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Chatting with my Chinese friend (4): GCC China option

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

09-15-2015 15:54 BJT

By H. Karoui

Some time ago in the beautiful city of Hangzhou, I had a casual conversation with two friends from a Chinese Think Tank. Kevin and Wang. The conversation was about current affairs and events of the Middle East. It went on and on, then an interesting question was raised: Why did GCC-China (Gulf Cooperation Council) negotiations about a free trade area (FTA), starting since 2004, have not yet reached any results after 11 years? The question may have emerged out of curiosity and amazement, because China has in a few years signed up and finalized no less than 12 FTAs, and is still working on others with over 20 countries and regions. So what happened between 2004 and 2015 with the Arabs?

"Of course several rounds of negotiations have occurred, and the next one will be on the sidelines of November's Sino-Arab Conference in Doha," I told my friends. "You know, the British historian, Desmond Stewart, dubbed that part of the world (temple of Janus), referring to the Roman double-faced god. This is a region where nothing is like what it looks like. If you understand this, you need patience and knowledge in order to assemble both faces into your hands. Western government officials who had to treat with locals, have learned to start any serious negotiations with matters that had nothing to do with the subject they actually came to discuss. It could be a casual talk about the carpets they saw in the Souks, or the desert-hunting parties with hawks (a passion in the Gulf), or camels' races, or horses, or anything that is familiar to the locals and new or amazing for the foreigner. They usually settle to drink with them innumerable cups of coffee, while turning around the ' flowers’ pot ' – as goes the French dictum- before finally raising the subject, they crossed mountains and seas to discuss." As my two friends seemed pondering, I added: "briefly, whether you are a businessman, a politician, or a diplomat, you need unfinished reserves of patience to strike a good deal in the Middle East."

Back to my city, after 30 days in China, I started research. I wanted to find out the real reasons – whether political, economic, or others – that made GCC-China negotiations turn into a marathon.

At the time, another Chinese friend of mine, Sinomedia USA president, Xin Wang, was preparing to publish the first issue of a new academic journal: The Yangtze Review.  He suggested I contribute a paper, which I eagerly did. Thus, the findings of my research ended up published in an article of the first issue.

The article proposes an answer to the question of Kevin and Wang. To sum it up, I would say that at the end of the day, everything would come up to answering the following question: "is there an Asian (Chinese) option for oil-rich countries of the GCC?" If the answer is positive, then Chinese negotiators should be patient and prepare for beating around the bush without losing sight of their target. It will pay off. If the answer is negative (which is highly improbable), then there is nothing to be done.

Why do I think that the answer is positive? There are several reasons, surely more than I can say in this short commentary. Most importantly, do not omit the following:

1- Yes, there is a strong Asian (specifically Chinese) option for the GCC. Far from being a center-periphery unbalanced relationship, more profitable to the center than to the periphery, (which depicts the relationship with the West), China offers to the Arabs – and not only the Gulf – prospects of cooperation and development still unexplored, and promises of common progress unhindered by imperialist views and historic biases. China has no records of imperialist expansion. To the Arabs, bridled by decades of colonialism and imperialist oppression, China as a rising country, as a market, as a partner, and possibly also as a strategic ally, is very promising.

2-The problem of the GCC actually may be described in these terms: It is still tugged between state sovereignty and collective action. It is almost the same problem witnessed in EU (European Union) foreign affairs issues. But in the Gulf, it is worse, because of regional tensions and international pressures.

3-On the one hand, the GCC has gone through a lot of tensions as its member countries have been drawn into individual bilateral treaties with foreign powers such as the United States. On the other hand, it has been working as a group to establish FTAs with others, including Australia, China, Mercosur, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Turkey, New Zealand, India, Iran, ASEAN and the European Union… It follows that any delays in the process of negotiations may be explained by internal obstacles and disputes involving six states, each with its own worldview, and specific perception of its national interest.

4-It is worth noting that the USA has started bilateral talks with Qatar about an FTA since 2004, without tangible results. Bilateral FTAs have been signed, though between some Gulf and foreign states.

5-With the expected major decrease in US oil imports from the Gulf, according to all estimations and projections, the GCC will be more and more dependent on exports to China.

These are few clues that emphasize the need for pondering and continuing the efforts toward the goal for the mutual benefit of the two parties.


( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.


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