BEIRUT: Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil said Thursday that the main obstacles hindering Lebanon’s progress were terrorism and the presence of Syrian and Palestinian refugees on its territories.
Speaking during the sixth China-Arab ministerial meeting, Bassil said Lebanon possessed the necessary prerequisites for progress, but was crippled by security and refugee problems.
“Lebanon has a central responsibility to confront terrorism,” he said, “and China can play a key role in helping Lebanon succeed.”
Bassil urged China to participate at an international conference slated for June 17 aimed at supporting the Lebanese Army, which he said was the only institution uniting Lebanon in its fight against terrorism.
The conference will be held by the International Support Group for Lebanon, launched last September by then-President Michel Sleiman and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon with the aim of helping Lebanese institutions as the country grapples with over a million Syrian refugee.
Bassil also focused on the Syrian refugee crisis, saying Syrians now comprised a third of Lebanon’s population. “Imagine, God forbid, that 400 million Indians come to you [China] in three years, to share your land, resources and potentials,” he said, in a rhetorical attempt to illustrate the gravity of the problem.
The minister called on China to support Lebanon politically and economically, and to save it from “total collapse.”
He also touched on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his comments, calling the Palestinian cause “the mother of Arab causes,” and said “solutions for it should at least respect international agreements and Arab initiatives.”
According to the foreign minister, the Palestinian cause affects Lebanon directly, as a substantial number of Palestinian refugees are scattered in camps across the country. “Lebanon totally refuses to permanently settle those refugees,” because, he explained, it would violate the Constitution and the National Pact.
The subject of settling Palestinians in Lebanon is a controversial one as it would alter Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance, most Palestinians being Sunni. The demographic shift concerns Christians especially.
Separately, Bassil also stressed the importance of Chinese-Arab collaboration and Lebanon’s need for Chinese investment.
The economic trade between China and Arab countries is currently worth $240 billion, while China’s investments in the region are of $2.2 billion, according to Bassil. However, the Asian giant with the second-largest economy in the world is hoping to increase the numbers to $600 billion and $60 billion respectively. This, Bassil said, “demonstrates China’s goodwill and gives us great hope.”