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Monday, January 18, 2016, 18:08

China aims for balance in Middle East with Xi trip

By Agencies

China aims for balance in Middle East with Xi trip
Vice-foreign minister of China Zhang Ming delivers a speech during the inauguration ceremony of the Consulate General of People's Republic of China on Dec 30, 2014 in Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in north ern Iraq. (AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED)

BEIJING - China intends to retain a balanced stance in the Middle East, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Ming said on Monday, as President Xi Jinping prepared to leave this week to Saudi Arabia a

"President Xi will exchange views with leaders of the three countries on major international and regional issues to jointly advance peace and stability in the region and the world," Zhang said at a press briefing about Xi's visit from Jan 19 to 24.

Tensions between the Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Muslim Iran have escalated since Saudi authorities executed Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr on Jan 2, triggering outrage among Shi'ites.

In response, Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad, prompting Riyadh to sever relations. Tehran then cut all commercial ties with Riyadh, and banned pilgrims from travelling to Mecca.

Zhang told reporters China was not taking sides. "Regarding some of the region's problems, China has always taken a balanced and just position," Zhang said, when asked about tensions between Riyadh and Tehran.

"If the Middle East is not stable, I'm afraid the world can't be very peaceful. If a country or a region is not stable, it cannot realize development," he added.

"China firmly supports regional countries individually exploring a development path that suits their national conditions."

"The Chinese side has maintained thorough communication with countries in the Middle East through various channels in a bid to ease regional tensions," Zhang said in a statement.

He said China has called on the international community to support all stakeholders in the Middle East to resolve disputes and differences through inclusive dialogue.

During his visit to Saudi Arabia, Xi will hold talks with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to discuss lifting bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership. Xi will hold separate meetings with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary-General Abdul Latif Bin Rushid Al Zayani and the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General Iyad Ameen Madani. The two sides will exchange views on promoting China's cooperation with the GCC and Islamic nations.

During the visit to Egypt, Zhang said, Xi will speak at the headquarters of the League of Arab States (LAS), making clear China's policy and propositions on promoting peace and development in the Middle East. He will also put forward suggestions on deepening pragmatic cooperation between China and Middle East nations.

In Iran, Xi will hold talks with Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, according to Zhang. China-Iran relations are facing important opportunities as interactions between Iran and the international community have grown markedly since the sealing of a comprehensive deal on the Iranian nuclear issue in 2015. The Chinese side will work with Iran to turn Xi's visit into a milestone in the development of bilateral ties.

China has recently hosted both Syria's foreign minister and opposition officials.

A Chinese president has not visited Saudi Arabia since 2009 when Hu Jintao went, and Jiang Zemin was the last Chinese president to visit Iran, going in 2002.

Zhang said energy was an "important part" of cooperation.

An official at state giant, Sinopec, said Xi may attend a ceremony to mark the successful operations of its joint venture Yasref refinery in Saudi Arabia.

Sinopec is targeting more engineering and construction contracts for refineries and petrochemical plants, said the official.

CNPC, parent of PetroChina, is also restructuring its Middle East operations, aiming to offer more integrated services from exploration to engineering, a company source said.

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