. It has withstood the test of time and always stayed vibrant. In history, Chinese and Arab civilizations have learned from each other and jointly made important contribution to the development of mankind. In the past 50-plus years, China and Arab countries have supported each other and shared weal and woe in fighting for independence, safeguarding state sovereignty and realizing national rejuvenation. We have forged a strong bond between us. China-Arab relations have grown rapidly in the new century. In particular, since the establishment of the new type of partnership between China and Arab countries and the inception of the CASCF, our cooperation has continuously improved in mechanisms, expanded in scope and become more fruitful on the ground. This has greatly enhanced the friendly China-Arab relationship, taking it to a completely new stage of development.
The two sides have further strengthened political mutual trust. China firmly supports Arab countries in exploring development paths suited to their own national conditions. China is committed to advancing the peace process in the Middle East. And China supports Arab countries in upholding their lawful national rights. Arab countries have also given China valuable support on issues related to China's major interests and concerns.
The two sides have developed closer economic and trade relations. Our trade volume has increased rapidly, reaching US$195.9 billion in 2011, an increase of 34.7% year-on-year. Mechanisms such as the Entrepreneurs' Conference and Investment Seminar and the Conference on Energy Cooperation have provided the two sides with new platforms for practical cooperation. Despite the severe impact of the international financial crisis, economic cooperation and trade between China and Arab countries have continued to grow, which fully demonstrates the strong dynamism and broad prospects of our practical cooperation.
The two sides have carried out more and more active people-to-people exchanges. A series of events such as the China-Arab Civilization Dialogue, the China-Arab Friendship Conference, the China-Arab Press Cooperation Seminar and the China-Arab Cultural Festival have proved to be very successful and built bridges of mutual understanding and communication between the people, particularly the younger generation in China and Arab countries. There are currently nearly 8,000 Arab students studying in China, and every year more than 1,000 Arab professionals from different sectors receive training in China.
In the course of development of the China-Arab relations, one could easily find out that this long-standing friendship is not like water without a source or tree without roots. It has continued and grown because China and Arab countries go through thick and thin together and treat each other with all sincerity, because China and Arab countries seek common development through win-win cooperation, and because the Chinese and the Arab people could truly benefit from the all-round and in-depth growth of this relationship.
The world is undergoing major development, major changes and major adjustments. There is a profound shift in the international balance of power. The global economic governance system faces deep reforms. And a profound transformation of the world economic structure is in the making. On the one hand, the trend of our times towards peace, development and cooperation gathers stronger momentum. On the other hand, unbalanced development becomes more serious coupled with more pronounced global issues such as energy security, food security and climate change.
Major changes are taking place in the situation in west Asia and north Africa. We always aim in our policy to uphold regional peace and stability, the long-term and fundamental interests of Arab countries, and the larger interests of China-Arab friendship. We stand for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Arab countries. We respect and support efforts of individual Arab countries to handle their internal affairs independently. We respect Arab people's aspiration for change and development. We respect the purposes of the UN Charter and the norms of international law and we support the parties concerned in resolving differences through peaceful means. China pursues no selfish gains in the affairs of this region. We call on the international community and countries in the region to work together to play a positive role in defusing tensions. We will, as always, continue to give firm support to the just cause of the Arab people.
Under the new circumstances, China and Arab countries face rare historical opportunities to accelerate development and at the same time new, complex problems and challenges. The two sides share expanding common interests and a stronger desire for cooperation. To deepen the strategic cooperation and promote common development serves the fundamental interests of the two peoples and contributes to world peace and development. It also conforms to the trend of our times. China is ready to take the Fifth Ministerial Meeting of the CASCF as an opportunity to work closely with Arab countries for a bright future of China-Arab relations.
We should strengthen strategic cooperation and focus on deepening the strategic mutual trust between the two sides in the second decade of this century. We should increase high-level exchanges and strategic consultation, enhance mutual understanding and support, and engage in coordination and cooperation in major regional and international affairs in a joint effort to meet major global challenges and uphold the common interests of developing countries.
We should further tap the potential of practical cooperation and open up new horizons of win-win collaboration. We should increase our trade volume, regulate trade practices, improve product mix, raise the level of trade, and make every effort to bring our trade to US$300 billion by 2014. We should expand our cooperation in such areas as agriculture, health, culture, quality inspection and energy, and set up exchanges in environmental protection, desertification treatment and other fields.
We should actively engage in people-to-people and cultural exchanges and cooperation so that the China-Arab friendship will take a root deeper in the hearts and minds of our people. We should make full use of various mechanisms under the CASCF to promote cultural exchanges and dialogue between the Chinese and Arab people, encourage non-governmental organizations from both sides to scale up interactions and cooperation, and advance cooperation in education, science and technology.
We should push forward the development of the CASCF in an innovative spirit. We need to explore new ways of thinking and practice under the existing framework to improve and strengthen the mechanisms of the CASCF. Under the new circumstances, we need to open up new areas and nurture new growth points in our cooperation so that the forum can play a stronger role in growing China-Arab relations and lend fresh impetus to the expansion and deepening of the China-Arab strategic cooperative relationship.
To strengthen China-Arab friendship is the call of our times and the sincere aspiration of the two peoples. In his recent article on People's Daily, Dr. Nabil ElAraby, Secretary General of the League of Arab States, said "Given the strong desire of the two sides to intensify cooperation, the Arab-China relations will enjoy even more in-depth growth and broader prospects". China is ready to work closely with the Arab side to further implement the important consensus reached by the Chinese and Arab leaders, keep pace with the trend of our times, hold high the banner of peace, development and cooperation and write a brilliant chapter in China-Arab friendship in the new era.