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Courting Arab World? China Building 'Silk Road' to the Middle East

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The Chinese government has published its first Arab Policy Paper, which calls for greater political, economic and security cooperation with the region that is Beijing's main supplier of petroleum and seventh largest trading partner.

The document, released ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's first visit to Egypt, paints cooperation in broad strokes: neither does it provide detailed policy initiatives nor name specific Arab countries.

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​Relations with the Arab world, according to Beijing, should be based on China's Silk Road initiative, also known as One Belt, One Road, using a "1+2+3" formula. The $40-billion development strategy, which was unveiled in 2013, is meant to promote economic integration, particularly in Eurasia, and consists of two main components – the land-based "Silk Road Economic Belt" and "Maritime Silk Road."

The "1+2+3" formula views energy as the core element of bilateral cooperation. Developing Infrastructure, as well as promoting trade and investment is seen as the "two wings" of cooperation, while "3" refers to breakthrough areas, including nuclear energy and renewables, as well as space.

When it comes to energy relations between China and the Arab world, "the full truth is even more striking," The Diplomat pointed out. "Saudi Arabia alone is China's largest supplier of oil, and when you factor in Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, the Arab world accounts for over 40 percent of China’s total oil imports."

The document also calls for greater security cooperation between China and the Arab world – an area, which has been largely absent in bilateral relations. In particular, Beijing indicated its willingness to take part in counterterrorism operations in the region.

"China is ready to strengthen anti-terrorism exchanges and cooperation with Arab countries to establish a long-term security cooperation mechanism, strengthen policy dialogue and intelligence information exchange, and carry out technical cooperation and personnel training to jointly address the threat of international and regional terrorism," the policy paper detailed.

The Diplomat maintains that China's contribution to counterterrorism efforts in the Middle East will be multilayered. It is likely to focus primarily on providing financial assistance and offering "capacity building support" to local armed forces than directly participating in military campaigns to tackle terrorism in the region.

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