Transcript of Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Interview with Belahodood of Al Jazeera
19 May 2016
In the lead up to the seventh Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, Foreign Minister Wang Yi gave an interview to Al Jazeera in Beijing. The following is the transcript of the interview.
Question 1: How important is the Middle East in China’s diplomatic strategy?
Wang Yi: The Middle East has always had a unique and important place in China’s foreign policy. We are all developing countries, we have similar historical experiences and we share the goal of revitalizing our nations. Hence, the people of China and Arab countries have been close friends and strong partners.
The fact is, since the 1950s when New China was just founded, we have been a staunch supporter of Arab people’s quest for national liberation, especially that of the Palestinian people. At all critical moments of the Palestine issue, China has stood firmly with the Palestinian people, with the Arab people, and this has become a good tradition between us.
As China and Arab countries continue to develop in recent years, our relations have also been growing in substance. We have launched more win-win cooperation, with China now being the top trading partner of 10 Arab countries and our two-way trade exceeding 200 billion US dollars. Nearly half of China’s crude oil imports come from Arab countries, and China’s investment in Arab countries is fast rising. Having said that, there is still broad space and much potential to be tapped in China-Arab relations. Underpinned by their traditional friendship, China and Arab countries are increasingly becoming a community of shared interests.
President Xi Jinping has called for a joint endeavor to build the Belt and Road. Arab countries and the Middle East evidently occupy a strategic place in such efforts, and the Middle East will only enjoy a rising status in China’s foreign policy. We have full confidence in the future of China’s relations with Middle East countries. Under the new circumstances, we will not just be each other’s ideal partners in building the Belt and Road for common development and rejuvenation, but also safeguard our common interests and jointly make the international relations more democratic.
Question 2: Regarding President Xi Jinping’s the Belt and Road Initiative, how will China and Arab countries benefit from it?
Wang Yi: This is a very good question. The Silk Road began to take shape from more than 2,000 years ago, and the Middle East was where the land and maritime silk roads intersected. Friendly exchanges between China and countries in the region brought peace, tranquility and prosperity to both sides. Fast track to today: China is following its opening up policy in all respects. Building on our eastward opening-up, we are more active in opening westward. In the meantime, we have noted that, be it Middle East countries, Central Asian countries, or South East countries, and even European countries, they have all started to look to the East. This has made synergy possible between China’s development strategy and those of many Eurasian countries. This trend reflects our mutual need for cooperation. Having suffered from wars and turmoil for centuries, people of all Eurasian countries aspire for peace and development more than anything else, and many countries make development as much a high priority as China does. When it comes to development, China and countries along the Silk Road, especially the Middle East countries, have every condition to draw on each other’s comparative strengths, and achieve common development and prosperity. In keeping with this common aspiration of Eurasian countries, President Xi Jinping put forward the Belt and Road Initiative. The initiative soon received warm response from many countries along the routes, and so far over 70 countries and organizations, including Middle East countries, are ready to participate.
The Middle East region is also where the modern versions of the land and maritime Silk Roads meet. Implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative will surely bring new, historic development opportunities to countries in the region. We are also ready to, through the initiative, work with all countries in the Middle East to make the economy of developing countries stronger, and deliver real benefits to our people. Let us work together for the revival of the Eurasian continent. This vision can become a reality.
Question 3: When will the Belt and Road Initiative get started?
Wang Yi: Implementation of the initiative has already begun. Some projects have got off to a start. The pool of projects is growing bigger, up to 1,000 as I know. As our communication with relevant countries deepens, these projects will be implemented one after another.
How come there are so many projects? And why such a keen interest? First and foremost, this is because they speak to the mutual need of China and countries along the routes, including the Middle East countries. Many Eurasian countries want to expedite their industrialization process and shift away from the long, old pattern of driving economic development by relying on primary products and general resource products. They hope to enhance their self-development capacity and promote diversity in the economy. As China’s economy has entered a mature stage of industrialization, we have abundant quality industrial capacity and mature technologies that we can offer other countries. In addition, we can also provide personnel training and necessary financing support. Hence, I’m confident that countries in Eurasia, including the Middle East countries, will find China their ideal partner in the industrialization process. And our political will to enhance cooperation and extensive common interests will only help us achieve greater progress in the win-win cooperation. We have developed some big projects in the Middle East, for example, the Yanbu refinery in Saudi Arabia which is already in operation. This is a large petrochemical plant that helps Saudi Arabia raise its level of industrialization and capacity for self-development. We plan to build an industrial park in Oman, and will undertake a silk city project in Kuwait and launch integrated development around several islands.
The Silk Road Economic Belt, in general, has three dimensions: First, connectivity. The goal is to closely connect as much of Eurasian continent as possible by rail, road, air and network to create basic conditions for development. Second, production capacity cooperation. This is to raise the level of industrialization and enhance the capacity for development for various countries through win-win cooperation. And third, cultural and people-to-people exchange. We have fostered along the Silk Road a fine tradition of mutual learning and mutual respect between different civilizations. We hope to carry forward this tradition and conduct diverse cultural exchanges along the route to increase mutual understanding and friendship, and solidify public support for relations between China and these countries. This is what we have been doing.
Question 4: On 12 May, you will attend the 7th Ministerial Meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum. What outcomes does China expect out of the Forum?
Wang Yi: The China-Arab States Cooperation Forum is an important platform of dialogue and cooperation that China has established with other developing countries. More than anything else, the Forum shows that China values the importance of Arab States. We hope that on the basis of bilateral friendship between China and Arab and Middle East countries, we can have a channel of collective dialogue and cooperation to promote greater understanding of China by more Arab states and their cooperation with China across the board.
The Forum is now 12 years old, and six ministerial meetings have been held. It has produced many important outcomes and advanced China’s relations with Arab states in all respects. For instance, five Arab states have signed cooperation agreements with China under the Belt and Road Initiative. Seven Arab states have joined as founding members the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank established under China’s proposal. Eight Arab countries have established strategic partnerships with China. And as I mentioned just now, China has become the largest trading partner of 10 Arab states. In addition, the number of students from Arab states studying in China has risen rapidly to 14,000. Every week, nearly 200 flights travel between China and Arab countries. These are all what has been accomplished through joint efforts of both sides since the inception of the Forum.
At the upcoming 7th Ministerial Meeting held in Qatar, our discussion with Arab states will be focused on ways to follow through on President Xi Jinping’s policy initiative to achieve China’s friendly ties with Arab countries and a number of key measures he announced during his visit to the League of Arab States last January. We will discuss matters such as how to put into use the US$15 billion special loans for helping Arab states improve their industrialization capabilities and the US$10 billion concessional loans for infrastructure building. We will also discuss how to use the two US$10 billion cooperation funds established with Qatar and the UAE respectively. We hope that the two funds will play their role for the development of Arab states. At the meeting, we will announce some new measures. For example, in the next two years, we will invite to China additional 6,000 students from Arab states under government scholarships, train 6,000 professionals for Arab states and invite 600 leaders of different political parties and group of Arab countries to visit China and hold equal-footed and friendly exchanges on governance issues with relevant authorities of China. In short, we will introduce another host of specific policies and measures on strengthening China-Arab states relations as part of our policies to enhance friendship with Arab states.