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Monday, January 18, 2021, 12:23
Gulf rapprochement wins praise
By Jan Yumul in Hong Kong
Monday, January 18, 2021, 12:23 By Jan Yumul in Hong Kong

China said it welcomes the success of the recently concluded 41st Gulf Cooperation Council Summit held in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia, which ended a three-year rift alienating Qatar from the rest of the bloc due to terror-related allegations.

At a press conference on Jan 6, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said China supports “stronger solidarity and cooperation among GCC members” and always advocates that “differences should be resolved through dialogue and consultation”. 

“We hope GCC states will continue to strengthen solidarity and cooperation to jointly promote regional peace, stability and development, to which China will offer its support,” said Hua.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in June 2017 and imposed an embargo on the Gulf state, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism. But Qatar has always denied such activity.

The restored relations also earned praise from several world leaders, with the United States calling the move a “positive step toward restoring Gulf and Arab unity”. The US thanked Kuwait for its mediation and efforts in resolving the Gulf dispute.

In a statement, the European Union said it welcomed the significant developments as they will considerably strengthen regional stability and restore GCC unity and cooperation in full. The EU said it stands ready to support further regional integration within the GCC and to strengthen its long-standing partnership with the bloc.

Italian Minister of European Affairs Enzo Amendola tweeted it was “time to return back once again to the dialogue and cooperation table”.

Moussa Faki, chairperson of the African Union Commission, also commended Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, and Bahrain for restoring full diplomatic ties with Qatar.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, in a statement through a spokesperson, expressed his gratitude to the Gulf region and some leaders, including the late Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and the late Sultan Qaboos of Oman, whom Guterres said worked tirelessly toward resolving the Gulf rift.

The secretary-general welcomed the reopening of the airspace, land and sea borders between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Qatar.

Reuben Mondejar, professor of China Globalization at Hong Kong Management Association said the Qatar-Saudi rapprochement is “happy news to China”, which had always sought peace in the Gulf region.

“China is an important peacekeeper in the Gulf as part of the UN arrangements. By this China portrays itself as a peace guardian above internecine squabbles,“ Mondejar said.

Manny Tiangha, a global strategist and advisor based in Los Angeles, said the focus of China and the Gulf nations should be on scaling up capacity in the education and health sectors.

China has the resources — financial, technical and human — to improve education and health sectors through exchanges, said Tiangha.

Days before the summit on Dec 30, 

expanding Chinese-Gulf relations was the topic of an Arab News column by Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg, the GCC assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation.

At US$180 billion, Aluwaisheg said, GCC trade with China makes up over 11 percent of the bloc’s overall trade. 

In 2020, China became the GCC’s top trading partner, replacing the EU for the first time. This was quite a change in a relatively short time, Aluwaisheg noted, describing the transformation of China-GCC relations as “quite profound, but … still evolving”.

“The most difficult part is managing its relations with Iran. China relies on the security architecture in the Gulf to protect its oil supplies from the region, and that security system is based on a decades-old partnership between the US and GCC states,” Aluwaisheg wrote.

“As China-US rivalry intensifies, Beijing’s support for that security architecture grows more ironic, but it still makes pragmatic sense. The alternative of China providing security for its own oil supplies from the Gulf would be expensive.”

The growing ties are not only about the security of energy supplies, Aluwaisheg added, pointing out that the GCC has supported China’s Belt and Road Initiative and that some of the GCC members are actively involved in its progress in the region.

China has become the top export destination of GCC petrochemicals and chemicals, accounting for about 25 percent of GCC exports, he said.

During a visit to China in Feb 2019, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman inked a US$10 billion deal for a refining and petrochemical complex in China. Coinciding with the same visit, 35 bilateral economic cooperation agreements worth over US$28 billion were signed at a Saudi-Chinese investment forum in Riyadh.

Among the key points for expanding ties, Aluwaisheg highlighted, was for China to reconcile its support for international norms with its Iran ties. 

“No one doubts China’s commitment to stability in the region through compliance with international law and the UN Charter. That would mean respect for national borders, political independence, and the territorial integrity of neighboring countries,“ said Aluwaisheg, adding that all of these are frequently violated by Teheran. 

China, he said, can play a constructive role by persuading Iran to change its revolutionary colors, as China itself did a while ago, and respect the international and regional order, starting by ceasing support for sectarian and terrorist groups.

“The GCC expects China to support expanding negotiations with Iran to include ballistic missile development and Teheran’s regional activities and to support GCC involvement in those talks when they resume,” said Aluwaisheg.

Agencies contributed to the story.


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