IRCICA and CASS 3rd Congress “China and Islamic World: Mutual Learning of Civilization” (4-5 July, Beijing)
Session IV: Joint Development under the Initiative of “Belt & Road”: China and the Islamic World
Intervention by Ambassador Ezzat Saad
Throughout history, China has always enjoyed a special and important place in the mind and heart of Arab and Islamic Countries. They have seen it as a unified stable center of historical civilization. Both Arab countries and China have enjoyed a long standing history of mutual cultural and economic interaction in a common endeavor to pursue prosperity. The Cultural Belt of this Silk Road was the melting pot of human and cultural exchange between the two sides.
Today, China has become a major economic powerhouse in the world (), it has made several trade agreements with various nations and participated in all major trade forums across the globe. China’s recent initiative to build New Silk road() (Belt and Road) for a Global political and economic governance, will have a major impact on Islamic nations, as most of the major connections of this link, both via land and sea, will at some point cross an Islamic country in Central Asia and Middle East. This really shows the importance of this initiative to Muslim World.
Recently at the opening of the Belt and Road forum () in May 14th, 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized that how this road throughout the history has connected various religions and civilizations. He also mentioned that, not only goods but knowledge has been travelled through this Road. Therefore this Road will bring prosperity and development to all the countries linked through it (). In this context, President Xi said “History is our best teacher. The glory of the ancient silk routes shows that geographical distance is not insurmountable. If we take the first courageous step towards each other, we can embark on a path leading to friendship, shared development, peace, harmony and a better future.”
The emerging economies and developing countries are very supportive of the economic factor that fueled the inception of Belt and Road initiative (BRI). Particularly, due to the under representation of these countries in the current International Financial Institutions and the failure of the existing global economic governance framework to fairly represent the interests and national priorities of these countries.
China and the Islamic World:
Islam came to China in 616-18 AD and still today it has been existed in the form of 55 minority groups throughout China (). In the realization of this BRI (Silk Road), the participation from Islamic world plays a very crucial role because majority of this vast initiative is channeled through one or more Islamic nations. Therefore, it is very important for China to understand and realize about the importance of the Islamic world to this particular BRI ().
Historically, China has been always connected to Central Asian and Middle Eastern nations through Silk Road and with the help of this BRI, China will surely be able to connect and recreate huge trade and economic opportunities for both Islamic world and China. There is also a chance that such opportunities will make China and Islamic world closer and more prosperous.
In his speech at the opening of Belt and Road Forum, in Beijing May14, 2017, H.E President Xi Jinping emphasized certain key principles that must guide the implementation process of the BRI toward greater success. Among these principles, the President said:”we should build the Belt and Road into a road connecting different civilizations. In pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative, we should ensure that when it comes to different civilizations, exchange will replace estrangement, mutual learning will replace clashes, and coexistence will replace a sense of superiority. This will boost mutual understanding, mutual respect and mutual trust among different countries. We should establish a multi – tiered mechanism for cultural and people – to – people exchanges, build more cooperation platforms and open more cooperation channels. We should strengthen exchanges between parliaments, political parties and non-governmental organizations of different countries as well as between women, youths and people with disabilities with a view to achieving inclusive development”.
The President said that China will put in place mechanisms to boost Belt and Road cooperation, among them will be “a network for cooperation among the NGOs in countries along the Belt and Road as well as new people – to – people exchange platforms such as a Belt and Road news alliance and a music education alliance”.
Thus cultural exchange, mutual learning and cultural diversity are all principles that are in the heart of the BRI.
Organizations like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)() has a long standing links with Chinese government, both China and OIC have stand together on various platforms to enhanced cooperation on political and economic levels and they have together condemned all forms of terrorism, which is the major threat to the development in the region. The Islamic World has accounted for 73% of the world oil reserves, rich in mineral resources. Moreover, Islamic Banks are playing increasingly active role in inter – state financing.
Over the next decade, China –Arab trade volume is expected to grow from 240 billion USD in 2013 to 600 billion USD. China’s non – financial investment in the Arab World is expected to increase from 10 billion USD to over 60 billion.
According to some Chinese scholars, China should use the OIC as a platform to advance energy cooperation with the Islamic Countries along the Silk Road Scheme, so that China and Islamic World together can make greater contributions to global economic integration.()
If we take into account the expected enhancement of the strategic position of China’s cultural diplomacy because of the Silk Road Strategy, then this would invite the Chinese side to think about having an institutional relationship with the OIC. This is important for the sake of enhancing cooperation in many fields related to culture (enhancing moderation, mutual trust and fighting extremism and terrorism and security cooperation).()
Ultimately, as it has been the case with the ancient Silk Road, Islamic and Arab Countries will be the natural partners of the New Belt and Road.
Importance of Middle Eastern Nations
The Middle East region is in distinctive geographical position connecting three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe. The relationship between China and the Middle East is deeply impacted by the international system and regional patterns, as well as the adjustments of China’s own developmental and diplomatic strategies.
China’s strategic coordination with the Arab World is an important part of its BRI vision and China has proposed a comprehensive cooperation strategy known as “1+2+3”(), “One” refers to the need of increased cooperation on energy, covering a range of issues that include oil and natural gas production, ensuring the safety of energy transport routes, and establishing a mutually beneficial, long – term China – Arab energy relationship. “Two” stands for the two wings of infrastructure development, construction and trade investment facilitation. “Three” relates to breakthroughs that need to be made in the high – tech areas of nuclear energy, aerospace satellites, and new energy in order to upgrade practical cooperation between China and the Arab World. This strategy seeks to build a reliable China – Arab Strategic cooperative relationship based on long – term friendship.()
In recent years, China has increased its trade with its Middle Eastern counter parts () by various folds and it is estimated that with the help of this new framework of Road and Belt, the only possibility is more trade and relations (). The stake of Middle Eastern countries is very huge in China’s Silk Road visions () as the total trade between them stood at 209 billion in 2012. The recent support from Islamic countries with the Chinese led Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB), which is considered the main financing institution for the infrastructure projects along the Silk Road, is strong evidence of joint cooperation.
As Middle East remains the major energy source for Chinese energy needs (), it is very pragmatic to think that the partnership between two sides is only going to grow with the help of this new framework (). Chinese government has recently encouraged various Chinese companies to invest more and increase commercial dealing in Middle Eastern region.
In near future, major role of China’s Silk Road policy will revolve around the trade and commerce in Middle East (). In future, Middle East will surely acts as a huge market for Chinese excessive industrialized producing capacities (). Bilateral trade between China and Middle Eastern countries, in particular the GCC countries, Iran, and Turkey are expected to increase, along with Chinese investments in infrastructure projects throughout the region.
Since the early 2000s, the relations between China and the Arab Countries have experienced a gradual institutionalization. Today the China- Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF), established in 2004, is the institutional framework for cooperation between the two sides.
To conclude, today China and the Middle East need to cooperate with each other more than any period in the history of mankind, large scale of energy imports, diversified economic relations, the solidification of the power ambitions and current diplomatic conversation have made China to gradually increase its participation in the economic governance of the Middle East. This participation is not limited to energy but also in other fields such as construction and infrastructure building, finance, defense sector, agricultural sector…etc.
Major Challenges and possible solutions
Terrorism represents a serious challenge to the implementation of BRI, especially in the Middle East in the light of the turmoil in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya. In addition, one of the main root causes of instability and terrorism in the region is the Israeli Military occupation of Palestine and other Arab territories. Israel is doing everything, with the unwavering support of the United States, to altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian territory occupied since June 1967, including East Jerusalem. The Israeli measures include: the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of International Humanitarian Law and relevant norms of International Law and UN Security Council.
The occupation, which marked its 50th anniversary last June,2017, has deeply scarred generations of Palestinians, humiliating adults and children alike with body searches and endless delays as people attempt to reach work, school and family in nearby yet increasingly unreachable towns.
In this regard, and as president Xi emphasized in his above- mentioned opening speech of Belt and Road forum: “we should intensify counter- terrorism efforts, address both its symptoms and root causes”. He added:” we should work to resolve hotpots issues through political means, and promote mediation in the spirit of Justice”. Even if Chinese Foreign Policy has traditionally been based on principles of non – interference and non – intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, I do believe that Beijing can play an important role in finding a just solution to this conflict, especially with the rise of its economic and geostrategic interests in the region on the one hand, and its good relations with all parties concerned on the other. It has to be noted that China declared full support for the Arab League, within its “China – Arab states Policy Paper”, a claim strengthened also by its endorsement of an independent and sovereign Palestine, with the 1967 boundaries and with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The other challenge has to do with the financial resources. The total investment in the ongoing BRI could roughly amount to 1.4 trillion USD () in the coming years (). However, the total investment needs in Islamic countries of Central Asia and Middle East are much greater and the requirement of huge investments in the coming years creates a challenge of finding various sustainable sources of investment.
However, with the aid of the Chinese government, the New Silk Road has the required funding and financial tools to ensure its realization. The Silk Road Fund, with a capital of $40 billion, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, with a capital of $100 billion, are doing their part in ensuring the fulfillment of the project, as well as other financial institutions including the BRICs New Development Bank, the World Bank and Chinese financial institutions (ICBC, CDB, and CADFund).
At the Belt and Road Forum, for International Cooperation in Beijing, in May 14, H.E. President Xi Jinping upscaled financial support for the BRI by contributing an additional 100 billion RMB for the Silk Road Fund. Coupled with encouraging financial institutions to expand their oversees RMB-fund businesses to the tune of 300 billion RMB, the special lending scheme by CBD and the EXIM Bank of China, worth 250 billion RMB and 130 RMB respectively, the allocation of funding will help bridge the financial gap and will serve as a major stride towards the fulfillment of the initiative.
In addition to President Xi’s aforementioned commitments, declared at the Belt and Road Forum, China’s allocation of 60 billion RMB to assist developing countries and participating organizations, as well as the assistance fund for South-South cooperation, will undoubtedly play a major role in enhancing cooperation on innovation.
Ma Lirong& Hou Yuxiang: Analysis on the Potential of Strategic Cooperation between China and OIC under the “Silk Road Strategy “framework. Middle East Studies Institute, Shanghai International Studies University.http://mideast.shisu.edu.cn /_upload/article/ef/da/.pdf
 Xuming Qian: The “One Belt, One Road” Strategy and China’s energy Policy in the Middle East, May ,20,2017.http://www.mei.edu /content/map/%E2%80%9Cone-belt-one-road -strategy-and-china -energy-policy-middle-east
 Sumedh Anil – Lokhande: China’s One Belt One Road Initiative and the Gulf Pearl Chain,update,2017,06.05.