As a result, both directly and indirectly, partnerships between China and the nations of the Gulf are flourishing across a range of sectors, from energy to healthcare. The leaders of both sides have exhibited genuine interest in further broadening and enhancing their relations. Both Gulf Arabs and the Chinese are interested in unimpeded trade, safe passage of exports and imports, and high-tech collaboration.
To understand the rapidly expanding and deepening relations of Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) with China, it is important to first understand their history and context. Chinese and GCC leaders recognize that, with the changing world order, the global economic center of gravity is returning to the East and that the megatrends shaping the 21st century and China’s rise will drive this shift.
Peaceful people-to-people interaction and similarities in their economic development systems have given the Gulf states and China a solid foundation upon which they are building multifaceted partnerships. Gulf Arab and Chinese policymakers regularly emphasize the centuries-old history of their relationship. For example, in their 2016 Arab Policy Paper, Chinese officials outlined how Chinese and Arab nations have been working together closely since the Silk Road era. Ahead of his 2016 visit to Saudi Arabia, Chinese President, Xi Jinping, published an article in a Saudi newspaper describing how Zheng He, the Chinese Muslim admiral, described Jeddah, Makkah and Medina as “paradises”. During a 2019 visit to Beijing, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said of the relations between his country and China: “The interactions between the two sides have been friendly and we have never experienced any problems with China”.
Gulf Arab and Chinese leaders are nurturing their relations for the long term. They believe that their countries have significant synergy and great growth potential. That is why both sides have been calling for an alignment of development plans. This was manifested when five GCC countries (the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait) signed up to become founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the five-year-old Beijing-based multilateral development bank focused on financing infrastructure projects in emerging economies. In 2016 and 2018, respectively, China upgraded its bilateral relations with the GCC’s two largest economies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to the status of comprehensive strategic partnerships.