China on track in Mid-East but US losing its way, envoy says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 March, 2011, 12:00am

Beijing's top envoy to the Middle East says he is confident China will be able to maintain friendly relations with all countries in the troubled region, whereas US policies were losing the hearts of people in the region.

Wu Sike, special envoy on Middle East affairs since March 2009, also described Beijing's vote for a United Nations resolution to suspend Libya from the UN Human Rights Council as 'an exception'.

Wu, a former ambassador to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, said many people in the region felt let down by the United States' policies and actions towards the Arab world in recent years. Washington's wavering reaction to protests in Egypt had also lost it much credit.

'[Former Egyptian leader Hosni] Mubarak was a longtime ally of the United States, but when it looked like he was losing power, the US turned to support the army,' Wu said on the sidelines of a Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference meeting yesterday. 'This shows that when interests and values come into conflict, the United States will fundamentally choose to safeguard their own interest ... this has disappointed many allies in the Arab world.'

The US position on Palestine and its invasion of Iraq also disappointed people in the region, Wu said, and the damage was very difficult to undo even though changes were made to US Middle East policy after President Barack Obama came to power.

Meanwhile, time had proved China's Middle East policy was well-received and effective.

'China's basic principle is to maintain a good relationship with countries of different background and political consciousness, and promote mutually beneficial co-operation with them,' Wu said, pointing out that China was not only on good terms with the Arab world, but also with Iran, Turkey and Israel.

'We uphold our non-interference policy, and respect their choices. Increasing trade and economic co-operation in recent years further strengthen our foundations. This principle has not changed as political situations evolved in the region in the past ... it will not change.'

The energy-rich Middle East carries unrivalled strategic importance for both the US and China, and is also a culturally and politically complicated region. While China vows non- interference, recent chaos has also sparked calls for it to rethink its policy of engaging unstable governments.

The chaos in Libya sparked an unprecedented evacuation operation to rescue more than 35,000 Chinese nationals and has caused commercial losses in the billions. 'We will continue to maintain economic exchanges with all the countries. But [after Libya] we will definitely also improve our risk assessment and prevention mechanisms,' Wu said.

China's support for a UN resolution to suspend Libya from the UN Human Rights Council was a decision made against an 'exceptional' background. 'It was made out of concern for the safety of the people in Libya,' Wu said. 'China's position is also in line with the wishes of the Arab and African countries, as well as the international community.'

He said it did not indicate a drifting away from the non-interference policy because China still recognised the sovereignty of Libya. 'China has repeatedly called for respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya,' Wu said. 'The UN Human Rights Council is just a subsidiary body of the United Nations. Libya is still a member of the UN.'

Wu said China was liaising with Libyan authorities through their embassy in Beijing and China's in Tripoli, where about 20 diplomats and staff were still working. China is urging for calm and the use of negotiations to resolve the current crisis.

Wu said that in interactions with Muslim countries, China should be more confident in its ethnic and religious policies, and not be afraid of opening up and engaging in more exchanges. For example, Turkey was upset at China after the Urumqi riots of July 2009, but after a delegation from the country visited Xinjiang last year - and after Turkey's foreign minister was allowed to pray among the public in Kashgar - the negative impression was changed, Wu said.