BEIJING: China said on Tuesday it will send its Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to Egypt in a show of support, marking Beijing’s first big diplomatic foray into building ties with new governments emerging from upheaval across the Arab world.
Yang will visit the United Arab Emirates for a regional forum, and then go to Egypt, Serbia, Switzerland and Russia in a whirlwind tour from May 1 to 7, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei. Hong could not give a precise date for the Egypt leg of Yang’s trip.
China kept close ties with Egypt’s ousted president Hosni Mubarak, who was thrown out after a wave of protests crippled his government. But Hong made clear that Beijing wants to focus now on building bridges with Egypt’s emerging leaders, who have formed a military-led government.
"This visit is happening after west Asia and north Africa have undergone some changes," Hong said with some understatement at a regular news conference.
"China supports the efforts that Egypt has made towards domestic stability, promoting economic development, and achieving a stable transition," he said.
"We have been and will continue to provide Egypt with what help we can."
Yang will also visit the United Arab Emirates for a meeting with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, said Hong.
Apart from criticizing the Western air campaign against the forces of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s government, China has kept a relatively modest profile in the tumult across the Middle East and north Africa.
Analysts have said that Beijing will carefully foster ties and trade with new governments across the region, while being sure to present itself as a steadfast friend, and oil customer, of governments that ride out the unrest.
Hong’s comments echoed that agenda.
Beijing was "paying attention" to the deadly unrest in Syria, he said. "We hope that Syria can maintain national stability and normal order," he said.
About half of China’s crude imports last year came from the Middle East and North Africa, according to Chinese data.
China wants to diversify supplies, but Arab countries and Iran hold so much of global reserves that there will be no escaping heavy purchases from there.
Yang’s meeting with the countries belonging to the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, may be a chance to firm up political, economic and energy ties.
"China hopes that this dialogue will deepen mutual political trust and expand mutually beneficial cooperation," said Hong. "Both sides have political, trade and economic, energy and other spheres enjoying comprehensive and deepening cooperation."