Wang Xiaoying/China Daily
President Xi Jinping started his first tour of the Middle East on Tuesday, during which he will visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran. After fully assuming the country's leadership in March 2013, Xi has visited many countries, which signify China's increasingly maturing all-round diplomacy. And that is precisely why Xi's visit to the Middle East, which is also his first foreign tour in 2016, has acquired additional importance.
The visit, to begin with, highlights the strategic importance of the Middle East for China's Belt and Road Initiative. The initiative, comprising the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, is aimed at creating a community of shared economic dividends and destiny along both the routes. The Middle East, which is a bridge between China and Europe, is a vital link in the success of the initiative.
Besides, the Middle East has about 60 percent of the world's energy reserves and encircles the most important shipping route. The importance of the Gulf of Aden, the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz for the global economy is often compared with that of a throat for a human body.
In addition, the Middle East has a lot of potential to deepen cooperation with China. Middle East countries in general have economic structures that are complementary to that of China's. For example, the Middle East lags behind in infrastructure and manufacturing industries but has huge oil reserves while China is just the opposite. Therefore, China needs the Middle East to secure its energy supplies and implement its strategic projects. Moreover, since the Middle East is important for the rest of the world too, any volatility in the region will have a global impact, including on China.
China is committed to strengthening its energy and industrial cooperation with Middle East countries, and since Iran and Saudi Arabia both are major energy suppliers for China, some new oil agreements with them can be expected during Xi's visit.
Egypt may not be as rich in energy resources, but it has a population of 80 million. And since youths account for quite a high percentage of that population, the country's growth potential is high.
All the three countries on Xi's itinerary have huge demands for infrastructure construction, such as railways, expressways and power stations. And China can help them meet these demands both in the short and long terms. That's partly why Xi is paying a visit to the Middle East at a time when Iran and Saudi Arabia are involved in a diplomatic row, which started when Riyadh arrested and executed Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr on charges of terrorism. However, the political row between Teheran and Riyadh is not expected to influence their separate friendly ties with China.
China enjoys a unique advantage in the Middle East, because unlike other powers it has never sought to portray itself like an empire. It treats Middle East countries as equal partners instead of imposing its own logic upon them, which allows it to play a bigger role in helping prevent regional disputes from escalating into major conflicts, if not settling them for good.