A Glimpse on My Participation in the Arab Chinese Friendship Conference
From a group of young Palestinian leaders, I was fortunate enough to be one of a group selected by the Palestinian Chinese Friendship Association as one of the Palestinian Ambassadors for the Arab Chinese Friendship Program. The program was inaugurated at the Peace Palace in Beijing on the 20th of July 2016 at which 9 Arab youth delegations attended, along with Arab Ambassadors, Academics and Chinese students Diplomats and Politicians. Later, during our trip which lasted for a week, we visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the University of Beijing as well as numerous sites of historical, cultural and political significance. We also went to the city of Xian where both myself and my colleagues could not help but be awestruck by the grandeur of the mountains and the geography of the region in general.
The conference was held to mark the 60th anniversary of the formalization of Chinese-Arab relations, and the Friendship Association still aims to provide opportunities for young Chinese and Arab leaders to build on existing relations and strengthen them even further for the future. By providing even more opportunities for exchange and networking, the hosts, and indeed all Association members, are convinced that more doors to co-operation will be opened and greater numbers of Arab countries will avail themselves of the opportunity to develop ever more active relationships with China.
During the last 60 years, Chinese-Arab relations have come a long way and continue to develop apace. Strategic partnerships between Arab countries and China have been established and this process continues to accelerate, as the constant visits of China’s President, Xi Jinping, to partner countries, demonstrates. Xi Jinping highlighted the importance of these relationships during his speech to the Arab League 21st of January, 2016, where he emphasized both the historical importance, and the influential role of young leaders, in expanding these vital relationships.
As the Palestinian Youth Ambassador, I gave a speech during this conference identifying the course of historical Palestinian-Chinese relations and China’s key role in supporting the Palestinian cause. China has consistently showed its support, in a variety of ways, for the Palestinian people both at home and throughout the Diaspora. This support has come in the form of very practical political encouragement, economic aid and myriad kinds of help in logistical terms. The relationship began when China recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the first Non-Arab country to do so. With that recognition came Chinese endorsement of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and their ultimate ambition to secure, as soon as possible, a political entity of their own that would represent them.
When I interviewed Palestinians who lived in Tunisia during that time, they referred to the photos of Mao Tse Dung hanging in the classrooms that were funded by the Chinese government and which provided them with the opportunity to gain an education. All concurred that “it was the ideas and theories of the Chinese revolution that we first interacted with, this was way before we understood the strategic importance of China”. It is, perhaps, surprising, at first sight, that two people that initially might seem so very different in terms of cultural background could actually have so much in common. A closer analysis of the struggle the Chinese people had to undergo to free themselves from Western domination, and subsequently Japanese invasion reveals numerous similarities between their struggle against huge odds and that of the Palestinians, who like the Chinese, found themselves having to fight for an identity and a legitimate, recognized place in the world. The Chinese, like the Palestinians, found themselves bereft of material support, or any means other than their people, to fight their cause. The privations suffered by so many Chinese in the struggle for a truly independent state, exemplified so clearly in the hardships endured on The Long March, have their parallels in the sufferings that so many Palestinians have had to, and continue to have to, endure. Just as those Chinese patriots who so willingly continued, against the odds, to fight for their just cause, so the Palestinians, too, have that dogged determination to seek a just solution to their plight and take inspiration from those that never gave up and never lost their hope for a better tomorrow. Those early revolutionaries in China had a belief and that sustained them even when all seemed lost. So, too, with the Palestinians, idealism sustains the struggle no matter what the odds and the example of the Chinese tells us that there can be a resolution.
The main purpose of this particular conference was to present the “ Belt and Road Initiative,” a development strategy launched by the Chinese government aimed at promoting economic cooperation between countries along the proposed Belt and Road routes. Dr. Bassam, the chairman of the Chinese Arab Friendship Association, pointed out the importance of this Initiative for both the Chinese and Arabs. He added that the Initiative differs from any Western, and especially American, initiatives because China has a different perspective than that of many Western nations; its singular goal is to develop the economy of China and the countries with whom they are cooperating.In the last decade, the Chinese and Palestinian presidents have exchanged visits, the number of which has increased after China’s recognition of the State of Palestine. This has successfully strengthened the already strong diplomatic relations and, as a result, many agreements have been signed between the two countries including educational and cultural cooperation agreements in 2003 and an agreement on economic and trade cooperation in 2005.
Coming from the Arab world today, a world where 366 million Arabs live in 22 countries, with a tendency for divisions based on religious sects, and bitter political disputes sometimes inter-mixed with religious intolerance, I found one of the most fascinating aspects of China to be its ability to unify 1.3 billion people from different religions and backgrounds, enabling them to share one identity, and create a collective, national vision and perspective of a nation constantly striving towards achieving a better quality of life and a more influential position within the international community. The particular strength of China’s approach is that it is being achieved while maintaining that connection to, and reverence for, their roots. Possibly this is because China has not been so affected, as other nations, by globalization and, consequently, their culture, language, cuisine and uniqueness has not been as diluted to the same extent as is apparent in many Western societies. This is not to say that China does not have issues, some of them extremely challenging, in relation to particular ethnic groups and in the transition to a fully democratic state but by and large the Chinese can claim with a degree of accuracy that more than 1.3 billion people from different religions, ethnic groups, and minorities are all living in one country with one accepted vision, encapsulated in an aspiration to see their country flourish and develop. Those who took part in that Long March would have been proud of what they and their children have achieved. I have no doubt that the Palestinians involved in their version of the Long March will, in due course, be equally proud of their endeavors.
For the whole Arab world, and Palestine in particular, relationships with China are a cornerstone to building a better future. Our shared values and aspirations, our insistence on maintaining our individual identity, and our willingness to accept that friends do not need to hold identical beliefs about all aspects of life suggest that the partnership between the two peoples is crucial to both.