Since the 2013 announcement of China’s historic “Belt and Road” initiative, several countries in the region, including Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, have raised the issue of moving east to to benefit from this massive initiative, which should break the vicious circle of crises in which these countries have been plunged for decades.
The Chinese initiative aims to connect China to Europe by building billions of dollars worth of infrastructure along the Silk Road. Ports, highways, railways and industrial areas are all included in this initiative. More than 120 countries are involved in this vast Chinese project, which aims to increase Chinese exports to major world markets.
On December 31, 1955, China and Lebanon signed a trade agreement to develop goodwill between the peoples of Lebanon and China through trade relations and economic cooperation between their two nations on the basis of equal benefits. and mutually beneficial. China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, which aims to connect Asia, Europe and Africa via land and sea trade routes, is based on the idea that these connections are mutually beneficial for all parties involved.
The initiative is based on open collaboration and does not engage in protectionism; is dedicated to mutual benefit and win-win and does not engage in a zero-sum game; moreover, he does not interfere with politics. It does not create new laws; instead, follow international conventions.
“Joint promotion” agreements were signed by the Chinese government and the Lebanese government in September 2017 to promote cooperation in this area. According to the MoU, the two countries will work together in areas of mutual interest such as transport and logistics; infrastructure development; investments in renewable energies; and intercultural exchange.
Prior to the signing of this Memorandum of Understanding, the two countries had signed numerous agreements in various fields, including the Maritime Transport Agreement (1996), Activation and Protection of Mutual Investments (1997), economic, commercial and technical cooperation (1997 -2016), the agreement on civil air transport (1997), a cultural agreement (2002-2005), and several agreements in this field which resulted on December 2, 2019 in the laying of the first stone of this memorandum of understanding.
Despite the growing ties between Lebanon and China, the Lebanese have not yet decided whether to move east, more specifically to China, or to maintain strong ties and ties with Western governments, such as the United States and France, for political reasons linked to the sectarian system, as well as to the economic and commercial interests of certain actors or parties active in these fields.
Regarding Lebanon’s relations with China, some have shifted the focus from economics to politics, either advocating a complete shift in the country’s economic focus from the United States to China, or putting warns of the potential consequences of expanding relations with the Chinese. side. In both cases, the link shifts from national interests to ideological advantages. Arab countries and Lebanon have never had a problem with China, whether in trade, culture or politics; China has dozens of big projects in many Arab countries without those countries looking eastward or fearing any US encroachment.
China also contributes to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, in addition to its cultural, educational and artistic agreements with Lebanon. The positive feedback from the partnership with China can be seen in the tremendous progress of technology and infrastructure projects in Egypt, for example; or the Algerian ports; Morocco’s industrial sector; Kuwait’s petroleum and communications industries; Saudi Arabia’s petroleum and communications industries; and the energy and agriculture industries of the United Arab Emirates.
“Sanctions have not been threatened against Lebanon due to China’s growing trade ties with Lebanon, which amount to nearly $2 billion a year in exports to Lebanon, compared to just $60 million million worth of Lebanon’s industrial exports to China,” the US side said.
China is a power with the second largest economy in the world, while Lebanon is a small nation with economic difficulties and a large trade imbalance. On the other hand, it is located at a strategic location that allows it to serve as a gateway between the Middle East and Europe. There is therefore potential for significant economic and trade intertwining between China and Lebanon, which could be beneficial for both nations.
More than ten billion dollars worth of development projects, including cleaning up the Litani River and resolving the country’s electricity crisis, have been offered to the Lebanese government by China. Other offers included China’s participation in the oil and gas sector, the transformation of Lebanon into a Chinese regional financial center and the expansion of the port of Tripoli. Because the United States rejected any Chinese involvement in Lebanon, the Lebanese side was not enthusiastic about these initiatives.
China’s relations with the Middle East are based on mutual benefit, common gain, cooperative growth and a win-win situation. China does not seek to exert influence in the region. On the other hand, the new Chinese ambassador to Lebanon, Qian Minjian, notes that the Lebanese government and political parties have expressed a positive will to deepen practical cooperation with China within the framework of the “Belt and the road” ; He stressed that the Chinese side always seeks to cooperate with Lebanon under the Belt and Road Initiative, with a commitment to do so.
Chinese and Lebanese diplomatic relations began in 1971, but commercial ties between the two countries date back to 1955, when the first trade agreement was signed between them, noting that these relations date back more than two thousand years.
Those who downplay China’s global economic, technological and financial influence in contrast to the growing American influence and refuse to support the expansion or deepening of Lebanon’s ties with China under this pretext do not provide clear or logic on international expectations that China will hold the highest economic position in the world. China’s Strategic Belt and Road Initiative will have attracted dozens of countries and thousands of successful institutions and enterprises globally by 2030, alongside the success of the United States and their Western allies to prevent this project from getting started and progressing despite the campaigns they have launched to stop it. As a result, the media and propaganda risk denigrating it and doubting its merits for participating countries.
Lebanon has not accepted or considered the Chinese offers or projects presented to it. Based on its long and distinguished history of relations with China in the economic, commercial, cultural and technical fields, and in order to avoid repeating Iraq’s failed experience by repudiating a strategic partnership agreement with China under the influence of the United States; therefore, the Lebanese government should be more aware of its relations with the Chinese in the future and not miss more opportunities.
When there are objections or reservations on the interests of monopolistic powers and activities or on foreign political demands, especially American ones, it means more political and economic confusion in Lebanon and a waste of a historic opportunity that does not cannot be repeated as long as Arab or foreign alternatives remain conditioned by suspicious political demands, in addition to its lack of transparency and waving a new colonial era economically.