Deepened Sino-Arab collaboration sets example for South-South cooperation

Editor’s note: Song Xueyin is deputy director of the Future Regional Development Laboratory, Zhejiang University. The article reflects the author’s opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN. It has been translated from Chinese and edited for brevity and clarity.

Over the past two decades since the establishment of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, China and Arab countries have implemented highly aligned development strategies, and their traditional friendship has withstood the test of time and grown even stronger. The two sides have complementary strengths in resources, markets, and industries. Their collaboration in fields such as energy, trade, and investment has been continuously enhanced, expanded, and upgraded. This has set a model for South-South cooperation and mutual benefits.

The opening ceremony of the 10th ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum held in Beijing, May 30, 2024. /CFP

The opening ceremony of the 10th ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum held in Beijing, May 30, 2024. /CFP

Energy cooperation has been consolidated as the core to pioneer a new model of the Sino-Arab energy cooperation. China is the world’s second-largest economy and the largest importer of oil, while the Arab countries are among the most significant areas producing oil and gas globally. Enhancing energy cooperation and establishing a Sino-Arab partnership in energy supply and demand, form the cornerstone of Sino-Arab cooperation.

The Belt and Road Initiative, launched in 2013, marked a new journey of Sino-Arab energy cooperation in the new era. The introduction of “Eight Major Common Actions” for pragmatic collaboration at the first China-Arab States Summit in 2022 has further fueled this cooperation. 

In 2023, China imported 265 million tonnes of crude oil from Arab countries, accounting for 47 percent of China’s total crude oil imports. At the same time, Sino-Arab cooperation in new energy sectors such as photovoltaics, wind energy, and hydrogen energy has rapidly increased, significantly advancing the energy transition in Arab countries. Sino-Arab energy cooperation has thus entered a new phase of extensive, sustainable collaboration in such fields as carbon-based energy, renewable energy, and the peaceful utilization of nuclear energy.

The quality of infrastructure cooperation is enhanced to support new infrastructure development in Arab countries. The diversified development of the Arab economies has given rise to a substantial demand for high-level infrastructure, while China boasts robust technological and economic advantages in building infrastructure, creating vast opportunities for mutual complementary cooperation. Since the introduction of the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese enterprises have signed engineering contracts worth $550 billion in Arab countries, covering various types of infrastructure, including logistics, railways, airports, ports, and energy.

Workers walked on the construction site of Egypt’s new administrative capital project, about 45 kilometers east of Cairo, Egypt, March 7, 2021. /CFP

Workers walked on the construction site of Egypt’s new administrative capital project, about 45 kilometers east of Cairo, Egypt, March 7, 2021. /CFP

In 2018, the Haramain High Speed Railway with a design speed of 360 km/h, which is the first of its kind constructed by Chinese enterprises overseas, commenced operation. It significantly reduced the commuting time between Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia by half and considerably enhanced transportation efficiency. In 2021, Power China won the contract for a major public utility project in Saudi Arabia, marking the first large-scale infrastructure complex project undertaken by a Chinese company in Saudi Arabia. In addition, new infrastructure collaborations in digital technology and new energy, among others, are becoming increasingly prominent, with a growing focus on digitalization, technical solutions, and clean energy projects.

Efforts are made to advance trade and investment integration, setting a new model for South-South cooperation. 

The Belt and Road Initiative is a crucial platform for Sino-Arab economic and trade cooperation. China has signed cooperation agreements for the Belt and Road Initiative with all 22 Arab countries and the League of Arab States. The China-Arab States Expo, held six times in a row, has evolved into an international exhibition integrating high-level dialogues, economic and trade promotion, and business negotiations.

Under the guidance of systematic cooperation frameworks and platforms such as the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum and the China-Arab States Expo, China has maintained its position as the largest trading partner of Arab countries. Two-way trade has surged from $36.7 billion in 2004 to $398 billion in 2023, with direct investment exceeding $30 billion. 

Economic and trade cooperation has gradually expanded beyond agriculture and energy trade into finance, investment, science and technology, and culture, evolving towards a more diverse, balanced, reciprocal, and high-quality partnership.