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Bahrain’s relationship with China extends back to many centuries. Our relationship is deeply rooted in common history, geography, culture, and economic exchanges.
The Silk Road was opened in 139 BC under the Han Dynasty and Bahrain had most likely traded with China and other countries in Asia along the Silk Road and across sea lanes for over two millennia.
Another recent milestone in our relationship was the historic visit of HM King Hamad Bin ISA Al Khalifa to China in 2013. During that visit, many major agreements were signed in investment and trade as well as culture, education, science, and health exchanges. Ever since this visit, the Bahraini Economic Development Board makes an annual trip to China with prominent business people to explore new opportunities, develop partnerships and deepen the ties between our countries.
The results of these efforts have been stunning. From 2015 to 2018, Chinese investment in Bahrain has grown. Leading global companies have invested in Bahrain. International trade has also increased sharply.
As we reflect on the past 30 years, our partnership has grown, diversified into so many areas and strengthened: it is our expectation that this trend will continue into the future with new milestones to be achieved with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the development of the Community of Common Destiny as foundations.
China’s remarkable achievements in 70 years
On behalf of the Kingdom of Bahrain, I wish to congratulate the People’s Republic of China on the 70th anniversary of its establishment and on its 40th anniversary of reforms and opening-up that have led to so many remarkable achievements.
Since introducing its reform and opening-up in 1978, China has transformed from a centrally planned to a more market-based economy, and in the process ushered in a sustained period of rapid economic and social development. China’s real GDP growth has averaged nearly 10% annually – the fastest sustained expansion by a major economy in history, according to World Bank figures. Today, China has the world’s second-largest economy. Astonishingly, more than 850 million people have lifted themselves out of abject poverty.
A clear and impressive measure of its success is that China reached all the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 and it has made a major contribution to the achievement of the MDGs globally. China’s 13th Five-Year Plan emphasizes the development of services and measures to address environmental and social imbalances, setting targets to reduce pollution, increase energy efficiency, improve access to education and healthcare, and expand social protection.
China has emerged as a major force on the world stage for sustainable economic development. The World Bank confirmed that China has been the largest single contributor to world growth since the global financial crisis of 2008. China has entered into some 16 regional trade agreements with countries across the globe, showing its commitment to the WTO and open markets.
Bahrain and BRI
The Belt and Road Initiative is a visionary program and another step aimed at achieving global partnerships, sustainable development, peace, and security with the commitment of real resources.
The first and this year’s second Belt and Road Forums for International Cooperation were well attended and great successes. As we look to the future in the 21st Century and even beyond, China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative will prove to be a major tour de force that will inspire inter-regional economic cooperation and prosperity, massive new people-to-people communication networks and ultimately, more secure and peaceful international relations.
Bahrain and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) states will prove to be key partners in the realization of the BRI because of its inherent logic and our shared visions. The continuing growth, innovation, and competitiveness of Chinese industry have enabled it to emerge as a leading supplier to the GCC and world markets. In turn, the Gulf Arab countries have become a large and reliable oil and gas supplier and the cornerstone of Asia’s energy security. Both of us share a vision of developing more knowledge-based industries that prosper in a global network without hard borders.
Beyond its broad commercial vision, BRI has proven that President Xi Jinping is a visionary and supporter of a new international order that promises to create a new global system of peace, development, and humanism. As a Middle Eastern nation, this message resonates deeply with Bahrainis. President Xi demonstrated his keen interest and dedication to building a lasting and just peace in the Middle East when he visited the region in 2016, exchanged information and ideas with the region’s leaders, and shared visions of how a more peaceful and prosperous order might be fashioned.
Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030 was launched in October 2008 by His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa as a comprehensive vision and blueprint for the continued development of the Kingdom’s economy and the improvement of the economic and social welfare of every Bahraini. The vision focuses on shaping the vision of the government, society, and the economy, based around three guiding principles; sustainability, fairness, and competitiveness.
The principles and goals of our Economic Vision 2030 are easily recognizable in the BRI and the Community of Common Destiny goals that support it.
As the Arab’s partnership with China grows, it is natural to expect that we would be interested to study each other’s language and culture, to understand better what we have in common and the beauty of our differences.
Artistic, cultural and educational exchanges break down social barriers, lubricate communications and thus may be considered a platform for developing social and commercial relationships. Trade and investment are predicated on cultural familiarity, the development of trust and understanding, and the will to work together to achieve common goals. Artistic, scientific, cultural and educational exchanges not only serve this purpose, but they also promote closer relationships among the youth of the participating countries and set the foundation for the cultivation of partnerships that will strive for and contribute to the welfare and prosperity of future generations.
Outlook for Bahrain-China relations
The relationship that Bahrain shares with China is strong and will continue to grow based on some common values, visions, and trust. The true strength of Bahrain is its people: we are an open and tolerant society, with a friendly and well-educated population, located at the crossroads of great civilizations, and thriving on foreign trade and investment.
Bahrain is and will continue to be, a major gateway to a $2.2 trillion GCC market of some 50 million people. Bahrain is located on the crossroads of African, Asian and European markets. Our complementarities have been recognized and are expanding: China has already become the GCC region’s largest trading partner. Our two-way trade now exceeds $260 billion per year and it is projected to reach $350 in the next decade.
Bahrain has a unique role as the leading financial hub in the Middle Eastern region, both for conventional and Islamic banking. Most of the world’s largest banks have operations in Bahrain from which they can do business throughout the Middle East and African region and indeed the rest of the world. Bahrain is the region’s banking hub because of its strategic location, its highly qualified labor force, its excellent communications and not least, its robust regulatory system and strong central bank. Moreover, in support of the BRI projects, Bahrain’s financial institutions are well placed and capable to work with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the New Silk Road Fund and the New Development Bank.
Bahrain’s history and culture conditions that the BRI concepts come naturally to us. Chinese investors seeking business opportunities in the Gulf Countries and Africa are discovering that they needn’t look any further than Bahrain for their commercial hub of operations. Bahrain ranks first in the Conway “Doing Business and Global Competitiveness Reports” (2017). The low cost of doing business in Bahrain is a major incentive for Chinese and other foreign investors seeking a competitive advantage and gateway to large regional markets.
The depth of the China-Bahrain partnership should not, however, be measured only in economic and commercial terms. We share the Community of Common Destiny’s vision of a future of inclusiveness, peace and cooperation for the benefit of mankind.
In sum, China-Bahrain relations are on a solid path for sustained growth.
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