A cursory review of the Chinese-Arab relations [Archives:2009/1222/Opinion]

January 5 2009

Dr. Ali Saleh Musa
Since China became an oil importer in 1993, the Arab states, particularly those lying in the Arabian Gulf, turned to represent the largest crude exporters and their exports accounted for nearly 46 percent of the total crude imported by China in the same year. In 2005, 44 percent of China's imports came from Arab states.

The mutual trade volume between China and the Arab states reached the value of $ 65.5 billion by the end of 2006 with an increase rate of 41 percent when compared to that of the previous year. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Sultanate of Oman, Sudan and Yemen top the list of Arab states exporting crude and products to China.

The Arab states witnessed an active movement due to presence of Chinese investments in their territories. Therefore, the Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC) established the Modern Collection Center in Kuwait, and is currently working on developing some oil blocks in Syria.

In addition, the Chinese companies are conducting studies with the aim of developing mature oil blocks and exploring new ones. In 1995, CNPC and the Government of the State of Kuwait signed an agreement, under which $ 400 million shall be invested in establishing oil installations in the Gulf sate. The year 1999 saw cooperation between a Qatari private company and Chinese firms to drill as many as 42 wells in Qatar for a total cost of $ 18.4 million.

The Asian Giant benefited from hesitation of big Arab firms to invest in Sudan within the international competition for oil resources, and therefore began investing in the early 1990s and its investment volume notably increased in 1996. CNPC owns 40 percent of shares in the Nile Petroleum Firm, and is also working in partnership with other companies from Sudan, Malaysia and India.

Both Hejlegh and Al-Wahda oil blocks in Sudan, which are operated by the Firms Union, produce 350 thousand bpd. The CNPC also owns the largest portion of Malut Oil block in the Arab state while the Chinese investments in Sudan are estimated at $ 7.8 billion.

In Yemen, the Chinese firms started their businesses in 1956 with the construction of Sana'a-Hodeida Highway. And, during the time period (1979 – 1995), nearly 12 Chinese construction contractors implemented projects in Yemen. In the final days of 1995, China signed contracts with Yemeni firms for a total value of $ 800 million, and currently there are more than 16 giant firms in Yemen.

Arab League's role

Through an initiative by its Secretary General Amro Musa, the Arab League created an effective and sophisticated mechanism to strengthen Arab states' relations with China. Musa and Chinese Foreign Minister signed Declaration of Inception of the Chinese-Arab Cooperation Forum, which turned to function as a frame for mutual cooperation and dialogue between both sides.

We saw several meetings and forums for Arab businesspersons and their Chinese counterparts, at which both sides discussed development of bilateral relations and means to overcome any difficulties facing their businesses.

The primary issue of Chinese-Arab relations, as viewed by some experts, is that of continuing dialogue between both sides' civilizations, which may help establish mutual understanding of common interests in a world full of changes. The issue, however, requires that the Arabs exert unified efforts to change their image in the eyes of Chinese citizens.

The Arabs also need to understand that China strongly rejects any interventions in its domestic affairs, even those trying to prevent violence practiced by the armed minorities with a total population of 8 million souls. These minorities occasionally announce their disagreement with China's official position about the so-called war on terrorism, and the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, as they are only accustomed to seeing a Chinese official position that supports freedom of practicing religious rituals, and at the same time, doesn't allow anyone to hurt the national security.

Source: Al-Thawra State-run Daily