Yinchuan, Ningxia, to host China-Arab States Economic and Trade Forum

Despite the turmoil, nation's trade with region hits US$111.8b in first half, and analysts say Beijing is exploring further potential for economic co-operation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 August, 2012, 4:17am


Trade between China and the Arab world grew 22 per cent in the first half of the year, despite political turmoil in the energy-rich region.

Analysts say Beijing is exploring potential for economic co-operation in the region as some Arab countries undergo reconstruction following civil strife and changes in leadership.

Beijing is preparing for the third Sino-Arab economic and trade forum, slated to begin next month in the northwestern Ningxia region, home to more than 10 per cent of China's 20 million Muslims.

Trade between China and Arab countries hit US$111.8 billion for the first half of the year, according to Chinese customs yesterday. The 22 per cent increase in growth outpaced the country's 8 per cent growth in overall trade in the same period.

Sino-Arab trade reached US$195.9 billion last year, a 34.7 per cent growth over the previous year.

"There's great potential for trade and investment between China and Arab countries, as both sides share an interest in further expanding co-operation in various business areas," said Professor Xiao Xian , a leading Middle East expert and vice-president of the Chinese Association for Middle East Studies.

Yin Gang , a Middle East expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the political and economic changes in several countries in the region offered new opportunities for Chinese investors.

"After such a rapid political change in many countries, Arab governments should focus on economic construction to create jobs for young people. There is a huge young population in these countries. In this regard, China can help and use it as an opportunity," Yin said.

Xiao said Beijing wanted to counterbalance US influence in the region. China has replaced the United States as the primary trading partner of many countries, including American allies. As China chases the US' position as the world's dominant trading nation, Beijing has a stake in what happens in almost every corner of the world.

However Beijing's policies towards the Arab region have been criticised by the West and several Arab nations. China, along with Russia, has stymied efforts by the UN Security Council to address violence in Syria, vetoing three resolutions over the last year. During the Libyan civil war, Beijing isolated itself internationally by refusing to express support for rebels until after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Xiao said Libya had proved an expensive lesson for China, where its losses as a result of the crisis are estimated to run into billions of dollars.

The third China-Arab States Economic and Trade Forum will be held in Yinchuan , capital of Ningxia, from September 13 to 17.

But organisers said the forum was more significant as a political gesture than for economic benefit. "The investment in organising the forum is high but the direct economic benefit is limited," said Li Chunlei , of the city's propaganda department. "[We see] the political purpose of maintaining friendly relations with Arab states as more important."

Additional reporting by Li Jing