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China strengthens trade and strategic cooperation with Gulf countries

The only Chinese leader to regularly leave the country for two years, Wang Yi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, has established a new tradition: on his return, he takes advantage of his Covid-related quarantine to receive – in China, but far from Beijing – his foreign counterparts. Returning from a trip to Africa, he received, from 10 to 14 January, the Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain, as well as the Secretary General of the Cooperation Council of Gulf (CCG), Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf. Note the absence of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, also members of the GCC, whose unity has been abused in recent years.

Wang Yi also received, Wednesday January 12, the Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Friday January 14, his Iranian counterpart. A way for Beijing to show that China intends to play an important political role in this region of the world and that, unlike the United States, it maintains good relations with all states. On Wednesday, it was also announced that Syria had officially joined China’s « New Silk Road » investment program, another affront to Washington, which imposes heavy economic sanctions on Damascus.

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The meeting with the ministers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain aimed to “exchange their points of view” about the Iranian nuclear negotiations. While the Gulf countries are worried about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, the Chinese minister is said to have indicated that if the global non-proliferation system is to be respected, “fair and reasonable concerns” of certain countries in the region should also be taken into account. On Tuesday, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also expressed the “resolute mutual support of China and Iran on core issues”. In 2021, China and Iran entered into a spectacular “strategic partnership” for twenty-five years.

Claim support from Muslim countries

On the commercial front, Wang Yi and the GCC Secretary General have for their part defined a « action plan 2022-2025 » intended to conclude a free trade agreement and to « establish a China-GCC free trade area as soon as possible. » Ongoing since 2004, these negotiations have so far not been successful. According to Beijing, China has become the first economic partner of the GCC countries in 2020, dethroning the European Union. It imports about 70% of its oil from this region of the world.

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