China hosts Arab leaders at forum aimed at deepening ties

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Arab world, Arab dignitaries, China, Israel-Hamas, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Arab states, Xi Jinping

On May 28, 2024, China welcomed a distinguished assembly of Arab dignitaries and diplomats to Beijing for a high-profile forum designed to strengthen ties between China and the Arab world. This event marks a significant step in China’s ongoing efforts to enhance its diplomatic and economic relationships with Arab states, presenting a unified stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Among the notable attendees were Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, alongside numerous other regional leaders and diplomats. The forum’s primary focus is the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, with Chinese President Xi Jinping scheduled to deliver a keynote speech at the opening ceremony, aimed at fostering a “common consensus” between China and Arab nations.

In recent years, China has diligently worked to forge closer bonds with Arab countries, positioning itself as a significant player in the Middle East. Last year, Beijing successfully mediated a détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two long-time adversaries, showcasing its growing diplomatic influence in the region. China’s historical support for the Palestinian cause and its advocacy for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have further solidified its standing among Arab nations.

Last month, Beijing hosted rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, for comprehensive discussions aimed at promoting intra-Palestinian reconciliation. These efforts underscore China’s commitment to playing a constructive role in resolving regional conflicts and fostering unity among Palestinian groups.

The Beijing forum is seen as a strategic opportunity for China to bolster its reputation and influence in the Arab world. President Xi Jinping’s keynote address is expected to outline a vision for deepening Sino-Arab cooperation and building a unified approach to regional challenges. Central to the discussions will be the Israel-Hamas conflict, which has escalated in recent months, prompting calls for an international peace conference to resolve the situation.

Xi’s proposal for such a conference reflects China’s broader goal of positioning itself as a mediator in global conflicts, contrasting its proactive stance with what it perceives as U.S. inaction in the region. Ahmed Aboudouh, an associate fellow with the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Programme, emphasized that China’s efforts to end the conflict align with its strategic objective of undermining U.S. credibility and influence in the Middle East.

“The longer the war, the easier for China to pursue this objective,” Aboudouh noted, highlighting how Beijing’s diplomatic maneuvers could shift the balance of power and influence in the region.

In the lead-up to the forum, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi engaged in several high-level meetings with counterparts from Yemen and Sudan, emphasizing China’s desire to “strengthen solidarity and coordination” with the Arab world. During these discussions, Wang addressed China’s concerns over disruptive attacks on Red Sea shipping by Iran-backed Houthi forces, who have expressed solidarity with Hamas.

Wang called for an end to the harassment of civilian vessels and stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of waterways in the Red Sea, a vital route for global trade. These statements, reported by China’s state news agency Xinhua, reflect Beijing’s broader interest in maintaining stability and security in key maritime regions.

China’s hosting of this forum and its proactive engagement in Middle Eastern affairs signal a deliberate strategy to enhance its geopolitical standing. By presenting itself as a mediator and advocate for peace, China aims to contrast its approach with that of the United States, which has faced criticism for its handling of various Middle Eastern conflicts.

Beijing’s growing influence in the Arab world also aligns with its broader Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which seeks to expand China’s economic reach through infrastructure investments and trade partnerships across Asia, Africa, and Europe. Strengthening ties with Arab states is a crucial component of this initiative, given the region’s strategic location and economic potential.

Moreover, China’s emphasis on a multilateral approach to conflict resolution and its calls for international cooperation resonate with many Arab nations, which have historically sought to balance their relationships with major global powers. As China continues to assert its role as a key player in the Middle East, its ability to foster unity among Arab states and promote stability in the region will be closely watched by global observers.

The Beijing forum marks a pivotal moment in China’s diplomatic efforts to deepen ties with the Arab world and address the pressing issue of the Israel-Hamas conflict. With President Xi Jinping poised to deliver a significant address and high-level discussions set to take place, the event underscores China’s ambition to enhance its influence and reputation in the Middle East.

As China navigates the complexities of regional politics and leverages its growing economic and diplomatic clout, its role in shaping the future of the Middle East will likely become increasingly prominent. By presenting a “common voice” on critical issues and advocating for peaceful resolutions, China aims to solidify its position as a key ally and partner for Arab nations in the years to come.

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