China and Lebanon are expanding and exploring pragmatic cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative
On Nov 9, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Lebanese counterpart Michel Aoun exchanged congratulations on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Lebanon, and vowed to expand pragmatic cooperation.
As two ancient civilizations, China and Lebanon were connected by the ancient Silk Road more than 2,000 years ago, and their friendship has withstood the test of time. The two countries established diplomatic ties on Nov 9, 1971, and bilateral relations have since then been steadily moving forward, making remarkable progress in many fields.
Over the past five decades, China and Lebanon have firmly supported each other and consolidated political mutual trust. As the two countries share historical similarities, China has always supported Lebanon's efforts to safeguard its national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and supported the Lebanese people's will to choose their own development path.
On the other hand, China is grateful for Lebanon's support on issues related to its core interests. The two nations have coordinated closely with each other and reached consensuses on major global and regional issues, setting a good example of countries treating each other sincerely and engaging in mutually beneficial cooperation.
Over the past five decades, China and Lebanon have continuedly expanded their pragmatic cooperation and improved their trade structure. China has been the largest trade partner of Lebanon for many consecutive years. Lebanon joined the Belt and Road Initiative in 2017 and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2021. China has been offering Lebanon assistance with no political strings attached via bilateral or multilateral channels, covering areas such as people's livelihoods, infrastructure, culture and education. Since 2006, China has sent 20 batches of peacekeeping forces to southern Lebanon to participate in operations, including mine clearance, engineering construction and maintenance as well as medical aid. After the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Lebanon last year and after explosions rocked the Beirut port in August 2020, China was among the first countries to rush medical supplies and humanitarian aid to Lebanon.
Over the past five decades, China and Lebanon have reaped the rich fruits of their cultural exchanges. Lebanese writers such as Khalil Gibran and May Ziyadah are well-known in China, having influenced generations of Chinese readers.
Celebrated art troupes such as Beirut's Caracalla Dance Theatre have brought brilliant performances to China, winning the hearts of Chinese audiences. Chinese language education has gradually gained steam in Lebanon, offering an important channel for Lebanese people to learn Chinese culture and understand China. The first Confucius Institute in Arabian countries was established at the Saint Joseph University in Beirut in 2006. The Lebanese University in Beirut began offering Chinese language courses as a major in 2015. Last year saw the two countries signing an agreement to build cultural centers in each other and the groundbreaking ceremony for the China-funded national higher conservatory near Beirut has ushered in a new chapter for their cultural exchanges.
Over the past more than 50 years, many people have made outstanding contributions to the bilateral relations between China and Lebanon.
Shafick George Hatem, a Lebanese-American doctor known as Ma Haide in China, came to the country in 1937, devoting himself to the Chinese revolution and cause for liberation. He was the first foreigner to join the Communist Party of China and obtain Chinese citizenship. He won the Chinese people's respect for his excellent medical skills and lofty spirit of internationalism. Lebanese entrepreneur Pierre Ebu Hatir was dedicated to philanthropy in China. His donations funded the establishment of a Lebanese girls' school in Liaocheng, Shandong province, in 1997, benefiting thousands of families. In 2006, during the Israel-Lebanon conflict, a Chinese peacekeeper Du Zhaoyu, observer to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, tragically died during an Israeli air raid.
The unprecedented changes the world is witnessing now has also created challenges and missions for China and Lebanon. To cooperate at a higher level is not only in the interests of the two countries, but also conducive to regional stability and prosperity. China will keep promoting world peace and development and safeguard the international order. It will support Lebanon in protecting its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and enhance cooperation with Lebanon in global and regional affairs, jointly safeguarding global justice, multilateralism and free trade.
The two sides can explore more practical cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. China will provide assistance to Lebanon within its capacity and proactively participate in UN peacekeeping operations to help Lebanese people tide over difficulties, jointly building a community with a shared future for China and the Arabian countries.
There is heartfelt gratitude for all those who have made contributions to the development of the friendship between China and Lebanon. The two countries and the two peoples will enjoy long-lasting friendship, prosperity and stability.
(Qian MinJian, China's ambassador to Lebanon. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.The views do not necessarily reflect those of this platform.)