The Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) is a plurilateral platform guiding China–Africa relations. A similar platform guides relations between China and the Arab states – the China–Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF). Although these initiatives have much in common, they also have major differences. This policy insight examines China’s foreign policy conduct with African and Arab states. It finds that while China–Arab state relations show robust economic exchange, they lag in terms of people-to-people exchanges and cultural diplomacy – two strong features of China–Africa relations. Both relationships offer the potential for collaboration, as well as possible challenges arising from competing interests in regions such as the Horn of Africa. Enhancing people-to-people relations and strengthening opportunities for mutual trust building is crucial for successful cooperation between China, Africa and the Arab world.