China-Qatar relations exemplified in World Cup preparation, giant panda fostering, joint efforts in energy crisis: ambassador
Shan Jie, Xie Wenting and Zhao Juecheng Published: Oct 24, 2022 08:53 PM
An aerial view of the Lusail Stadium on June 19, 2022 in the Qatari capital Doha. Photo: VCG
The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is kicking off in Doha within one month. This is the first World Cup held in Asia after the previous event held in South Korea and Japan 20 years ago, as well as another top international sporting event after the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. This significant event in history has also seen the development of cooperation and trust between China and Qatar. Chinese companies are responsible for the construction of the Lusail Stadium, the largest venue earmarked for the World Cup. Additionally, numerous Chinese football fans will be following the event both live and via the media.
Moreover, in recent years, with the increasing need for cross-border cooperation and against the international backdrop of energy crises, bilateral and multiliteral ties involving China and Qatar have become increasingly significant.
Therefore, the Global Times reporters (GT) Shan Jie, Xie Wenting and Zhao Juecheng recently spoke with Ambassador of Qatar to China Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Dehaimi (Al Dehaimi) in an exclusive interview in which the ambassador reiterated the rising mutual trust and exchanges between the two countries, elaborated on the preparation of the World Cup, and gave insights into the arrival of Qatar’s first pandas, which arrived in Doha earlier this month. The development of China-Qatar relations and strategic mutual trust has attracted domestic, regional, and international attention, the ambassador noted.
Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Dehaimi.Photo: Courtesy of Embassy of the State of Qatar in China
GT: It is currently the golden period for the development of the China-Qatar strategic partnership. In recent years, we have seen frequent high-level exchanges between the two countries. What are your priorities as Qatar’s new ambassador to China?
Al Dehaimi: In 2022, high-level exchanges and visits between Qatar and China have been frequent. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, visited China on the occasion of the opening of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Emir pointed out that Qatar and China should strengthen bilateral relations and strategic cooperation to benefit both countries and their peoples in various fields such as the economy, energy, industry, and tourism. Qatar is preparing to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Therefore, Qatar looks forward to further strengthening cooperation with China in the fields of trade, investment and sports, and improving the level of cooperation in various other fields.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, also visited China, where he met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the third meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan’s Neighboring Countries in China. Both sides recalled cooperation between the two countries, the situation in Afghanistan and the regional and international issues of mutual concern.
In recent years, China-Qatar relations have achieved significant development, and the strategic mutual trust between the two countries has been continuously strengthened, which has attracted domestic, regional, and international attention.
Qatar is an important partner of China in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s second-largest source of liquefied natural gas (LNG), and China is Qatar’s largest trading partner. In 2021, the trade volume between the two countries reached more than $17 billion, a 57 percent growth from 2020. Trade between the two countries is likely to increase to more than $20 billion by the end of 2022. LNG is the cornerstone of the strategic relationship between the two countries. In 2020 and 2021, Qatar and Chinese petrochemical companies signed a number of trade agreements.
More and more Chinese enterprises are involved in many major projects in Qatar, such as large-scale strategic reservoir projects, the Lusail Stadium, Hamad Port, and wired and wireless communication networks. There are currently more than 200 Chinese companies operating in Qatar.
Qatar’s public-private sectoral partnership and new investment laws offer many opportunities for Chinese investors. In addition, Qatar has many advantages. The government has taken a series of measures in legislative work on investment to attract more foreign investors and pave the way for more joint investment projects in the next stage. China is also attractive to Qatari investors in areas such as shipbuilding, manufacturing, petrochemicals, advanced technology, hotel services, tourism, and financial services.
A child interacts with a Chinese giant panda through protective glass at the Panda Park in Al Khor, Qatar, on October 19, 2022. Photo: VCGGT: According to Qatari media sources, Qatar is set to open the Middle East’s first-ever Panda Park. How is this project currently progressing? When might the public finally be able to meet giant pandas in Qatar?
Al Dehaimi: During his visit to China in 2019, His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani proposed panda cooperation. After arrangements, a pair of pandas recently arrived in Doha and the panda park will be opened in November, before the World Cup kicks off on November 20.
The pandas’ appearance in Qatar during the World Cup highlights the profound friendship between Qatar and China. The pandas are gifts from the Chinese people to the Qatari people.
An anticipated fest
GT: The FIFA World Cup will commence within two months in Doha. Could you share with Chinese football fans how the final preparations are currently going?
Al Dehaimi: There is no doubt that this event will be a special one and will attract the attention of the world. All stadiums and supporting facilities for the World Cup have been made ready, including stadiums, rail and road transportation facilities, and final preparation work is underway.
All World Cup venues are ready, of which the Lusail Stadium is the largest with a capacity of 80,000 people. The stadium was built by China Railway International Group and was delivered in December 2020. The image of the stadium has been printed on the recently issued 10 Qatari Riyals banknote, which is the first time a landmark building constructed by a Chinese company has appeared on Qatari currency.
The Lusail Stadium is not only an important facility for the 2022 World Cup, but also a historic project that marks the pragmatic cooperation between the two countries and deepens the relationship between the two countries.
We also thank the Chinese side, especially the Chinese companies in Qatar, for their contributions to the successful preparations for the World Cup.
People walk past the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup countdown clock as it nears thirty days to the sporting event, in Doha on October 20, 2022. Photo:VCGGT: In your opinion, what is the significance of the world’s biggest football tournament to be held in Qatar? What uniqueness, in your opinion, does this World Cup possess?
Al Dehaimi: This World Cup is a World Cup for all Arabs, and as His Highness the Emir said, this is a championship for all Arabs. The event, the first of its kind in the Arab country and the Middle East, is a testament to Qatar’s importance in global sports.
Qatar is the first country in the Middle East to host the World Cup. Also, 20 years after the World Cup in South Korea and Japan, the event is once again being hosted by an Asian country. This shows Qatar’s excellent performance at the regional and international level, which has earned Qatar the honor of hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. This once again proves that Asian countries are capable of hosting these important sporting events, as China successfully hosted the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All regional countries will benefit from the success of the World Cup Qatar 2022, as we seek to leave an Asian and Arab mark on the history of the World Cup event.
GT: China has a big population of football fans. Statistics indicate that the number could be as high as 200 million. How many Chinese fans and media professionals are expected to attend the World Cup in Qatar?
Al Dehaimi: According to statistics, 3 to 4 billion people around the world will watch the World Cup Qatar 2022, of which there must be a large Chinese audience, especially with the growing interest in the sport from all walks of life in China. A large number of attendees are expected, as nearly 90 percent of World Cup tickets have already been sold.
It is understood that Chinese fans bought 5,000 to 7,000 tickets. Chinese fans can also follow the World Cup through relevant broadcasters and follow the latest developments of the World Cup in real-time through official accounts on Chinese social media.
GT: The recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Samarkand admitted Qatar as a new dialogue partner. Could you provide any confirmation? How do you assess the significance of the SCO to the region and the world?
Al Dehaimi: Since I took office, Qatari leaders have been paying close attention to Qatar’s entry into the SCO. Since 2019, I and other colleagues at the embassy have been working together to reach this goal. In 2022, the 22nd meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the SCO was held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. At this meeting, Qatar officially obtained the status of a dialogue partner of the SCO. We would like to thank SCO member states headed by China for granting us this status.
Qatar’s foreign policy is particularly concerned with developing productive relations within the framework of the SCO. I would like to stress that Qatar strongly desires full membership to the SCO, whose work is fully in line with the basic principles of our foreign policy strategies. We look forward to further strengthening cooperation aimed at promoting peace and security as well as further developing economic, trade, people-to-people, and cultural relations.
GT: The world is facing an energy crisis. As a major oil exporter, what plans does Qatar have to cooperate with China in dealing with the energy crisis and developing new energy?
Al Dehaimi: Qatar has been investing heavily in the energy sector, especially in liquefied natural gas (LNG) since the 1980s and 1990s. Although the global trend at that time was to move away from this energy source and focus on what was considered to be clean energy, we recognized then that LNG would become very important in the future, and that LNG was also a type of clean energy.
In recent years, we have increased our investment and productivity, in particular, increased LNG production, the latest of which is the expansion of the North Field East project, the largest single project in the history of the LNG industry. Qatar plans to maintain its leadership in the global LNG sector, with the project boosting Qatar’s LNG production capacity from 77 million tons per year to 110 million tons by 2025. In this way, Qatar’s leading and important role in the global energy market will be consolidated, and the global market will remain stable amid the current difficult international environment.
In terms of exporting LNG to China, China is the largest consumer of LNG, and Qatar has reached a number of short- and long-term agreements with China. In 2020 alone, four trade agreements were signed with China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (Sinopec). In 2021, Qatar signed a $3 billion LNG carrier construction contract with China. Qatar and China also signed export contracts for 2,814 electric and diesel buses, contributing to the green transport goals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. China’s demand for clean energy is expected to continue to increase in a bid to build a clean, low-carbon, safe, and efficient energy system, and fulfill climate change commitments.
GT: Does Qatar face strong pressure to maintain good relations with China amid growing China-US tensions?
Al Dehaimi: Qatar’s foreign policy is characterized by our leading role in resolving many regional disputes. In less than eight years (2008-2016), Qatar has mediated about 10 regional and international issues; making unremitting diplomatic and political efforts at the regional and international levels at the request of the parties concerned, and without interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. Qatar hosts negotiations between parties involved in conflicts and acts as a facilitator of dialogue between said parties in the conflict. These efforts have been successful and have contributed to the maintenance of international peace and security.
Qatar’s diplomacy believes that peace is more than the absence of violence, and that lasting peace is based on just solutions that need to promote human development. Therefore, Qatar aims for good relations with all countries. We have good relations with the United States, and we also maintain good relations with China. The trade volume between Qatar and China will rise to $17 billion in 2021, a 57 percent increase compared with the previous year. Trade in the first three quarters of 2022 rose by about $19.5 billion, with China being Qatar’s largest trading partner.