Speaking in fluent Arabic, and in a diplomatic and frank language, China's special envoy to the Middle East Wu Sike spoke about Chinese-Arab ties from the days of the “Silk Road” to the recent unrest, and accurately defined how the two sides agree on “support for the Palestinian cause, a halt to violence in Syria and the start of a transition stage” and on how they differ on the way to achieve the goal in Syria. He described ties with Saudi Arabia as a strategic partnership, and said that there will be an integration between the two sides in the next 10 years.
On the sidelines of the sixth Ministerial Meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in Beijing, An-Nahar spoke with Sike. The following is the text of the interview.
An-Nahar: Despite the growing economic and trade relationship between China and Arab countries, we note that China’s role in the region is timid, and does not amount to that of other countries, like the US and Russia for instance. What is impeding China from practicing a greater role in a region witnessing serious conflicts such as the Syrian war?
Sike: Chinese-Arab economic and trade ties are ancient and developed, which is very important. Political and cultural ties are also prosperous, and the Silk Road is proof of this. In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a mutual support for independence. Since then, China has been supporting the just cause of the Palestinian people, just as the Arabs have.
An-Nahar: What about the situation at present? The recent unrest that began in the Arab countries was a test for these ties, as China used its veto in the UN Security Council against resolutions condemning the repression in Syria, and more recently against resolutions that could have referred the Syrian file to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Sike: China has the same worries and pains that Arab countries have toward Syria. Since the outbreak of the unrest, I made two visits to Syria and met with the opposition at home and abroad. There are extensive communications between China and the regime on the one hand, and the opposition on the other. We consider that there is a need to deploy all necessary efforts to stop the violence. There is not any victorious party, and the people are the only loser in the war. Thus, it is necessary to halt violence and begin the transition.
An-Nahar: Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby told Chinese officials, most notably Chinese President Xi Jinping, at the opening session of the sixth Ministerial Meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum that the Syrian elections make a potential solution in Syria more complicated. What do you say about that?
Sike: We believe that halting violence in Syria is the main issue, and we see that there is a need to achieve a political transition. Regarding the elections, some have participated and others opposed. Thus, the Chinese interest is centered on measures for a cease-fire. We are following up on the measures that will follow the elections, and we hope that they result in a cease-fire. Yet, if they lead to more killing, the suffering of the Syrian people will grow bigger.
China has supported a political solution and the Arab League’s role since the beginning. When asked about how we support the role of the Arab League and use the veto right in the Security Council, I reply that things are constant for China. Syria and Arab countries are brother countries, and China supports any move made by the Arab League to resolve the Syrian crisis. Yet, in the Security Council, it must abide by the UN laws, such as the non-interference in [another state’s] internal affairs and the imposition of change.
An-Nahar: How does China describe its relationship with Saudi Arabia in particular, in light of the strong economic ties between the two countries, especially in the oil sector, in contrast with their political differences?
Sike: I know that both sides are interested in their strategic relationship. There are things that one can benefit from, based on mutual respect. China and Saudi Arabia call for dialogue and communication, which is a solid foundation for the ties between the two sides.
Petroleum has an important role in Saudi Arabia. As an oil producer, it relies on the exports and pays much attention to the stability of the market.
Saudis believe that the Chinese economy will keep up its rapid growth in the next 10 years and that it will still need oil. China needs a stable source of petrol. In the next 10 years, the two countries will complement each other. Such relationship based on respect is a strategic one.
Last April, I visited Saudi Arabia and met with the crown prince who is an old friend. He affirmed the king’s interest in the relations between Saudi Arabia and China. Regarding regional issues, he asserted that there are common points and he thanked us for supporting the Palestinian cause and for backing the call to stop violence in Syria. Both parties agree on the humanitarian issue in Syria and on the need to stop the violence. Still, they have different opinions about the implementation mechanism. This happens between brothers. With time, we can find the best way to reach this goal. We share many things, and our differences will not affect our relations.
An-Nahar: Is China, which is a member of the P5+1, optimistic regarding solving the Iranian nuclear crisis on the scheduled date in July? Do you think such solution would reflect on the Syrian issue?
Sike: There must be a solution for the Iranian nuclear crisis. China is supporting the establishment of a nuclear-free zone and it opposes Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons. Although huge efforts are still needed to reach an agreement, everything is possible through negotiations.
China always reiterates Iran’s right to use nuclear energy peacefully and calls for good neighborly relations and respect between Iran and the neighboring countries. I understand that Saudi Arabia and the region’s countries care about security stability in the region. Therefore, solving the Iranian crisis will serve to increase security in the region, and in Iran itself.
An-Nahar: The China-Arab States Cooperation Forum coincides with huge crises in the Middle East. What is the message that China wants to send to Arabs through this forum? What are the expected effects of the new Silk Route road map on the relations between both sides?
Sike: This forum plays a positive role in strengthening the relations between both sides. It created a new mechanism to raise the level of the relations in different fields. Ten years after its establishment, we need to summarize the past experience and plan for the next 10 years.
China attaches great importance to the Silk Road economic belt, which would open a new page in relations. Historically, the Silk Road played a big role in developing the relations between both countries. Currently, the project can elevate cooperation to a new level.
The idea definitely requires profound discussions and planning, and its implementation necessitates cooperation, like establishing a free trade region between China and the GCC, and between China and the Suez Canal. We heard that Jordan can be the regional hub of this project. There are definitely shared benefits, and the project constitutes a new strategic idea to strengthen relations, especially given the transition in some Arab states. These states might seek convenient ways for development and improvement of the living standards of their people.
An-Nahar: There have recently been many reports about a strategic alliance between China and Russia, especially after the historical pact that was signed to export Russian gas to China. These reports were issued in the wake of China’s and Russia’s increasing conflicts with the US. Do Moscow and Beijing intend to direct their new partnership against the US? Does such an alliance conflict with the Chinese-Arab relations?
Sike: China’s foreign relations are based on mutual respect and benefit. The gas and oil relations with the Gulf are essential, and cooperation with Russia is only recent. It has mutual benefits and won’t affect the relations with other countries.
An-Nahar: What is your message for Lebanon?
Sike: Lebanon is a beautiful country with different political forces. I wish it all the best and hope a new president will be elected.
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