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Shakeel Ahmad Ramay

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Hilal English

China and OIC: Aiming at New Horizons

April 2022

Approximately 2 billion Muslims are represented by OIC, the second largest international organization. With China’s growing economic and political clout and well established bilateral and multilateral relationship with the Muslim world, OIC forum could prove a game changer for China.



China cherishes a long history of cordial relationship with the Muslim world. Silk Route through China was the preferred route for Muslims traders. They were travelling to and from China to explore the markets of East and West for trade and economic linkages. Modern China capitalized on history and the relations kept on growing; presently, many Muslim countries enjoy a stable and respectful relationship with China. The top leadership of modern China has always emphasized on the need of friendly and brotherly association between China and the Muslim world. In the pursuance of this objective, China diligently developed its policy and is executing it since 1949.
Mr. Wang Yi, State Councilor and Foreign Minister of China, reiterated the same policy in his remarks, while he was attending 48th meeting of Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in Pakistan. He explicitly mentioned that China is eager to build on the past success for a sustainable partnership with the Muslim world. He further said that China is looking for mutually beneficial and respectable bond. This is not rhetoric; China has proved its sincerity by engaging with the Muslim countries. Over the course of time, China has launched a good number of initiatives to engage the Muslim countries at bilateral and multilateral levels. 
On the multilateral level, the most prominent example is China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF). It was established in collaboration with Arab League in 2004 during the visit of President Hu Jintao to Egypt. Since then, China has taken numerous practical steps to show its commitment to the forum. In 2016, a special loan of USD 15 billion was announced for the infrastructure and manufacturing sectors to assist the partner countries of CASCF. President Xi, in 2018, further enhanced the level of engagement by announcing USD 20 billion special loan for economic reconstruction of the region. In 2021, during the fifth China-Arab States Expo, 277 projects were signed worth USD 24 billion to boost the digital economy and green development. Experts believe that it is the beginning of a new era and it will assist CASCF countries to enter the fourth industrial revolution.  
China is also working with other Muslim countries in different blocs or groups like the Muslim countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), South Asia and Central Asia. ASEAN countries have been engaged through initiatives such as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and China-ASEAN partnership. Partnership with South Asian and Central Asian countries has been built through BRI and bilateral relationships.  
On the bilateral level, China is emerging as the major trading partner of Muslim world and CASCF. CASCF observed a sharp increase in trade and it reached USD 240 billion in 2020 from USD 36.4 billion in 2004. Saudi Arabia, from CASCF, is one of the biggest trade partners with USD 67 billion in 2020. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the key hub for the re-export of Chinese products to Africa and the regional countries. Saudi Arabia is also the top oil exporter to China, closely followed by Kuwait, UAE, Sudan and Oman. China has also invested heavily in many Arab countries including $43.47 billion in Saudi Arabia, $36.16 billion in the UAE, $30.05 billion in Iraq, $11.75 billion in Kuwait, $7.8 billion in Qatar, $6.62 billion in Oman, and $1.42 billion in Bahrain (2005-2021, cumulative investment). China-UAE investment fund of USD 10 billion is another example. China is also collaborating with Oman for a special investment fund of USD 10 billion in the Special Economic Zone of Duqm. 
China has deep linkages with Indonesia and the relationship has expanded over time. China is the major trading partner of Indonesia with USD 71 billion in 2020 (export USD 31.7 billion and import USD 39.6). Malaysia also enjoys cordial relations with China. China is also the biggest trade partner of Malaysia with USD 77.8 billion in 2020 (export USD 37.7 billion, import USD 40.1 billion). In the recent years, Iran has emerged as an important trade and investment partner. In 2019, the total trade between Iran-China was USD 23 billion. China has expanded its relationship with Iran in multiple fields and has announced huge investment plans in the fields of economy, trade, infrastructure and technology, etc. China is also looking to increase its oil imports from Iran. China and Iran have signed a 25 years’ strategic agreement as well. 
However, China-Pakistan relation stands out amongst all. China and Pakistan have a history of brotherhood which has no parallel in history. Both countries stood by each other in every circumstance at any cost. While addressing the 48th OIC CFM meeting in Islamabad, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Mr. Wang Yi remarked on Kashmir that “China shares the same hope.” The whole OIC body has taken the stance and advocated for the “inalienable right to self-determination.” However, the extremist right-wing government in India was quick to rebuke the Chinese Foreign Minister’s statement. A statement issued by the Indian Ministry for External Affairs stated, “We reject the uncalled reference to India by the Chinese Foreign Mininster, Wang Yi.” India has long claimed Kashmir Issue as an internal affair. This ire of Indian Ministry of External Affairs highlights India’s irresponsible behaviour to solve international matters and being a country that considers hegemonic designs suitable for its global power ambitions.
The relationship between Pakistan and China is multidimensional and encompasses all areas including economic, social, military, and security, etc.  China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the ultimate example of brotherhood. It is assisting Pakistan to transform the economy with the investment of around USD 62 billion, which can increase in the coming years. Both countries are working together to further strengthen the relationship and explore new areas of cooperation. 
The above discussion established that China has developed a trusted relationship with the Muslim world. The relationship is mutually beneficial and focused on people’s development. Thus, the desire to further strengthen the relationship has merit and shows sincere intensions of China to work with the Muslim world. China is offering the Muslim countries to join the BRI, which is a landmark economic initiative by China. Muslim countries have welcomed the BRI and have shown great enthusiasm to join it. BRI, being an economic and development initiative, is helping the Muslim countries to overcome their economic and social problems. China has also offered cooperation in the fields of science, technology and fourth industrial revolution. The cooperation in science and technology is direly needed, as most of the Muslim countries are lagging behind in this field. Shanghai Import Expo is another excellent initiative where Muslim countries can explore opportunities for trade. 
It is good that Muslim countries are also showing interest and enthusiasm to build a sustainable relation with China. There are four main factors which encourage Muslim countries to build a partnership with China. First, China respects the governance and economic structures of all countries and does not try to export its models of economic development/governance. Second, China is interested to strengthen the economic relationship to foster sustainable development and uplift the living standards of common citizens. China does not get involved in the political or security issues of other countries.  
Third, China promotes peace and development through dialogue. China does not take sides in the conflicts of Muslim countries. China has always focused on facilitating dialogue and development for sustainable peace. For example, in the Middle East, China is working to diffuse the tension and bring back peace. To achieve this objective, China has devised a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, China is investing in economies and providing humanitarian assistance to the people in Yemen, and Syria, etc. On the other hand, China is promoting dialogue among all parties. 
Fourth, China does not have a historical baggage, as it never took sides. Owing to China’s neutral position, Muslims countries believe that China can help to sort out conflicts among the Muslim countries. China always plays a neutral role and thus, the neutral position makes it acceptable to all parties. For example, China has developed a good relationship with Saudi Arabia and Iran, simultaneously. China is investing in both countries and trying to meet their investment needs. It has also emerged as the biggest trading partner of both countries. Thus, China can work with both countries to settle their differences through dialogue. Peaceful settlement of conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Iran will give a huge push to sustainable peace in the region and the Muslim world. It will also encourage other countries to strengthen their relationship with China.
Future Dynamics
There is no second opinion that the global dynamics are changing quite fast. Thus, in the changing global dynamics, China and Muslim countries need each other and they must be cautious and keep working to strengthen their relationship. There is a need to consolidate engagements at one point. For that purpose, OIC provides an excellent platform where China can work with all Muslim countries. China should adopt a two-pronged strategy – short-term and long-term – to engage with OIC member states. For short-term, China can invite all OIC members to build economic and social linkages with Xinjiang. This will also help pave the way for long-term relationship between China and the Muslim world. It will also help to provide a blueprint for the long-term cooperation.
For the long-term partnership, China can initiate the process to devise an agreement with OIC like Regional Comprehensive for Economic Partnership (RCEP) with ASEAN+5 and Comprehensive Agreement for Investment (CAI) with the European Union. It will be easier to develop such an agreement because China is already deeply engaged with almost all Muslim countries. It is also one of the biggest trade partners of the Muslim world. It is high time to put the horse in front of the cart. China and OIC should immediately start negotiation on a possible agreement with the name “OIC-China Comprehensive Agreement for Trade and Investment (OCCATI)”. OCCATI can facilitate both civilizations to engage in constructive dialogue and find a way for peaceful coexistence. OCCATI will also help both parties to march hand in hand to achieve the goal of the community of a shared future.     
In conclusion, it is suggested that Pakistan must take lead to negotiate OCCATI between China and OIC, based on the principles of win-win cooperation, as Pakistan is the only country in the Muslim world that has an ample experience of working with China in multiple fields, i.e., economy, and security, etc.


The writer is CEO of Asian Institute of Eco-Civilization Research and Development. 
E-mail: [email protected]

 

Shakeel Ahmad Ramay

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