Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Editorial Board
Xinhua News Agency
15 September 2013

Xinhua: Your Majesty, you are visiting China amid a complex situation in the Middle East, and you will meet key figures in the new Chinese leadership. What issues are on the agenda?

King Abdullah: Our bounds with China are deep-rooted and solid, and I personally have close friendly relations with various Chinese leaders, current and former. We are interested in building on this relationship with the new Chinese leadership because China plays a vital role in promoting world peace and stability, and has an influential role in regional issues.

We are keen to continue coordination and consultations with our friends in China regarding regional and international challenges, promote a closer strategic partnership, and take bilateral ties to a new level at the political, economic, trade, tourism, development, educational and cultural levels. This reflects our commitment to building diversified, balanced and strategic international partnerships.

To translate that into facts on the ground, our political discussions will address the repercussions of the Syrian crisis and ways to solve it, along with the peace process, in which China has shown great interest and played a positive role. At the economic level, Jordan is keen to attract Chinese investments and tourists, and to benefit from China’s expertise in industry and technology and developmental planning for the governorates. We will work to open up more prospects for the private sector in both countries to promote trade, investment and tourism, especially that Jordan can provide a gateway for Chinese investors to access more than one billion consumers, taking advantage of Jordan’s free trade agreements. Jordan also provides a base for partnerships to seize the opportunities available in the Middle East and North Africa in infrastructure, reconstruction, and capacity-building.

Xinhua: Locally, Your Majesty, the world is closely watching developments in Jordan’s political reform process, especially the parliamentary government experience. How do you evaluate the reform process, and what is your vision for your future role as King?

King Abdullah: Jordan’s reform approach is based on the principle of continuous evolution, by putting in place the necessary building blocs of reform and democratisation. The ultimate goal is clear - to reach an advanced parliamentary government system, where platform-based political parties, that enjoy the majority, form the government, while the parliamentary minority serves as shadow government.

Getting to this stage requires continuous upgrading of the laws governing political life, particularly the elections and political parties laws. We also need to entrench a democratic culture in the community, by supporting social entrepreneurs’ efforts to build active citizenship, with the aim of promoting public participation in decision-making and encouraging citizens to join political parties and vote on the basis of party platforms.

We are also keen in Jordan to enroot the principles of pluralism and balance and separation of powers, and seek to build a consensus that guarantees to all components of the political spectrum a fair chance to compete through the ballot box. We believe that democracy is too important to be reduced to numbers and percentages used by the majority against the minority. In fact, true democracy is when all feel themselves represented in the political process, not just the rule of the majority.

This is the vision. To implement it, we held parliamentary elections earlier this year in complete transparency and integrity, as testified by international and local monitors. After that, we embarked on consultations with all members of the new Lower House, blocs and independents, in order to choose the prime minister, thus laying the foundation for the pilot parliamentary government process. We have succeeded in establishing a new approach to the process of government formation, with the aim of enhancing the parliamentary aspect in the system of government.

We have a lot of work ahead to build on what has been achieved, especially with regards to improving the work mechanisms of parliamentary blocs, by upgrading the Lower House’s rules of procedure and strengthening platform-based political parties. The comprehensive reform process continues, and there is a collective will and desire at all levels to bring about change for the better, through the integrated and institutional system we have developed over the past two years. We started by introducing amendments to the Constitution, because it is the instrument regulating the work of all authorities and the guarantor of Jordan’s stability through the process of change. We have also established institutions essential to enrooting democracy, such as the Constitutional Court and the Independent Elections Commission. We will continue developing political laws at each election cycle, in line with the progressive constitutional amendments we have made.

As for the evolution of the role of the Monarchy, I have already made it clear that it will evolve in parallel with the political changes that we seek - and seek sincerely and diligently - whereby the role of the Monarchy is enrooted as guarantor of pluralism and democracy, protector of the separation of powers and facilitator to overcome standoffs between parliaments and governments. The Monarchy also plays a role in enhancing efforts to foster democratic culture, while platform-based parties play constantly evolving legislative and executive roles in accordance with the Constitution. Meanwhile, the role of the Cabinet, which runs all state affairs, is also strengthened in line with the Constitution.

Xinhua: There is a state of polarisation over how to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, after the relapse of its experience in Egypt, and decline in the Arab Spring countries. Some call for excluding it, others call for opening up to the group. What is Your Majesty’s position?

King Abdullah: Out of my responsibility as guarantor of the Constitution, I refuse any party’s monopoly over political life, as I refuse the exclusion of any party from political life. It would have been better if the Action Front party had participated in the political process, in the parliamentary and municipal elections, and won its share of representation. Had it done that, such arguments would not have emerged, because the party would have become a partner in the political process, able to play a positive and constructive role in political reform, rather than being the subject of a debate over how to deal with it. In any case, the Action Front party is part of the political spectrum and social fabric, and Jordan does not adopt a policy of exclusion towards any group or political movement. We are advocates of openness, dialogue and integration of all in political action. Our people aspire to see parties with genuine and productive political and socio-economic action plans that provide concrete solutions to the challenges facing us.
Xinhua: Your Majesty, how do you view the political developments in Egypt, especially since you were the first Arab leader to visit the country after the recent developments there?

King Abdullah: Egypt is a key state in our region and the world. We are bound with our brothers in the Arab Republic of Egypt by strong and well-established ties, grounded in our Arab nationalism. We have supported and still support the choices of the brotherly people of Egypt, who have proven to the world that they are up to their responsibilities and able to meet the challenges facing them. But there are some hindering the efforts of the Egyptian people as they seek to move their country forward and build their future and democratic society. Those are tampering with Egypt’s security and stability, and incite violence and chaos.

My visit to sisterly Egypt was mainly meant to send a message of support to Egypt and its people during this difficult time, which they will overcome, God willing. We support all efforts to restore Egypt’s pivotal and historical role in the region and the world, especially the reform map, and to give everyone the opportunity to participate. The visit came also to formulate harmonious Arab stands on regional issues, particularly the peace process.

Xinhua: The Syrian issue takes centre stage in the region, and Jordan is affected by the repercussions of this crisis. What is Jordan’s position on that?

King Abdullah: We have long warned of the danger of continued violence in sisterly Syria. Jordan is closely watching developments and the course of things there. We will work to protect our national interests and the security and stability of our country and people, and will work with the Arab and international communities to stop the bloodshed in Syria, and to end the suffering of its people, which is deepening day after day.

We will exert all efforts to reach Arab and international consensus over a comprehensive political solution to the Syrian crisis. We believe that consensus on a comprehensive political solution that rejects sectarianism, maintains Syria’s territorial integrity, and protects the dignity of its people is the ideal solution to the crisis.

Xinhua: Can Jordan actually absorb more refugees in light of prevailing economic conditions and the scarcity of resources? Will we reach the stage where Jordan closes its borders with Syria to stop the flow of Syrian refugees?

King Abdullah: The serious situation in Syria has unfortunately imposed a difficult reality on us in Jordan. But it is much harder on our Syrian brothers and sisters, especially those who were forced to leave their homes, families and communities as they were left with few options. For our part, it is a humanitarian responsibility that we will keep fulfilling. Our success in that depends on continued international assistance.

We are fully aware of the consequences of this responsibility borne by Jordan and its people. Therefore, we are working in cooperation and coordination with the international community to find a political solution that preserves the unity and stability of Syria, and ensures that Syrian state infrastructure continues to provide for its citizens. This will encourage our brotherly Syrians –– not only in Jordan but also in all neighbouring countries –– to return to their normal lives in their country.

There is no doubt that this crisis has put Jordan before considerable challenges as a result of relief and humanitarian services provided to more than half a million Syrian refugees on our territory, equivalent to nearly 10  per cent of our own population. To make it easier for our friends in China, imagine if nearly 130 million people took refuge in China over two years.
This has actually exacerbated our economic, social and security challenges. Therefore, the world has to double efforts to enable Jordan to continue to carry out its humanitarian responsibilities towards the brotherly Syrians.

Xinhua: Your Majesty, how do you view the use of chemical weapons in Syria? Does that constitute a danger to your country, by virtue of being Syria’s neighbour?

King Abdullah: It was painful for us to see the use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and children, indicating that the conflict in Syria has reached a very serious and unprecedented stage.

We have long warned that a prolonged conflict in Syria would deepen violence and extremism, increase the chances of chemical weapons falling in the wrong hands, and turn the conflict into a regional one with sectarian dimensions.

We must reach Arab and international consensus on a comprehensive political solution to the Syrian crisis, a solution that brings an end to the threat of chemical weapons, fighting and violence. It should trigger a political process that meets the aspirations of all Syrians, ensures their participation and representation, and preserves the unity of Syria's territory and people.

In tandem, Jordan is totally prepared to deal with all circumstances and security and relief-related developments, and stands ready to defend its land, people and national security. We will never allow that Jordan – God forbid – be exposed to anything that threatens its security and stability. The Jordanian army and our security agencies are known for their professionalism and high efficiency. This is our source of confidence as Jordanians.

Xinhua: The peace process is moving one step forward and two steps backward, and people have almost lost hope. How long will this process remain at a standstill? When will we reach concrete results on final status issues?

King Abdullah: Addressing the challenges of the Middle East, particularly violence, chaos and extremism, depends on finding a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian cause, which is the central issue of the Arab and Islamic nations and the world at large. In the absence of a solution and peace, the region will continue to suffer, and will be vulnerable to violence and chaos that may lead to the outbreak of wars. The price of that will be paid by the peoples of the region and future generations. The terror that lurks in the region thrives on the absence of a solution to the Palestinian issue. It will always pose a threat to regional and international peace and security, as long as the peace process is at a standstill, and as long as the Palestinian issue remains without a just solution. Again, I underline the need to enable the Palestinian people to establish their own independent, fully sovereign and viable state on Palestinian territories based on 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Such a solution should come with a clear timetable and be based on international legitimacy and adopted terms of reference, especially the Arab Peace Initiative, which reflects a historic united Arab stance to achieve a comprehensive and lasting peace that guarantees genuine security and stability in the region.

Over the past years, we have done everything in our power to advance the peace process and work out practical and realistic solutions to this conflict. The entire international community is required to shoulder its moral and humanitarian responsibilities towards peace in the Middle East, and to continue to apply pressure on all parties to urge them to move forward in the peace process, leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state according to the two-state solution, which we in Jordan deem a higher national strategic interest.

The peace process is undergoing a critical time, and everyone should work to stop any unilateral acts that hamper the possibility of bringing the negotiators’ views closer. These acts include settlement activity and attempts to change the identity of Jerusalem, among other actions that threaten to disrupt the important efforts being made.

It is also necessary to positively support the latest US efforts, which have led to the re-launch of direct peace negotiations over final status issues, through effective US engagement and support by all of us. These efforts are supported by the Quartet and international and regional partners, and we need China’s vital support, as the window is fast closing on the two-state solution, which is not in any party’s interest.

Xinhua: After Your Majesty’s visit to China, you will head to the United States to participate in the meetings of the UN General Assembly in New York. What does this visit’s agenda include?

King Abdullah: Participation in the 68th ordinary session of the UN General Assembly is an opportunity to meet a number of heads of state to discuss developments in the Middle East and ongoing developments in Syria, and to address international public opinion and decision-makers on the issues of our Arab and Islamic nations, especially peace efforts.

This global platform also provides a unique opportunity to build on the efforts we recently launched in Jordan to counter the wave of extremism feeding on sectarian tension and violence, and address the challenges faced by Arab Christians. Jordan has recently hosted two important conferences on these issues, the Aal al-Bayt Foundation for Islamic Thought Conference and one on “The Challenges Facing Arab Christians.” These conferences came as part of our efforts to counter extremism at various levels, and to spread the principles of moderation, pluralism, tolerance and acceptance of others among the followers of sects and religions in our region and the world, in a way that protects the social fabric, religious freedoms and minorities in our countries and contributes to building collective civil and inclusive national identities. We hope that such efforts will have a positive impact in relation to the Palestinian issue and the future of Jerusalem in particular, and on efforts to tackle sectarian tensions, which feed the conflict in Syria, and elsewhere in the region.

As everyone has always known, Jordan continues to shoulder its responsibilities and play its pivotal role in promoting security, stability, peace and moderation in the region and the world.