China backs Gulf peace to ‘pave way for Belt and Road’

Analysts see ulterior motives in Beijing’s efforts to mediate in dispute involving Qatar

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 11:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 11:33pm

China has stepped up its efforts to mediate the tensions between Qatar and other Arab countries as Beijing seeks to secure its growing strategic and economic interests in the region, analysts said.

Their remarks came after Foreign Minister Wang Yi appealed for talks and a peaceful settlement of disputes during meetings with visiting ministers from Qatar on Wednesday and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar in early June, over what they said was its support for terrorism and its close ties with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival in the region.

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Saudi Arabia is China’s third-largest source of oil, while Qatar is its second-largest source of liquefied natural gas.

Arab specialist Li Guofu, from the China Institute of International Studies, said: “China has shown good timing in taking up a mediating role, as the two sides have been demonstrating a stronger will to negotiate.”

In a mediation process led by Kuwait, the four Arab countries have trimmed down their list of demands from 13 to six, and are no longer insisting on the closure of broadcaster Al-Jazeera TV. There has been no response to the pared down demands from Qatar.

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While meeting Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Wang said China was supportive of ­Kuwait’s mediation efforts. “China is good friends and partners with all Gulf countries, and is willing to play a constructive role in promoting peace and negotiations when needed,” he said.

Li said China wanted to avoid taking sides in the dispute as it had strong economic interests with all the parties.

“The Gulf countries have been an oasis in the politically unstable Middle East. China would really hope to see conflicts settled as soon as possible to prepare for more development of the Belt and Road Initiative,” Li said, referring to Beijing’s Eurasian trade plan.

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“Although China will continue to uphold the non-interference approach, it is in a suitable position ... to ease the tension because it has good relations with all the countries involved in the conflict,” he added.

“This is different from the Donald Trump-led United States, which has been accused of backing the boycott [of Qatar].”