China and the GCC: A developing strategic partnership

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This article outlines the growing strategic partnership between the GCC states and China and is featured in Orient II/2023.

In December 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping travelled to Riyadh for the first summit between China and GCC leaders, officially sealing what has become a strategic partnership in just a few years. Oil and gas exports to China remain the backbone of economic relations between the GCC and China, but these have deepened and diversified over time. Saudi Arabia and the UAe are China’s most important partners in the GCC and have received the bulk of Chinese investment and awarded large construction contracts – mainly for industrial parks and port facilities – to Chinese companies. The GCC countries’ “visions” of transforming their economies away from fossil fuels and China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” a strategy to achieve economic opportunities and political influence abroad have led to a classic “win-win” situation between the two sides. So far, China has shied away from challenging the US as the main security provider in the region but has started supplying arms to its main partners Saudi Arabia and the UAe, which want to hedge against a possible US withdrawal from the region. China is trying to reconcile its relations with the GCC countries with its relations with Iran, the arch-enemy of the Arab states. It is doubtful whether this can work in the long run and whether China can avoid becoming embroiled in the various conflicts in the region. The US-Chinese rivalry could endanger the fragile stability in the region.

Heinrich Kreft is a German career diplomat and academic. Since September 2020 he is the Director of the Center for Diplomacy at Andrássy University in Budapest, Hungary, where he also holds the Chair for Diplomacy and is directing the International Relations and european Studies program. He has published extensively on major power political and economic relations; on international security; the Arab world; european, American and Asian political and economic affairs. Most recent publications on US-China relations; transatlantic relations; Islam in Germany; geopolitics and culture and on German and european foreign policy after Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

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