China-GCC Summit: Bringing “Strategicness” Into the Domain of Cooperation?

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The president of China and high officials from the GCC nations met for the first time at the China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in Riyadh on Dec. 9, 2022. The two sides’ long-standing friendship continued and the “strategicness” of their relations was further enhanced. A joint declaration and action plan for the strategic engagement between China and the GCC nations was also endorsed at the conference. In his statement at the summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the two sides to work together to advance unity, development, security, and civilizations. China and the GCC, according to Xi, are natural partners because they share similar values and objectives. The strategic alliance between China and the GCC nations would be re-established and strengthened as the summit determined.

The GCC was established in 1981 and currently consists of six nations: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). China relies heavily on the GCC nations for assistance while working with the Middle East. Since the GCC’s founding, China has kept in touch with it. However, data from China’s General Administration of Customs show that China continues to be both the GCC’s top trading partner and petrochemical export market. Chinese imports of fossil fuels from Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the UAE amounted $44.9 billion, $25.4 billion, and $21.3 billion, respectively, in 2021, when bilateral trade exceeded $230 billion. Besides, the relationship is not confined to trade only, technology transfer and other sort of cooperation also took place among the states. However, China and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) announced the beginning of discussions for a free trade agreement in July 2004. So far, the parties involved had conducted five rounds of negotiations and have agreed to terms on the majority of matters relating trade-in products.

The scheduling of Xi’s visit coincides with a period of tension between Riyadh and Washington over issues relating to human rights, energy policy, and Russia, as well as Gulf skepticism regarding US commitment to the area as the key security provider. All these had an impression on the summit since there are talks on energy and other strategic issues. The write-up will examine the issues highlighted in the summit and will sort out the ramifications also.

China benefits from a sizable consumer market and an integrated industrial system, whereas the Gulf region is known for its abundant oil resources and successful economic development. As both the Chinese and the Gulf belong to an Eastern civilization with comparable cultural values and peoples who understand and talk with each other and share in both good and terrible times, the two sides make perfect partners for collaboration and understanding. In light of that, according to the president, China will continue to increase its imports of crude oil and liquefied natural gas from the GCC nations, create a framework for bilateral economic and investment cooperation, deepen its cooperation in the use of digital currencies, and construct a big data and cloud computing center with them.

Besides, the adoption of the joint 2023–27 action plan to deepen the current strategic alliance between the Gulf countries and China in the economic, political, and cultural domains was one of the first areas of cooperation to be considered. Trade between the GCC countries and China was $228.9 billion in 2021, a significant increase from the $148.2 billion figure from the year before- a reflection of continued collaboration with the help of the 2004 based FTA.

Therefore, leaders emphasized the need to swiftly conclude free trade negotiations as well as the significance of continuing to promote international cooperation in the areas of energy, trade, investment, finance, industry, advanced technology, and space. It was also considered how there should be more connections between the domains of sport, media, tourism, education, and culture.

Moreover, in his remarks, Xi praised the gains made between the two sides over the previous years and urged the GCC nations and China to maintain their longstanding friendship and use the opportunity presented by the strategic partnership to strengthen the strategic significance of their relations. According to him, the two sides should work together to advance unification, build political trust, and vehemently defend one other’s fundamental interests.

– Syed Raiyan Amir is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA). Previously, he served as a Research Assistant at United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and International Republican Institute (IRI).

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