Middle East can ‘hold the future in its own hands’, says Chinese envoy

Ambassador Chen Chuandong discusses recent Arab League meeting, Sino-Arab relations, and development

Chinese ambassador to Amman, Chen Chuandong 2
(Photo: Handout from the Chinese Embassy)
AMMAN — On May 19, the Arab League concluded its 32nd summit by adopting the Jeddah Declaration, emphasizing the need for unity in pursuit of security and stability. اضافة اعلان

The meeting, which covered a slew of topics, including the Palestinian cause and developments in Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Lebanon, convened in Jeddah and saw Syria’s participation for the first time in over 12 years. 

The summit was seen as a success by many. Amid shifting relations in the region, specifically the newly thawed ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which China mediated, Jordan News interviewed the Chinese ambassador to Amman, Chen Chuandong, on the importance of this summit to China and its growing role in the region, Jordan included. 

“We believe that the Jeddah Summit fully testifies to the fact that people in the Middle East are capable, have the wisdom, and have the power to promote peace, stability, and development in the region,” said Chen. 

“They are able to hold the future in their own hands.”

The Jeddah Summit closely succeeded two other significant summits in just 10 months. The inaugural meeting was the Security and Development Summit, which took place in Jeddah and saw the participation of six GCC countries, along with Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and US President Joe Biden. Following this, the Saudi capital, Riyadh, hosted a two-part summit led by China, with the first round involving Gulf countries and the second involving other Arab countries.

For the Jeddah Summit, China welcomed the Arab-led initiative, with the Chinese envoy emphasizing: “We do not believe that the Middle East needs any lecturer, and we do not believe there is any vacuum in the region, as said by some political leaders from some countries.”

‘Development and security’ over ‘confrontation and division’Coinciding with the Arab League summit, two other major meetings took place: the China-Central Asia summit, in Xi’an, China, and the G7 Summit, in Hiroshima, Japan.

The Chinese president Xi Jinping attended the first in-person China-Central Asia summit, in which the leaders of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan also took part. He vowed to increase transport and energy ties with the region. However, at the G7 summit, leaders strongly condemned China. They pledged to step up their efforts to counter Beijing’s “economic coercion” and growing presence in the East and South China Seas while raising concern over Taiwan, nuclear arms, and human rights abuses.

“The Xi’an Summit, like the Jeddah Summit, came up with a very strong Asian voice. A voice for a community of shared future that is based on common development and shared security said Chen. 

“Unfortunately … the Hiroshima summit tried to sow discord and incite confrontation and division… in the name of fighting economic coercion, and they are practicing decoupling and disrupting the supply chain in the name of de-risking.”

“In my view, the Jeddah Summit and the Xi’an Summit are catalysts for cooperation and win-win solutions, while unfortunately, the Hiroshima Summit is a dynamite that (tried) to blow up international solidarity.”

Syria’s returnThe presence of Syrian President Assad at the Jeddah summit points to shifting perspective of regional actors.

Over a decade after Syria's suspension from the pan-Arab organization following a violent crackdown on opposition demonstrators and the subsequent war, Arab capitals seem to know increasingly share the consensus that resolving Syria's challenges necessitates engaging with the authorities in Damascus.

Jordan led the effort to facilitate Syria’s return. Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told CNN: “The whole movement in the Arab world to try and have a leading role in efforts to bring about a political end to the Syrian crisis took place against a backdrop, a reality in which there was no effective effort to solve the crisis.”

“It was pretty much status quo politics, and status quo politics only resulted in more ills and more pain and suffering for the Syrian people and growing threats to the region, including Jordan,” he said.

According to the latest statistics, Jordan has around 740,676 Syrian refugees registered. The total figure, however, is closer to 1.3 million. This large influx of refugees has put a strain on Jordan’s already limited resources, further exacerbating the Kingdom economic woes. 

To China, Syria’s return is a cause to be celebrated, according to the envoy.

“We are very much heartened by this development. …we believe that after so many years of conflict and human suffering in Syria, the return of Syria to the Arab fold is a victory for unity and dialogue,” said the ambassador. 

“Jordan is a very generous country.… But, as rightly put by His Majesty and also high officials of Jordan, the burden of the refugees should not be borne by Jordan because they are not Jordan's problem. It is not Jordan's fault. So, it is the international (community's) responsibility.” 

“We believe that the return of Syria to the Arab League will provide a very good opportunity for Arab countries to address that.” 

Emphasizing China’s humanitarian and health efforts to alleviate some of the pressure on Jordan, the ambassador highlighted the need for post-conflict reconstruction and for a recovery program to start very soon.

“Sanctions … should be removed against the Syrians,” he added. 

On PalestineThe Arab League meeting discussed the Palestinian cause, and members reaffirmed its centrality and reiterated Palestine’s right “to absolute authority over all territories occupied in 1967, including east Jerusalem”.

The Chinese ambassador said: “We believe that the Palestinian question is the core issue for the Middle East. Until the very day the issue is resolved, there will be no peace in the region, no international justice can be done.”

“We (China) believe that there should be a greater sense of urgency to solve the issue. China has been upholding justice for the Palestinian people. We have consistently and firmly supported the just cause of the Palestinian people to restore their legitimate national rights. And so, we support the Palestinian people's effort to establish an independent state of Palestine based on the 1967 border and with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Over the past decade, the Chinese president has consistently conveyed congratulatory messages to the UN in honor of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, said the ambassador. He has presented China's proposals for resolving the Palestinian issue in these messages on multiple occasions. China also organized four peace symposiums that brought together individuals from both Palestine and Israel, intending to mobilize collective efforts to foster peace, said the ambassador.

Sino-Arab and Sino-Jordanian relations “We, in China, have always looked at China-Arab relations from a strategic and also from a comprehensive point of view. We are ready to work with our Arab partners, including, of course, Jordan, to follow up on the outcome of the first China-Arab summit,” said Chen. 

“I wish to emphasize that China does not have a selfish interest in the region, we do not seek to (spread) influence, and we do not impose our values on the people of the region,” he added. 

Earlier in March, Saudi Arabia officially became a dialogue partner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance is recognized as the world’s largest regional organization, with eight members, four observer states, and several dialogue partners.

The ambassador said that various other countries in the region are trying to become members or partners of the organization as well, including Iran.

“We welcome this new development. We believe that an enlarged Shanghai cooperation organization would be more inclusive and more representative. It would play a more important role in bringing peace and stability to the world and, of course, to the Middle East."

At local level, Jordan and China established diplomatic ties 46 years ago, and last year, the two countries hit a record in their bilateral trade, which reached $6.45 billion. 

“We fully support the all-around reform efforts in Jordan and the Economic Modernization Vision in line with Jordan's national conditions and traditions, and culture. And we are committed to working with Jordan for the high-quality Belt and Road initiative cooperation,” said the envoy.

According to Chen, many Chinese businesses are seeking new opportunities in Jordan.

“We hope that Jordan will continue to provide a fair, level-playing, transparent and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese investors,” he said.

Culture is another pillar of Sino-Jordanian ties.

“In Jordan, we have over 300 Chinese students studying Arabic and other related subject matters. And in China, we also have about 300 Jordanian students, many of them on Chinese government scholarships, studying various disciplines in China. … I believe these people-to-people exchanges are very important to ensure that we have an even more solid foundation for our relationship.”

“Of course, the good friendship between our leaders and the strategic vision of our leaders is the fundamental guarantee of our very good relationship. I would like to take this opportunity to offer our best wishes to HRH Crown Prince Hussein and Miss Rajwa for their incoming wedding. We would like to offer the best, most sincere congratulations from the Chinese side,” said the ambassador who also wished to extend his well wishes to Jordanians on Independence Day, which falls on Thursday.

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