First appearance by a Chinese FM at meeting of world’s largest Islamic body

By Cobus van Staden
Posted on Tuesday, 29 March 2022 11:45

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (C) stands for the national anthem next to Saudi Arabia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud (front 2L) and Chinese Foreign minister Wang Yi (front L) during the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers, in Islamabad on March 22, 2022. Farooq NAEEM / AFP

Wang Yi made history on Tuesday by becoming the first Chinese foreign minister invited to the annual meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the largest international organization of Muslim countries. Wang attended the gathering in Islamabad, Pakistan as a special guest.

Wang’s visit deepens Beijing’s recent diplomatic focus on key Islamic powers. In January, he met with representatives from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC.) Zhai Jun, China’s Special Envoy to the Middle East also visited Saudi Arabia on 13-15 March. During that visit, he also met with OIC’s Secretary General Hissein Brahim Taha. January also saw visits to Beijing by foreign ministers from Turkey and Iran.

The diplomatic blitz reflects a rapid deepening of relations. Saudi Arabia has surpassed Russia as China’s most important oil source, and China has recently replaced the EU as the GCC’s main trade partner. The two sides are reportedly also reviving talks about a free trade agreement.

China’s nationalist tabloid Global Times framed Wang’s visit as proof “that US efforts to hype rumors about Xinjiang have failed to split China and the Islamic world.” Uyghur activists called Wang’s visit “shameful.” They also condemned China’s co-sponsorship of a UN call to make March 15 an international day against Islamophobia, despite its own well-documented internment of an estimated one million Muslim Uyghurs.

With 57 member states, the OIC is the world’s second-largest international organization after the UN. The invitation is further proof that Chinese diplomacy has managed to frame the Xinjiang issue as one of anti-terrorism rather than human rights, and that this is gaining traction among Islamic leaders.

Wang reportedly also met with Pakistani counterparts to discuss deepening relations, including cooperation on counter-terrorism.

Highlights of Wang Yi’s OIC Meeting:

U.S. INFLUENCE: Global Times squarely framed Wang’s visit as proof of growing solidarity between China and the Islamic world against U.S. hegemony. While China’s Mideast engagement has historically depended on U.S. security provisions in the region, this could signal Chinese perceptions that American influence in the region is waning.

UKRAINE: Wang used the visit to reiterate Beijing’s opposition to Western pressure on countries to choose sides on the Ukraine issue. This framing of the Ukraine issue is emerging as a way for Beijing to gather support for its own position throughout the Global South.

OPTICS: Wang’s prominent seating at the meeting, next to Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan visually positioned China as a peer and partner to the Islamic world, in a way that would be rare for Western counterparts.

Published in partnership with The China Africa Project.

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