Hammamet, Tunisia, 30 May:
Foreign Minister Ashour Ben Khayal is heading to Tunisia for the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab Forum, which . . .[restrict]begins tomorrow in the eastern seaside resort of Hammamet.
According to the chairman of the Arab delegation to the forum, Tunisia’s Secretary of State for Arab and African Affairs, Abdullah El-Triki, the meeting “should lay a new cornerstone for China-Arab relations.”
Over the past 18 months, relations between China and several Arab states, including Libya, have been soured by Beijing’s luke-warm response to the Arab Spring uprisings. The Chinese abstained on a vital UN resolution that authorised international intervention to stop the killing of civilians in Libya last year, and have been actively opposed to any meaningful effort to put a stop to the mass bloodshed in Syria.
China is cautious about abandoning long-standing regional allies such as Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad, as well as promoting democratic reforms in the region which it believes would be contrary to its national interests.
In spite of this, China has become an increasingly important actor in the Arab world in recent years. Since 2004, when the China-Arab Forum began, trade volume between China and Arab countries has grown from less than $36 billion, to almost $200 billion in 2011. Chinese exports to Arab countries amounted to more than $64 billion in 2011, and imports exceeded $80 billion.
Organisers hope that the forum will represent a significant opportunity for both China and Arab states to discuss regional and international issues, in particular after the upheavals experienced in the Arab over the past 18 months. In addition to politics, a wide range of other issues are expected to be covered at the forum, including industry, trade, energy, environmental protection, human resources and culture.