Top-level China forum to bring Qatar back to Arab League table
Ministers from isolated Gulf state will attend meeting in Beijing alongside neighbours as Doha seeks to capitalise on Chinese demand for energy
Ministers from all 22 Arab League states, including isolated Qatar, will meet for the first time in a year in Beijing next week as China steps up its engagement with the Middle East.
The officials will be in the Chinese capital on Tuesday for the China-Arab States Ministerial Meeting, which will be opened by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut commercial and diplomatic ties with Qatar more than a year ago over Qatar’s alleged support for Iran, extremist groups, and meddling in their internal affairs – claims that Doha denies.
“Ministers from Arab countries who attend this forum cover all member states of the Arab League,” Chinese assistant minister for foreign affairs Chen Xiaodong said on Friday.
“As to ties between Qatar and other countries, we are very clear that all sides should care about the others’ concerns, and find ways to alleviate the situation through dialogue.”
The meeting will take place a day after Beijing and Doha mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties.
Relations between the two countries have warmed in the last year and Qatar is aiming to cushion the blows from its regional isolation by capitalising on China’s fast-growing demand for natural gas and its overseas investment and infrastructure pushes.
China’s imports of LNG grew by about 46 per cent to 38 million tonnes last year, making it the second-biggest consumer of the fuel after Japan. Qatar accounts for roughly a fifth of China’s supplies.
Qatar’s exports to China jumped over 60 per cent last year compared to 2016 and China has replaced the United States as the top source of Qatar’s imports, accounting for nearly 15 per cent.
China is also extensively involved in the infrastructure boom in Qatar, playing an integral part in the construction of the Lusail Iconic Stadium for the 2022 Fifa World Cup, Hamad Port in Doha and other infrastructure works across the country.
But China is also keen to strengthen cooperation with Saudi Arabia, with Xi telling Saudi King Salman last year that China supported the Gulf state in its efforts to safeguard its sovereignty.
Chen said regional peace was one of the key targets of next week’s meeting.
“As a permanent member of the [United Nations] Security Council, China has always cared about peace and stability in the Middle East,” he said. “Xi will put forward China’s solutions on key issues in the Middle East in the speech.”
Several agreements are also expected to be signed between China and the Arab states on Tuesday, including a three-year action plan involving the “Belt and Road Initiative”, Beijing’s infrastructure drive to link economies into a China-centred trading network.
Qatar did not send a senior representative to an Arab League summit in the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran in April and the dispute was not discussed at the gathering.