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Translated by Bing-sheng Lee

From January 19 to 23, Xi Jinping, president of China, will visit the Middle East for the first time as president. He will first arrive in Saudi Arabia and visit Egypt and Iran in the next five days. Xi aims to promote the “One Belt, One Road” strategy and build collaborations with the three countries on several issues, including energy, trade and technology. This is China’s first major diplomatic mission in 2016 and it also marks the start of China’s thirteenth five-year plan.

CNA reports, China and Saudi Arabia signed 14 agreements and memos encompassing business cooperation, aerospace engineering and renewable energy. They established a consultative platform against terrorism and will work together to build nuclear power plants. The two countries will issue a joint statement on forming a comprehensive strategic partnership. Xi will also meet Abdul-Latif Al-Zayani, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In addition, a strategic partnership with Iran will be built.

Newtalk reports, in the aftermath of Saudi Arabia’s execution of a well-known Shia Sheikh, Nimr al-Nimr, on January 2, Iran strongly denounced the act and Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Iran was under attack from protesters. Saudi Arabia later announced that they decided to sever the diplomatic relations with Iran, which was followed by Sudan and Bahrain, aggravating the tension between the two nations.

►Related News: Tension Rises in the Middle East as Saudi Arabia Cuts Diplomatic Ties with Iran

Most Chinese Muslims, including Hui people, live in the northwestern part of China and Yunnan Province on the southwestern side. These muslims, such as Uyghurs, are primarily sunnis and only few of them believe in Shia.

Liberty Times reports, Egypt was the first African nation to establish diplomatic relations with China. China’s ties with Iran also have a very long history with China currently the biggest oil buyer of Iran. The largest petroleum supplier for China, Saudi Arabia has been the most important trade partner of China in the Arab world for ten consecutive years, and is responsible for a sixth of China’s oil import.

On January 18, Zhang Ming, China’s vice minister of foreign affairs, said on that President Xi will exchange opinions with other leaders in response to the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia that undermines the stability in the Middle East. China, however, will insist on its position of fairness and balance, pushing for peace and stability in the area.

China Times reports, Xi’s goal is simply to protect China’s interests in the Middle East instead of replacing the role of the US. Compared to the South China Sea disputes and Taiwan, Beijing does not care that much about Washington’s strong influence over the region.

Initium Media reports, Chinese scholars believe that Xi’s goal of this trip has always been trade advantages. Li Guo-fu, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at China Institute of International Studies, says that China is not the intermediary between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and China is only looking to reinforce its interests. He also mentions that both Saudi Arabia and Iran do not expect China to declare its stand regarding their conflict.

UDN reports, Egypt will be the second stop during Xi’s visit and he will talk to Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, sign agreements and meet with other Egyptian leaders. He will also attend events regarding China-Egypt cultural exchange. Magdi Amer, ambassador of Egypt to China, says that China will offer Central Bank of Egypt a loan worth US$1 billion to bolster Egypt’s foreign exchange reserves. Moreover, both countries will engage in discussions on infrastructure investments, including traffic, electricity, housing and agriculture.

The third stop of the trip will be Iran. Xi is going to have a conversation with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, and Hassan Rouhani, president of Iran. China and Iran will announce their cooperative agreements on energy, finance, railroad, free trade zone based on the grounds that China has the biggest share of Iran’s oil export and remains the world’s largest energy importer.

Edited by Olivia Yang