China Daily 2013-09-17
Xi seeks to resume FTA talks with Arab states
By Li Xiaokun ( China Daily)
President Xi Jinping on Monday called for an early restart of negotiations for a free trade area between China and the Gulf Cooperation Council, which Xi called an important partner of China.
Xi made the remarks while meeting King of Bahrain Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-khalifa at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
The meeting came as more than 7,300 officials and businesspeople from China and nearly 70 other countries gathered in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region for an expo that includes China and Arab states.
"China and the GCC are important political, economic, trade and energy cooperation partners," a Foreign Ministry statement quoted Xi as saying on Monday.
"The two sides should restart China-GCC free trade area negotiations at an early date and reach a win-win agreement as soon as possible," Xi said.
He also called for the two sides to set up a close and comprehensive relationship.
Premier Li Keqiang also met the king on Monday.
The GCC is a political and economic union of six Arab states that border the Persian Gulf — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All six are oil exporters.
Bahrain holds the rotating presidency of the group this year.
"The friendship between China and the Arab world dates back to several hundred, even several thousand years. We have common values and principles," the Bahrain’s king said.
He said people from both sides love peace and stability and expect to realize the goal around the world, and both peoples believe disputes should be settled through dialogue and communication.
The king said he is in China to push for ties between the two countries, the GCC and the whole Arab world.
"I believe this is a historic visit," he said.
He also said his country is committed to developing ties between China and the GCC and will make efforts to establish the free trade area at an early date.
Bahrain and the GCC are willing to strengthen communication and cooperation with China on key international and regional issues, he said.
The two leaders witnessed the signing of agreements on sectors such as energy, finance and education.
Wu Sike, China’s envoy to the Middle East, said Bahrain plays a unique role in the cementing of the China-GCC relationship.
The two countries both oppose military intervention in the Syrian crisis and are calling for a political solution to the issue, he said.
Wu said that despite profound changes in the Arab world in recent years, China has been consistent in its policy — respecting people’s own choices, maintaining good relationships and supporting development of the region.
As a result, cooperation between China and Arab countries has maintained positive momentum.
China’s trading volume with Arab states in 2012 was $222.4 billion, a 13.5 percent increase from 2011, Wu noted.
In the first half of this year, China imported 64.7 million tons of crude oil from the region, accounting for 46.2 percent of all the crude oil Beijing imported in the same period, he added.
Li Guofu, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said Bahrain greatly appreciates Beijing’s stance of not interfering in Middle East countries’ domestic affairs while maintaining order in international relations.
"Turmoil in the Middle East has made regional countries realize the importance of stability," Li said.
Xinhua and Mo Jingxi contributed to this story.