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Chinese foreign minister criticises US 'meddling' in Middle East as Joe Biden continues tour of region

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has hit out at US President Joe Biden's trip to the Middle East, telling his Syrian counterpart that the region's future should be decided by its people.

"China firmly supports the people of the Middle East in exploring the path of development independently and supports Middle Eastern countries in resolving regional security issues through unity and self-empowerment," Wang told Faisal Mekdad via video-link on Friday, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.

"We believe that our brothers and sisters in the Middle East have the ability and wisdom to maintain the overall situation of peace and stability and resolve the issues left over from history."

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He also accused Western powers of meddling, saying: "The United States and the West should change their old habits and stop pointing fingers and interfering in the affairs of the Middle East at every turn, trying to transform the region by their own standards."

Wang was speaking during Biden's first Middle East tour as president in an effort to reinforce what the White House called the "ironclad" US commitment to the region.

During a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Biden told reporters he wanted to " promote US interests" and undo the "mistake" of "walking away from the region".

US engagement with the region has been defined in recent years by suspicion created by the long war in Iraq, its confrontation with Iran and increasingly strained relations with Saudi Arabia following the murder of The Washington Post journalist Jamal Kashoggi, which US intelligence blamed on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Biden, who visited Saudi Arabia on Friday and met the prince, was expected to lay out his Middle East strategy, including $1 billion in food security aid for the Middle East and North Africa, at a summit in Jeddah the following day.

Wang Yi and Faisal Mekdad spoke via video link. Photo: Xinhua alt=Wang Yi and Faisal Mekdad spoke via video link. Photo: Xinhua>

Ma Xiaolin, an international relations scholar at Zhejiang International Studies University in Hangzhou, said the US has increasingly diverted its attention and resources to countering Russia in Europe and China in the Indo-Pacific.

"Meanwhile, China's influence in the region is on the rise," Ma said.

"China has a huge need for energy supply from the Middle East, which, in turn, is a big market for industrial goods from China."

Its pivotal location at the juncture of Europe, Africa and Asia also means the region is crucial to China's Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure and investment programme that aims to revive the medieval Silk Road.

In January, Wang hosted a high-level delegation of Gulf Cooperation Council members as part of a drive to wrap up a free-trade agreement with the bloc which has been under discussion since 2004.

Ma noted that China has never invaded or colonised the Middle East, unlike the US and other European powers, adding: "The Middle Eastern states are friendly with China, whether they are pro-US or anti-US, which cannot be found anywhere else, and that's why you can see that China has strengthened its ties with the Middle East, no matter if it is with Israel, Iran, Turkiye or Arab nations.

"These countries have been on China's side - no matter if it is about Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan and South China Sea - and you can't find that in Europe, Latin America, Africa or even the Asia-Pacific," he added.

On Friday, Wang reaffirmed Beijing's support for "Syria's sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national dignity" and efforts to improve relations with its neighbours.

He said the country's future should be decided by its own people and the international community should continue to offer humanitarian aid "with no political strings" to help it rebuild after more than a decade of war.

In response, Mekdad said Syria was willing to strengthen coordination with China, adding that his country "strongly supports and will proactively participate in" the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative, two new global governance schemes proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.