The first GCC-China summit, held in Riyadh on December 09, marked the beginning of a broad strategic alliance between China and the region. They adopted a five-year joint action plan to strengthen their partnership in some key areas, from comprehensive political and security dialogues to deeper economic partnership and greater cultural engagement, in addition to a public statement summarizing their shared views on significant regional and international issues. This strategic relationship can change China’s regional leadership and broaden its reach into new areas.
The official name of the meeting, the Riyadh GCC-China Conference for Security and Cooperation, didn’t sit well with Iran, which summoned the Chinese ambassador in Tehran to express displeasure with the joint statement released at the summit’s conclusion. Iran’s foreign minister criticized the Chinese over the statement on Twitter. The envoy vowed that China’s deputy prime minister would visit Iran soon to calm any ruffled feathers.
Understanding the matter better
The UAE islands that Iran has been occupying since 1971 were the focus of Iran’s official protestations, but the country’s media has attacked the entire gathering as being hostile to Iran. Iran is trying to attribute the unrest to the outside world, particularly the US, EU, and GCC, to divert attention from the domestic protests that are becoming increasingly violent. Iran was more anxious not because of the summit’s timing but because of China’s increasing alliance with the GCC countries and the several references to Iran’s behavior in their joint communiqué, aside from its control of the islands.
The gathering in Riyadh was not at all hostile to Iran. It merely emphasized that relations between Iran and the GCC states should be based on international standards, including refraining from meddling in domestic affairs, respecting political independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, and resolving conflicts through peaceful means “following the UN Charter.”
Aside from their disagreements with Iran, the GCC and China have long held similar views on Palestine and Yemen. China has consistently backed all UN resolutions concerning these two pressing issues and has, for the first time, denounced terrorist attacks carried out by Houthi militias in different areas. The summit agreed on most regional concerns, including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Libya, even though disagreements over details and opinions still exist between several close allies.
They concurred on preserving the nation’s security and stability and advocated for further efforts to deliver humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, where both parties have set down significant positions. Regarding Ukraine, they supported “all international efforts toward de-escalation and the search for a political solution… under international law” to protect lives and preserve regional and global security and stability.
President Xi Jinping gave an overview of the five key aspects of Beijing’s GCC strategy when speaking about other elements of the GCC-China alliance.
China first suggests a brand-new, diversified energy equation. China wants to “take advantage” of the Shanghai exchange as a venue for oil and gas trade in Chinese currency, even if it intends to keep importing oil and gas from the Gulf.
Secondly, China looks to expand financial and investment cooperation opportunities, increase GCC investment company participation in the Chinese capital markets, and foster collaboration between Chinese and GCC wealth funds. It recommends using the CIPS (Cross-Border Interbank Payment System) for yuan-based settlement to fund transactions through currency bartering.
Thirdly, China wants to increase innovation and technical cooperation in significant and innovative fields, such as the creation of important joint data and cloud computing centers, collaboration on the development of 5G and 6G communication networks, digital trade, and meteorological technologies.
Fourthly, China is urging new developments in international space cooperation. It demands increased collaboration in satellite technology and space exploration infrastructure. It has proposed a new GCC-China center for collaborative lunar and deep-space exploration and encouraged GCC astronauts to work with their Chinese colleagues on joint space experiments.
China aims to revitalize cultural involvement, which is the fifth goal. China announced that it has partnered with 300 GCC universities and schools, set up 300 new smart classrooms to teach Chinese, and provided 3,000 grants for GCC nationals to study Chinese in mainland China. These initiatives build on prior agreements that emphasized teaching Arabic and Chinese languages in their respective regions.
The Riyadh summit outlined a shared vision for the GCC-China strategic alliance. Still, it should not be seen as harming the GCC’s relations with its regional allies, its strong alliances with the US and the UK, or its nascent strategic alliances with the EU and others. The GCC states individually and collectively use all those connections in their quest for regional and global security, stability, and prosperity. Thus, this GCC summit has brought up new hope for these oil-dependent Gulf states regarding their economic and technological advancement. A key component in reaching that goal is collaboration with China.
Written by Abu Hurairah Abbasi
The writer works as a researcher with the Arms Control and Disarmament Center at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad and writes regularly for several national and international news outlets. Moreover, he also works as a freelance writer and blogger on many online platforms. He can be reached at email@example.com.