China has vowed to work with six Middle East nations to help protect their core interests against foreign interference and allegations of human rights abuses, as all the parties face rising pressure from the United States.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the promise on Tuesday at the end of his week-long trip to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, UAE, Bahrain and Oman. During his visit he sought to garner support from the mostly Islamic countries for China, which itself is facing sanctions from the US, European Union, Britain and Canada over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Wang also suggested launching a regional security dialogue, to be hosted by China, and promoted the use of local currencies for trade settlements, an idea Beijing is keen on to reduce its dependence on the US dollar.
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“China and the six nations will continue giving mutual support to each other regarding their core interests. This is the most important outcome of the trip,” he told Chinese state media.
“We oppose imposing ideology on others, and using human rights to interfere in other nations’ affairs and smear them.”
Wang’s trip came after a high-level meeting earlier this month between US and Chinese officials in Alaska, at which the foreign minister and China’s foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi engaged in a public dispute with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on a range of issues including human rights and the South China Sea.
The European Union subsequently imposed sanctions on Chinese officials and entities linked to allegations of genocide and the use of forced labour. Britain, Canada and the US all followed suit, and Beijing retaliated with tit-for-tat sanctions.
On Tuesday, Blinken said Washington would speak out against human rights abuses wherever they occurred in the world, including in America and countries the US regarded as allies.
Presenting the first human rights report of US President Joe Biden’s presidency, Blinken highlighted a number of alleged abuses – including in China – and again spoke of the “genocide” being committed against people from the Uygur ethnic minority group.
The report also detailed allegations of unlawful killings and torture in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Biden earlier declassified US intelligence reports that concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman authorised the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
The dispute over Xinjiang escalated last week as foreign brands, including Swedish fashion chain H&M, were boycotted in mainland China for distancing themselves from Xinjiang cotton. The US said the boycotts were state-led, while Beijing said the human rights allegations were part of a disinformation campaign launched by Washington.
Both China and the US have sought support from their allies as the hostilities have heightened. The US highlighted its rivalry with China during a meeting with Europe, and while Wang did not name any country, his remarks about his Middle East trip were seen as targeting the US.
“Countries should break free from the shadows of big power geopolitical rivalry,” he said. “Regional conflicts and differences should be resolved through political means and dialogue, and negotiation instead of imposition.”
Of the nations Wang visited, only Turkey commented on the Xinjiang issue, saying last week it “conveyed our sensitivity and thoughts on Uygur Turks”.
The UAE highlighted the launch of a Chinese coronavirus vaccine, Iran signed a 25-year development plan with China on energy, trade and infrastructure, Oman signed a visa-exemption agreement and Bahrain focused on the coronavirus pandemic and trade cooperation.
In one veiled remark against the US, Wang described the sanctions against Iran as “unilateral” and “long arm” and said they needed to be cancelled to allow for a resumption of the nuclear talks that collapsed after Donald Trump’s administration imposed punitive measures on Tehran.
Wang also said that China could host a security forum to help relaunch the collapsed Iran nuclear deal, which Biden’s administration said it would rejoin if Iran returned to its earlier commitments.
“Chinese officials have already gone to Moscow to discuss with Iran and Russia a road map and timetable for resuming the Iran nuclear deal,” he said.
“We can start with issues such as ensuring the safety of oil facilities and waterways to build up mutual trust first, and then deal with difficult issues.”
Wang said China and the Middle East would boost energy trade and investment, and also cooperate more on 5G and artificial intelligence. China has so far provided 38 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to 17 Middle East nations.
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