China-Arab Summit: A Paradigm Shift in Gulf States’ Policies

An epoch of history of international relation unveils that there is no permanent friend or foe; however, achieving national interests remains constant phenomenon in the international system. With evolving patterns of world politics, where US hegemony is under the cloud due to revanchist China, the regional actors are changing their narratives and sides to take maximum benefits from the prevailing situation on the world political and strategic theater. Therefore, a shift in alliance system is evident and taking place prominently in Indo-Pacific and Middle East region. The recent Arab Summit and full hearted welcome of Chinese president, XI Jinping, is an event of eye-pinching for the USA.  Chinese growing influence in the Gulf has unnerved the United States; Xi attended a wider summit of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) with leaders of Arab League states spanning form the Gulf, Levant and African.

The prominent tilt of major United States’ allies- which were strategically dependent on the US weapons- particularly Saudi Arabia, resulted due to the inappropriate pressure by US on human rights issues and failure to protect Saudi’s strategic interests in Yemen.  Prior to this, Joe Biden, US president also exerted pressure on Saudi Crown Prince, Muhammad Bin Salman, to increase the oil production which was rejected and led to the deteriorating relations. However, China is energy hunger state, accounted for 17 percent of the Asian giant’s oil import in 2021, and Gulf region is full of natural resources. It, undoubtedly, leads to deepen the economic ties.  Xi Jinping said Beijing would continue to import large quantities of oil from Gulf Arab countries and expand imports of liquefied natural gas. On the other hand, Crown Prince , MBS, heralded the Xi’s visit a ‘’ historic new phase of relations with China’’, a sharp contrast with the awkward US-Saudi meetings five months ago when President Biden attended a smaller Arab Summit in Riyadh. The basic and mutual contour of foreign policy , non-interference in domestic realm, by both sides was also reinstated to excel the relations for longer period.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia and China signed various strategic and economic partnerships milestone deals, an estimation of $30 billion, based on energy interests, particularly. Not only are energy interests on the board but also Chinese firms have made forays into technology and infrastructure sectors- Saudi Arabia agreed to work on cloud computing and building high-tech complexes in Saudi cities.  The forging ties will help Gulf States, which were US dependent, to diversify the economic and political interests and alliances.

Moreover, President Xi stated that China is more interested to buy oil and gas in Yuan, Chinese national currency, which is a part of Chinese policy to establish its currency internationally to weaken the US dollar’s grip on world trade. In addition to this, China is determined to build up its soft power by propagating the culture –a deal was also signed on teaching of Chinese languages.

Conversely, China-Arab summit marks a paradigm shift in Arab states’ policies which will give leverage to China to fulfill its energy demands; establishing the Yuan as international currency; and improving its soft image in the world. Needless to say, it, ultimately, will also support Arab states to take benefit of changing world order by improving economic and strategic ties with China- one of the leading economic giants in the world.

Tahir Abbas
Tahir Abbas
International Relations National Defence University Islamabad