China in Middle East: Shifting Role and Interests

Time:2018-05-20 18:10 Source:未知 Writer:admin read:
China in Middle East: Shifting Role and Interests
By PAN Guang
This paper is discussing on three subjects: (1) historical review on China’s approach to Middle East; (2) current situation of China-Middle East relations since 2011; (3) China’s “One Belt and One Road” strategy and its impact on future development of China-Middle East relations.
Retrospect: China’s Approach to Middle East from Mao Zedong to Deng Xiaoping
Before 2011, policies of the People's Republic of China (PRC) toward the Middle East could be simply divided into two eras: Mao Zedong era and Deng Xiaoping era.
The Mao era was marked by an ideologically consistent set of policies: support national liberation movements and oppose imperialism, colonialism and later also Soviet “revisionism”.
In early 1950s, the Chinese press cheered the 1951 anti-British campaign in Egypt, the nationalization of Iran's oil industry in 1952-53, and the anti-French struggle in Algeria. At that stage, Chinese support was only moral, however, and not material. After the Bandung Conference in 1955, as pan-Arab nationalist leaders such as Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser entered into conflicts with the West, they turned for support to the Soviet Union and also to China. In return, Beijing established diplomatic relations with Egypt, Syria and Yemen in the short period between May and September 1956. After the Baghdad Pact Organization was set up in 1955, China increased its criticism of the pact's members and showed a friendlier attitude toward Middle Eastern states that rejected the pact, especially Egypt. During the Suez Canal crisis of October 1956, China became the second strongest supporter of Egypt after the USSR. On November 6, 1956, the Egyptian ambassador in Beijing announced the startling news that a quarter of a million Chinese had taken to the streets in support of Egypt and volunteered to go to Egypt to fight with the Egyptians.[1] 
In the summer of 1958, the Chinese government strongly denounced the American intervention in Lebanon and the British intervention in Jordan, then established diplomatic ties with the newborn republic of Iraq. The following two years saw newly-independent Morocco, Sudan, and Somalia establish diplomatic ties with China. China also became one of the first to recognize the anti-French provisional government in Algeria.
The Sino-Soviet break of 1960-61 led China to adopt an even more radical attitude than the Soviet Union in support of pan-Arab nationalists. At the same time, its policies took on an anti-Soviet color, which had the paradoxical result of cooling relations with Soviet allies such as Egypt and Syria, and a warming of ties with pro-Western countries such as Iran and Turkey. This explains the much milder Chinese attitude toward the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) than previously toward its predecessor the Baghdad Pact Organization. At this stage too, Chinese support became practical and tangible, including shipments for military and civilian use plus the training of personnel. In most cases, such aid was gratis. For example, Chinese weapons supplied to the Palestinians between 1965 and 1969 have been valued by Israeli intelligence at about $5 million, all provided free of cost.[2]
The Cultural Revolution in China paralyzed China's relations with the outside world, including the Middle East, for several years. Once diplomacy resumed in the early 1970s, and until the end of Mao Zhedong's life, China's Middle East policies featured an anti-Soviet premise. The Soviet military force comprised the biggest threat to China; in response, Mao and Zhou Enlai proposed the uniting of all forces to fight Soviet hegemony, a policy that influenced their outlook on the Middle East. As an active Middle East diplomacy developed on the basis of anti-Soviet goals, Beijing established diplomatic ties with three pro-Western countries between August and November 1971: Turkey, Iran, and Lebanon. It did not, however, restore contact with Israel, for fear of this harming relations with the Arab world. Nonetheless, China and Israel had in the Soviet Union a common opponent and at one time both were fighting Soviet soldiers—Chinese infantry on the common border with Russia, Israeli pilots over the skies of Egypt and Syria. In 1971, Zhou Enlai even told Senator Henry Jackson (Democrat of Washington) that China supported Israel in its efforts against Soviet expansion in the Middle East.[3] After 1971, Beijing backed Egypt's Anwar as-Sadat, Sudan's Ja‘far an-Numayri, and other Arab leaders as they expelled Soviet forces from their countries.[4]
The Deng era was marked by a less ideological and more practical diplomacy, with the aim of creating a favorable international environment for China's modernization program. This approach led to relations with all the Middle East countries and a substantial increase in Chinese influence as a result. Beijing no longer made a state's relations with Washington or Moscow the criterion for distinguishing between enemy and friend; instead, benefits to China itself became the basis of decisions.
Between 1977 and 1990, China set up diplomatic relations with a great number of Middle Eastern states: Jordan, Oman, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, as well as the Palestinians. In January 1992, China capped this sequence with diplomatic relations with Israel. Top leaders of almost every Middle Eastern country have visited Beijing, and China's counterparts have in turn traveled
In addition, China moved fast ahead in a wide variety of fields, building economic, trade, cultural, scientific, technological, and military ties. By 1990, China's exports to the Middle East countries reached $1.5 billion, and more than 50,000 Chinese workers were employed in the region.[5] Chinese arms also entered Middle East with major buyers including Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, the West was most worried about of proliferation of high technology and weapons of mass destruction, concerned particularly that the median- or long-range missiles China may sale to Middle Eastern states will undo the strategic balance there. The Chinese authorities reiterated their promise not to sell advanced arms that would wreck the Middle East balance of power, and several rounds of talks were held between China and the United States over this issue. An internationally binding agreement seemed to be the only solution to this issue. It was for this reason that the five major arms sellers in the Middle East (who happened, incidentally, also to be the five permanent members of the Security Council) gathered in Paris in 1991 for an international conference on arms sales control in the Middle East. China may benefit if this and similar conferences can arrive at an agreement on the quantity and quality of arms sales to the Middle East. The small quantity and moderate quality of Chinese arms will make it less subject to restrictions than will its competitors.
At that stage, China's official stance on this issue rested on three principles: arms control in the Middle East should be comprehensive, balanced, and effective; its support for setting up a weapons-of-mass-destructive free area there; and arms control goes together with the peace process to achieve the final aim of peace. As China's Premier Li Peng explained, exports to all countries of the region must be put under control "without the practice of exercising control over some particular countries while relaxing control over other countries." Also, "all kind of weapons" must be controlled, and there must be an end to "unbalanced armament" which poses a threat to Middle East security.[6]
Breakthroughs in developing domestic oil resources freed China from its dependence on foreign oil in mid -1960s, and ushered in arena of oil self-sufficiency that China took great pride in. Indeed, the oil production grew so rapidly that China later on exported oil, reaching a peak of 6.21 million tons in 1985. However, all this was changed in early 1990s, and China became a net importer of petroleum again in 1993. Following this development, China has been making adjustments in its energy policy and energy development strategy since mid -1990s, and implementing a strategy for overseas energy development in which Middle East plays more and more important role. Starting from the 1990s, Chinese enterprises began to make their presence in the international market of energy business and investment. China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) as well as China National Petrochemical Corporation (SINOPEC), as leading Chinese companies operating in the world, became very active in Middle East energy market, especially in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Oman, Sudan and Iraq.
This prospect has lead many Chinese to call on their government to pay special attention to relations with the oil exporters and to make unceasing efforts to ensure an expanded petroleum supply from the Middle East.[7] Financial and technical shortages restricted China from building an oceangoing navy to defend its sea-lanes to the Middle East. For this reason, Chinese authorities began to exploit oil and gas resources in Siberia and Central Asia in the late 1990s. Two border security agreements, signed in 1996 and 1997 with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan and Tajikistan[8], further increased China's confidence in pursuing this Siberia-Central Asia energy strategy. However, compared with the Central Asia, Latin America, Southeast Asia and West Africa, the Middle East was still the major source for China’s overseas energy cooperation and development at that stage.
Chinese abstentions in the UN Security Council before and during the first Gulf War in 1991, though sometimes resented in the West, were in line with two of China's principles: avoid getting involved in crises and keep normal relations with all parties. This meant condemning Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait and continuing to recognize the legitimate government of Kuwait;[9] calling for a peaceful solution to the crisis, even after fighting broke out (which explains many of China's UN abstentions);[10] not connecting the Iraq-Kuwait conflict with other Middle East issues;[11] and trying to mediate a peaceful solution.
The Chinese position opposes terrorism but rejects sanctions against states as an effective measure to prevent terrorist activities. Beijing opposed the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act that punished companies which invest in Iran or Libya, arguing that persons or organizations can be called "terrorist," but not a country or a state.
Since the end of the Cultural Revolution, a slow but sure change has characterized China's attitude toward the Arab-Israeli conflict: what began as opposition to Israel and support for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has become support for a just and peaceful solution to the issue. Already in 1978, Beijing applauded the peace talks between Egypt and Israel.[12] A top Chinese official announced in 1980, for the first time, that "Every country in the Middle East should enjoy the right to exist and be independent."[13] In 1988, China proposed a five-point package to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict which centered on mutuality: Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab lands and a guarantee for Israel's security; the states of Israel and Palestine recognizing each other; Arab and Jewish peoples peacefully co-existing.[14]
China took a more active role in promoting peace talks after the Gulf War in 1991, and especially after its establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. From 1991 on, Chinese diplomats attended more conferences on Arab-Israeli issues than in the forty-four prior years, including such events as the third phase of the Middle East Peace Conference in Moscow, conferences on economic cooperation in Casablanca and Amman, and on water resources in Masqat. China strongly supported the Oslo accords and the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty. Good relations with hard-liners may give China a special advantage in promoting the peace process in the future.
Enter the 21st century, The political, economic and cultural relations between China and the Middle East have undergone a comprehensive and unprecedented growth, which is unimaginable in the Mao Zedong Era. However, China still lags behind the US, Europe and even Russia in the influence on security issues. A relationship beyond the realm of diplomacy is yet to come.
Challenges:  China’s Role in the Changing Middle East since 2011
The dramatic change in the Middle East since 2011 has concussions on Sino-Middle East relations, which can be analyzed from the political, economic and security perspectives.
From the political perspective, in spite of the concussion, China has maintained normal and friendly relations with most of Middle East countries.
China has kept basically normal relations with countries in which no regime changes occurred, such as Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, the 6 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Iran, Turkey, and Israel, etc. These relations have continued to develop. As to countries where regime changes took place and which have resumed stability, for example, Egypt and Tunisia, the relationships between them and China soon recovered into normality with high-level exchanges taken place and bilateral relations developing steadily.[15]
The relationships which have suffered from the concussion and are still unstable are mainly between China and several countries which are still in civil war, such as Syria, Libya, Yemen, and to some extent Iraq. China has to stop many infrastructure construction projects in these countries, and evacuated 36,000 Chinese citizens from Libya, 2,000 from northern Iraq, 500 from Yemen, and some Chinese students from Syria. China has also evacuated diplomatic staff from Libya and Yemen, but preserved fragile relationships with their respective legitimate governments which are recognized by the UN.
Among Middle East countries, China has established comprehensive strategic partnerships, strategic partnerships, strategic cooperative partnerships or strategic friendly relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Algeria, UAE, Qatar and some other countries. China has been sustaining contact and dialogue with some Middle East countries through multilateral mechanisms, such as the Chinese-Arabia Cooperation Forum, the Sino-African Cooperation Forum, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO)[16], and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA)[17], etc. China has held regular consultations and dialogues with some Middle East multilateral mechanisms, for example, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the League of Arab States (LAS) and so on.
On January 13, 2016,the Chinese government issued the first China's Arab Policy Paper. On the basis of reviewing and summarizing the experience in the development of China-Arab relations, the Paper stipulates the guiding principle for developing China-Arab relations, offers the blueprint for China-Arab mutually beneficial cooperation, and reiterates the political will of commitment to peace and stability in the Middle East, in order to promote China-Arab relations to a new and higher level.[18] The Paper highlights that China will continue to carry forward China-Arab traditional friendship, enrich and deepen all-round, multi-layer, wide-ranging cooperation, promote sustainable and sound development of strategic cooperative relations featuring all-round cooperation and common development, and safeguard peace, stability and development of the region and the world at large.[19] The Paper points out Arab states are China's important partners in following the peaceful development path, strengthening unity and cooperation among developing countries and establishing a new type of international relations with win-win cooperation at its core. [20] The Paper says it is China's long-held diplomatic principle to consolidate and deepen China-Arab traditional friendship. The Paper elaborates China’s policy initiatives to enhance comprehensive Sino-Arab relations in terms of political cooperation, investment and trade cooperation, social development, culture and people-to-people exchanges and cooperation in the field of peace and security. [21]
In November, 2015 and January, 2016, Chinese President Xi Jingping paid successful and fruitful visits to four major countries in Middle East: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran, further promoting the development of Sino-Middle East cooperation. During Xi’s visit to Turkey, China signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Turkey on promoting the building of “One Belt and One Road”, together with cooperation agreements in the fields of infrastructure, import & export inspection and quarantine.[22] When Xi visited Saudi, Egypt and Iran, China signed joint statements with Saudi and Iran to form a comprehensive strategic partnership[23], and signed with Egypt a five-year implementation outline on strengthening the comprehensive strategic partnership between these two countries.[24]
Particularly, President Xi Jinping’s historic visit to the Middle East in January 2016 successfully deepened traditional friendship, sought win-win cooperation, advanced regional peace and reconciliation, and promoted peace and development in countries concerned. During his trip to Saudi, Egypt and Iran, President Xi Jinping was fully engaged from early morning till late in the evening. He visited four cities in five days, carried out over forty activities, made in-depth talks and exchanges with leaders of the three countries and three regional organizations, and had extensive contacts with people from all circles. President Xi met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Secretary-General of Organization of Islamic Cooperation Iyad Ameen Madani, Secretary-General of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf Abdul Latif bin Rashid Al Zayani, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Nabil El Araby and many other leaders. During the visits, 52 cooperative documents were signed, which are of rich contents, fruitful results and great significance. His speech at the headquarter of the League of Arab States was welcome very warmly by public and media in Middle East.
At the same time, leaders of other Middle East countries like United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Iraq, Bahrain and Israel also visited China recent years. President Xi Jingping and other top leaders of China met with them and discussed with them on areas of mutual interests, enhancing the mutual understanding and cooperation between China and these countries.
From the economic perspective, the upheaval has apparent negative impact on trade and investment.
A small city, Yiwu in East China and Dubai in UAE are two important centers of China-Middle East trade. Many containers from Yiwu to Dubai are transshipped to all Middle East countries where local people can find many things “made in China”. However, since 2011, the Middle East upheaval has led to the rising of container transportation and insurance costs, which is not beneficial to trade. As a result, Chinese cargos to Dubai are almost only bound to “stable countries”, especially GCC countries and Chinese trade with “unrest countries” has basically ceased.
However, up to now, the Middle East upheaval has not shaken the Gulf oil exporting nations much, although has been threatening the communication lines between China and energy exporting nations. General speaking, Middle East is still essential to China’s energy security. The petroleum China imports from the Middle East accounted for 60% in all of its imported oil. In 2012,  China imported 53.92 million tons of oil from Saudi Arabia, which tops all the oil exporters to China.[25] At the same time, Qatar tops all the countries which exports liquefied natural gas to China.[26] In 2014, China imported about 6.2 million barrels of oil per day. About 3.1 million of those barrels came from the Middle East. More specifically, 989,000 barrels came from Saudi Arabia, 573,000 barrels came from Iraq, and 546,000 barrels came from Iran. [27] China’s thriving economy has propelled it past the United States as the world’s largest oil importer. As the United States continues to demonstrate its preference for non-Arab oil sources, the bond between Arab oil-producing nations and Chinese companies will strengthen.
Meanwhile, as mentioned above, most of Chinese investment in “upheaval countries” has been suspended as well. Chinese enterprises in Libya suffered heavy losses, with a similar case in Yemen. In northern Iraq, except the Kurdish region, Chinese construction work has to halt. Fortunately, the 3 major oil fields with Chinese investment, al-Ahdab, Rumaila and Halfaya, are in the central-southern Iraq and have not been seriously affected. In 2012, China imported up to 15.6836 million tons of oil from Iraq.[28]  
Enter 2016, we see some new progress of China-Middle East economic cooperation. In January of 2016, President Xi Jinping pressed the start button of the Yasref petrochemical refinery during his visit to Saudi Arabia, inaugurated the second-phase construction of the Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone during his visit to Egypt, and witnessed the signing of cooperative documents on high-speed railway construction during his visit to Iran. All of these are regional and leading projects, showing that following energy cooperation, production capacity cooperation is becoming another important engine for China’s practical cooperation with the region. At the same time, China and the GCC restart negotiations on the free trade area and end the substantial negotiations on the trade in goods in principle. China and the GCC decided to strive to reach a free trade area agreement within 2016 to usher in a new prospect for China-GCC mutually beneficial cooperation in economy and trade.
From security perspective, as Chinese trade and investment in the Middle East has been growing rapidly, its enterprises and citizens in the regions has been expanding, and the regional instability significantly threatens China’s interests, it is reasonable and necessary that China plays more active security and diplomatic roles in the Middle East to protect its own regional interests.  
From 2002, China started to appoint special envoys for Middle East affairs. Presently the special envoy is AMB. Gong Xiaosheng, former Chinese ambassador to Turkey. He visits the region regularly and plays the role of “promoting peace and encouraging dialogue”. China has also named special representatives on Syrian and Afghanistan issues.
Since the first half of 2011, the Middle East has witnessed a new wave of extremism and terrorism, and the expansion of jihadist organizations like the Islamic State, a giant terrorist group assuming the title of “state”, in particular. As a result, Middle East has been on the frontline against the IS, where three anti-IS coalitions coexist. Namely: the 60-nation coalition led by the U.S., the Russia-led coalition, which includes Russia, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and the 34-nation coalition announced by Saudi Arabia. The U.S.-led coalition is a loose one, with western powers in a key role while the other partners rallying behind them. The Saudi-dominated coalition was forged without full preparation, and such members as Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia claimed that they had only “talked” about it and no “official arrangements” had been made. Nevertheless, the Russian coalition has been fighting a lot, with Russia carrying out air strikes, Syrian army and Hezbollah, backed by Iran, conducting ground attacks, and Iraq providing facilities and logistic support cross the border.
China is very worried about three anti-IS coalitions, which operate separately. For one thing, conflicts among the coalitions seem possible, making anti-terrorism fight even more difficult. For instance, a Russian bomber was shot down by Turkey, be it “a stab in the back” or an incident. For another, anti-terrorist operations may turn into violence of religious sects, deviating from what it is expected to be. The Saudi-led coalition is made up of Sunni-dominated governments, while the Russia-led coalition is an all-Shiite one, and fears of factional strife are not groundless. Thus, the Chinese government calls for a closer coordination between the counter-terrorism groups, seeking common ground and battling the IS in a joint effort.[29]
China believes that such an alliance should be formed under the aegis of the United Nation, rather than a certain country. The UN Security Council adopted unanimously a resolution on November 20, 2015 calling on the international community to form a united front against terrorism.[30] On December 17, 2015, the UN Security Council held its first meeting of finance ministers and unanimously adopted a resolution that improves the international community’s ability to disrupt IS sources of revenue and to counter all forms of terrorist financing.[31] At the same time, the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee met and demanded its member states to crack down on cyber-terrorism with legislation, extending the war against terrorism to the cyber world. [32] All the aforementioned steps show that the UN has got the capacity and legitimacy needed to lead an international counter-terrorism alliance.
Extremist and terrorism have truly posed serious threats to the Middle East and  international peace and security. What is then the basis of these ideas and actions? The anxiety and confusion caused by the hyperbolic theory of a “clash of civilizations” regrettably has distorted the terms of the discourse on the real nature of the predicament the world is facing. Although ethnical, religious and cultural differences certainly play role, political and economic factors are especially worthy our attention: longtime failure to find fair and reasonable solutions to a number of so-called hot-spot issues like Arab-Israeli conflict; high-handed military intervention in certain disputes made unilaterally without the general consent from the international community like Iraq War in 2003.
It is clear that, in Syria and Iraq, powers combating the IS and other terrorist groups tend to focus on military action, and air strikes in particular, rather than a far-sighted and comprehensive strategy. However, despite of the successes from the military campaign of anti-terrorism, we come to realize day by day that any war on terrorism should not be waged by military means alone. It is also a war between ideologies. Military means, while indispensable in quite a few cases, can never be a cure-all solution. International community should also focus on the political, economic and social roots that have given rise to terrorism in the first place, and this broadened perspective reveals that, besides military means, economic, political and social measures must be taken as well for any long-term solution. If the root causes of international terrorism cannot be eradicated by the comprehensive means, it is highly probable that more and more radical groups will grow up to follow suit.
In Middle East, China more and more actively participates in peace-keeping mechanisms directed by the UN, including sending 1,000 personnel to join UN peace keeping forces in southern Lebanon, and sending out 3 warships to the Gulf of Aden to take part in the counter-piracy international joint operations. Recently these warships successfully evacuated more than 500 Chinese citizens and several hundred other countries’ citizens out of the war-tearing Yemen. China has participated in the talks between six world powers and Iran and contributed to the recent conclusion of Iran nuclear framework agreement. Some observers pointed out: “China can take advantage of its reputation in the region as a neutral broker to substantively engage with other negotiating partners and help narrow the gap in their positions. … China’s strategic priorities are very much in line with those of its P5+1 partners. It is in everyone’s interest to encourage and help China leverage its increasing influence in the region to attain a peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis”.[33]
It is clear that with an advantage of fairly good relations with all parties in Middle East, China can make unique contributions to promoting the settlement of regional hot-spot issues. It is very important that if media and academic circles in Middle East want to observe China, they should not only stay in its achievements in economic development but also have in-depth analysis of China’s development path and management model, especially the recipe for dealing with the relationship among reform, development and stability.
Within China, some people advocate the establishment of Chinese military bases in the Middle East. But it seems that Chinese government has not changed its stance and principle of not setting up oversea military bases. Of course, Chinese warships on their way to the Gulf of Aden need to resupply fresh water and food somewhere on the route. Therefore, in the long run, it is only natural that China owes supply bases in the Middle East. In an interview in Djibouti, President Ismail Omar Guelleh said Beijing's presence would be "welcome".[34] In the near future, we may see first Chinese “supply base” in Middle East.
Prospect:  China’s New Silk Road strategy and its impact on China-Middle East relations
In September 2013, President Xi Jinping put forward the idea of building “Silk Road Economic Belt” and then a matching vision of constructing “21st-century Maritime Silk Road”. This majestic “One Belt and One Road” strategy will push the development of China-Middle East relations into a brand-new stage and is the main tag of China’s Middle East policy in Xi Jinping’s era.
In history, the Middle East has been where the Chinese must pass when they went to the West through the land and maritime silk roads, and the bridge and hinge connecting the East Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Europe, and Africa. At that time the transportation means through the Middle East were mainly camels, horses and sailboats, the speed of which was very slow and the territory they could cover was quite limited. Today, the situation is completely different. Through high-speed trains, highways, large scale airplanes, ocean liners, and internet, the Middle East will play more important, and even “key role” , as Foreign Policy said, in constructing “One Belt and One Road”.[35] With transportation junctions like the Strait of Hormuz, the Mandab Strait, the Suez Canal, etc., the Middle East has irreplaceable geographic advantage.
The building of “One Belt and One Road” will rapidly increase China’s investment to and trade with the Middle East, for which the establishment of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and Silk Road Fund (SRF) provide solid financial foundation. Most Middle East countries have become founding members of AIIB. Meanwhile, in the coming few years, China’s import will reach $ 1,000 billion and overseas investment will reach $ 500 billion.[36] All these, with large scale transfer of China’s production capacity, will hugely promote the economic and trade cooperation between China and the Middle East.
Since almost all Middle East countries are along the route “One Belt and One Road”,  President Xi Jinping pertinently put forward four major action plans on jointly building the “One Belt and One Road” in Middle East: holding high the banner of peace and dialogue and launching actions to promote stability, promoting structural adjustment and taking actions for innovation cooperation, facilitating industrialization in the Middle East and launching actions to dock production capacity, advocating communication and mutual learning among civilizations and carrying out actions to enhance friendship.[37] President Xi Jinping pointed out that instead of looking for a proxy in the Middle East, we promote peace talks; instead of seeking any sphere of influence, we call on all countries to join the circle of friends for the “One Belt and One Road”; instead of attempting to fill the “vacuum”, we build a cooperative partnership network for mutual benefits and win-win results.[38]
Most Middle East countries have shown great support to China's “One Belt and One Road” Initiative and are willing to actively participate in this China-proposed strategic vision.
The joint statement between China and Saudi Arabia declares that “ Both sides are willing to carry out in-depth cooperation within the framework of jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road", recognize the great potential of pragmatic bilateral cooperation , and intend to enhance coordination and synergizing of production capacity policies between China and Saudi Arabia aimed at facilitating technology transfer, industry upgrade and diversified economic development. [39]
The Sino-Egypt five-year outline, aimed to cement the comprehensive strategic partnership, stresses that Egypt props up China’s propose of building the "Silk Road Economic Belt" and the "21st Century Maritime Silk Road". Both nations agree on promoting cooperation under the framework of the initiative, particularly focusing on Egypt’s development plans formulated by Egyptian government with a view to realizing its economic revival, including Egypt's key projects such as the development of the Suez Canal Corridor as well as other major projects recognized by both sides as of economic feasibility, such as those of infrastructure in terms of electricity, new energy, regenerative resource, transport and railway, road and port, and those in the fields of agriculture, processing of agriculture products, land improvement, fishery, electronics and electricity, grass fiber and other advanced industries, and banking, as well as other projects to be discussed. China will, by doing everything in its power and through China’s various financing mechanism, explore and cooperate with Egypt on financing the projects concerned. [40]
Sino-Iran joint statement also points out that Iran welcomes China-proposed initiative of the "Silk Road Economic Belt" and the "21st Century Maritime Silk Road". By fully exerting theirs respective strengths, both nations grasp the opportunity of signing the “Memorandum of Understanding between China’s Government and the  Government of Islamic Republic of Iran on Jointly Promoting Building the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ and the ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’, expanding mutual investment and cooperation in the fields of transportation, railway, port, energy, trade and service sectors.[41]
The leaders of many other Middle East countries like Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Iraq, Bahrain also welcome “One Belt and One Road” initiative and express that their countries would like to participate in cooperation within the framework of “One Belt and One Road” initiative. At the same time, top leaders from Arab League, Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf also show their great support for the “One Belt and One Road” initiative.
It is worth mentioning that Israel, a special state in Middle East also takes active part in “One Belt and One Road” construction. China’s BRIGHT (GUANGMING) Food Group Co., Ltd has bought TNUVA Food Industries Ltd., Israel’s largest food company; and Shanghai Port Authorities won the bid to operate the new port in Haifa Bay. Chinese businessmen and entrepreneurs have invested heavily in Israel’s “Silicon Valley” and have helped the country grow through venture capital and private equity deals. Beijing is Israel’s third-largest trading partner and Israel is China’s second-largest source of military technology.[42] Some Chinese scholars pointed out Israel’s location makes it possible for this state to play the role of bridgehead for “One Belt and One Road”, even bridgehead among Asia, Europe and Africa with the completion of the Mediterranean- Red Sea railway across Israel which is supported by China.[43] The “Med-Red” project is usually presented in more modest terms, as a way of absorbing excess traffic from the Suez Canal, or an alternative route in the event of political disruption. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his strong support for this railway plan in the hope that the project may attract more investment from China. From Israel’s point of view, China represents an increasingly appealing economic and diplomatic partner. The U.S. rebalance to Asia, while intended to address pressing political and economic imperatives in that region, causes Israel to doubt Washington’s commitment to its security. Coupled with Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent diplomatic failure in Israel, the rebalance has complicated the traditionally solid U.S.-Israel alliance. Israel’s April 2015 decision to join the AIIB also demonstrates its desire to strengthen its diplomatic and economic ties with China.[44]
It is important that the main connotation of “One Belt and One Road” building is not merely an economic belt and trade corridor in the traditional sense. What is more important are an Industrial belt, an industrial chain and a value chain of real economy. The purpose of building “One Belt and One Road” is to transform friendships among participating nations, the geographic advantage of being neighboring countries, and complementary economic advantages into practical cooperation and sustainable development. When points extend to areas and lines stretch to regions, large scale regional cooperation will be realized, and a mutually beneficial interest community with win-win result will come into being. Therefore, “One Belt and One Road” building is a new developing idea and innovating cooperation model. It meets the requirements of transforming and upgrading China-Middle East economic cooperation and can gradually resolve some deep-rooted problems, such as weak real economic cooperation, too large a proportion of resources cooperation, and trade structure imbalance between China and the Middle East, and so on.
It is worth mentioning that the great development campaign in the western part of China will serve as new motive force for China’s cooperation with the Middle East. For instance, 4000 km pipeline is opened recently and transports natural gas from Xinjiang to Shanghai, which may finally arrive at Japan and Korea in the east and connect with Middle East in the west through China – Central Asia energy pipelines.[45] With the reconstruction in Afghanistan, in a foreseeable future it becomes possible to construct a pipeline through Afghanistan, which will shorten the distance in energy cooperation between the western part of China and the Middle East. It can be estimated, in the future, the energy source of the Middle East may be delivered to China not only through the traditional means of oceangoing tankers but also through newly built pipelines on land. It will be an “energy belt” or “energy road” based on old silk road. This will open a new chapter in energy cooperation between China and Middle East, and even between East Asia and Middle East.
Building “One Belt and One Road” can not succeed without security support. The security cooperation system constructed around “One Belt and One Road” will be helpful to the establishment of a new Middle East, Euro-Asia, and even global security architecture. In the CICA summit of 2014, a new Asia security concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security was initiated. [46] And the attending national leaders agreed to innovate security ideas, build a new framework for regional security cooperation, and work out a commonly built, shared, and win-win Asia security road.[47]  The new concept of Asia security, though dubbed with the geographic term "Asia", actually points out the direction to building a new security framework for constructing “One Belt and One Road” and even peaceful development of the world. At present, to provide a good security environment for the construction of “One Belt and One Road”, all the relevant countries especially need to strengthen counter terrorism and extremism cooperation. President Xi Jinping pointed out that, in this aspect, the focus of near future is to fight against religious extremism and cyber terrorism to eradicate the roots and block communication channels of terrorist and extremist thoughts. [48] It can be foreseen that the development of the security cooperation system around constructing “One Belt and One Road” will further promote the security cooperation between China and the Middle East.
The historic Silk Road pushed and promoted economic and social development through trade. Besides, relevant cultural exchanges, which were closely related to trade, joined and fused various civilizations. Today's “One Belt and One Road” construction is not just an economic issue, but has profound cultural and historical significance. “One Belt and One Road” construction is meant to promote policy communication, traffic facilitation, trade flow, currency circulation, and people’s mutual understanding. The last point is the most important. President Xi Jinping pointed out: "To cooperate well in the above-mentioned areas, support from peoples of all the relevant countries is needed. We need to strengthen friendly exchanges between the peoples, to enhance mutual understanding and traditional friendship, and to lay solid social foundations of public opinion for regional cooperation.”[49]  He also said: "Countries of different races,  beliefs, and cultures can enjoy peace and development together. This is a valuable inspiration which the ancient Silk Road left us."[50] Strengthen the exchange and mutual learning between different civilizations, and promote people of different nations and ethnic groups to better understand each other are the cultural foundations of building “One Belt and One Road”. It can be predicted that the building and development of “One Belt and One Road” will further promote the dialogue and mutual learning between China and Middle East countries, ethic groups and civilizations, which is conducive to further development of China-Middle East humanity cooperation.
From Mao Zedong’s era to those of Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping, China-Middle East relations have walked through a tortuous road. China policy to the Middle East has gradually evolved from a “revolution" diplomacy full of ideological flavors into a friendly partnership diplomacy, the goal of which is to promote political, economic and cultural cooperation. This leads to an unprecedented thriving scene in China-Middle East relations. The unrest and upheaval in the Middle East since 2011 has not changed this general trend of development. With the rapid growth of China trade and investment interests in the Middle East, more and more Chinese enterprises and personnel have gone to the region, where China is bound to play a more active security and diplomatic role. 
China enjoys a number of advantages over the United States and other great powers such as Great Britain, France, Germany, or Russia in the Middle East. China lacks the religious, colonial, and historical baggage that weighs down many other nations. By refusing to get entangled in violence between Arabs and Israelis, China has demonstrated that it holds no preference between Jews and Muslims. China has also avoided the quagmire of picking sides between competing Muslim sects. Plus, geographic and demographic divisions in the Middle East cannot be attributed to the Chinese. Unlike the other great powers, China has no negative historical legacy in the region. More importantly, China enjoys normal relations with all Middle Eastern countries. Based on all these advantages, in the next few decades, “One Belt and One Road” building will become an important content of China-Middle East friendly cooperation and further promote China-Middle East relations to develop sustainably.
About Author
Dr. PAN Guang is Vice Chairman and Professor of Shanghai Center for International Studies and Vice President of Chinese Association of Middle East Studies. He is Senior Advisor on Anti-terror Affairs to Shanghai Municipality and Ministry of Public Security of PRC. He was appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as member of the High-Level Group for the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) in 2005, and appointed as Ambassador of the UNAOC in 2008.He holds a number of prestigious posts in Chinese institutions on International Studies, Asian Studies, Middle East Studies and Jewish Studies, and published books and articles on a variety of topics such as “The Jews in China”, “From Silk Road to ASEM: 2000 Years of Asia-Europe Relations”, “China’s Success in the Middle East”, “China’s Anti-terror Strategy”, “Islam and Confucianism: the Development of Chinese Islam”, “China’s Energy Strategy”, “China’s Policy on AF/PAK”“China’s Role in Changing Middle East” and so on.

[1] Al-Abram (Cairo), Nov. 8, 1956. See also Tareq Y. Ismael, International Relations in the Contemporary Middle East (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986), p. 202.
[2] R. Medzini, "China and the Palestinians - a Developing Relationship?" New Middle East, May 1971, p. 36.
[3]  Le Monde, July 30, 1971.
[4] Yitzhak Shichor, The Middle East in China's Foreign Policy 1949-1977 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 168. See also Aryeh Y. Yodfat, The People's Republic of China and the Middle East, (Brussels: Centre D'étude du Sud-Est Asiatique et de L'Extrême Orient, 1977), pp. 2- 15.

[5] China Foreign Economy & Trade Yearbook 1991, Beijing, Chinese Financial & Economic Publishing House, 1991.
[6] Speech by Chinese Premier Li Peng at a press conference in Cairo, press releases from Chinese Embassy, (Cairo), No. 011/91, July 17, 1991.
[7] For example, Ji Guoxing, "Jiaqiang Yatai Hezuo Nengyuan Yinsu Burong Hushi," Jiefang Daily (Shanghai), July 20, 1997.
[8] This process had its origin in the Sino-Soviet negotiations on their border issues. Following the collapse of the USSR, the negotiations came to involve “two sides but five countries”, i.e., China on the one hand and Russia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan and Tajikistan on the other. The interactions among them finally led to two border security agreements and the creation of a stable mechanism “Shanghai Five”. On June 15, 2001, the mechanism was upgraded to Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that extended its membership to Uzbekistan, and expanded its cooperation beyond the border security.
[9] Lillian Craig Harris, China Considers the Middle East (London: I.B. Tauris, 1993), p. 246.
[10] Speech by Zhang Shiliang, Chinese ambassador to Egypt, at the Diplomatic Club, Cairo, January 30, 1991.
[11] Xinhua News Agency, February 20, 1991.
[12] The International Herald Tribune, February 6, 1978.
[13] Xinhua Yuebao (Beijing), August, 1980.
[14] Beijing Review, October 16-22, 1989.

[15] For example, Egyptian President Abdelfattah al Sisi visited China in December of 2014 and September of 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Egypt in January of 2016.
[16] Iran is Observer of SCO; Turkey is Dialog Partner of SCO.
[17] Many Middle East countries are member of CICA.
[18] China's Arab Policy Paper, January 13, 2016,Beijing.
[19] China's Arab Policy Paper, January 13, 2016,Beijing.
[20] China's Arab Policy Paper, January 13, 2016,Beijing.
[21] China's Arab Policy Paper, January 13, 2016,Beijing.
[22] Xinhua New Agency, November14, 2015.  
[23] See the Joint Statement Between the People's Republic of China and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the Establishment of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. January 19, 2016, Riyadh; Also see Joint Statement on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Islamic Republic of Iran and People’s Republic of China, January 23, 2016, Tehran.
[24] See China- Egypt five-year Implementation Outline on Strengthening the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, January 22, 2016, Cairo.
[25] World Affairs Yearbook 2013-2014,  Beijing, 2014, p163.
[26] Chris Zambelis, “China and Qatar Forge a New Era of Relations around High Finance”, China Brief  Volume12, Issue 20, Jamestown Foundation, Washington D.C., October 19, 2012.
[27] David Lai and Noah Lingwall, “China: A Solution in the Middle East?” The Diplomat,June18, 2015.
[28] World Affairs Yearbook 2013-2014,  Beijing, 2014, p221.
[29] See Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech entitled "Jointly Create a Brighter Future for China-Arab Relations" at the headquarters of the League of Arab States (LAS) in Cairo, January 21, 2016.
[33] Tong Zhao, “China and the Iranian Nuclear Negotiations”, Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, Beijing, February 2, 2015.
[34] “China negotiates military base in Djibouti”, Al-Jazeera, May 9, 2015.
[35] Foreign Policy, Washington DC, April 24, 2015.
[36] Chinese President Xi Jinping’s opening speech at Boao Forum for Asia 2015, March 28, 2015.
[37] Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Comments on President Xi Jinping’s Visits to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran and Headquarters of League of Arab States, Beijing, January 24, 2016.
[38] Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Comments on President Xi Jinping’s Visits to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran and Headquarters of League of Arab States, Beijing, January 24, 2016.
[39] Xinhua New Agency, January 20, 2016
[40] Xinhua New Agency, January 21, 2016
[41] Xinhua New Agency, January 23, 2016
[42] David Lai and Noah Lingwall, “China: A Solution in the Middle East?” The Diplomat,June18, 2015.
[43] David P. Goldman, “ China’s Emergence as a Middle Eastern Power and Israel’s Opportunity”,  BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 284, Israel, February 1, 2015.
[44] David Lai and Noah Lingwall, “China: A Solution in the Middle East?” The Diplomat, June18, 2015.
[45] The oil pipeline from Kazakhstan to China (Atyrau–Kenkiyak–Atasu–Alashankou) started its work in 2006. The natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan was opened at the end of 2009. If connected with the Xinjiang–Shanghai pipeline, the lines will finally reach the Pacific, even possibly Japan and South Korea.
[46] Shanghai Declaration issued at the CICA summit of 2014, Shanghai, May 22, 2014.
[47] Shanghai Declaration issued at the CICA summit of 2014, Shanghai, May 22, 2014.
[48] Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at SCO summit in Dusanbe, September 12, 2014.
[49]  “President Xi Jinping Delivers Important Speech and Proposes to Build a Silk Road Economic Belt with Central Asian Countries”, Xinhua News Agency, Astana,September 7, 2013.
[50]  “President Xi Jinping Delivers Important Speech and Proposes to Build a Silk Road Economic Belt with Central Asian Countries”, Xinhua News Agency, Astana,September 7, 2013.