GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Historical Evolution of Relationship between China and Gulf Region
Paper Proposal Text :
Historical Evolution of Relationship between China and Gulf Region
— From the perspectives of International System, Regional Pattern and adjustments of China’s Diplomatic Strategies

Liu Zhongmin
The Author is a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute under Shanghai International Studies University. He can reached at

The term “Gulf Region” in this paper refers eight countries: GCC countries, Iran and Iraq. The Gulf region is a region in unique geo-political position. The relationship between China and the Gulf region is deeply impacted by international system and regional pattern, as well as the adjustments of China’s own diplomatic strategies. Thus, this paper tries to analyze the historical evolution of the relationship between China and the Gulf Region from these three perspectives.

1. Period from the 1950s to the 1960s. In terms of international system, this period is characterized by the confrontation between the U.S. and former Soviet Union under the Cold War system. During that time, the main contradiction in Gulf regional pattern is the contradiction between national revolutionary movements and the monarchy, namely the contradiction between Iraq, which is a Republic country, and Gulf monarchies. China’s diplomatic policy then was to support national revolutionary movements. Due to the alliance between Gulf monarchies and the West, the relationship between China and Gulf monarchies was hostility and China established diplomatic relationship with post-revolution Iraq in 1958.

2. The 1970s. On the level of international system, confrontation between the U.S. and Soviet Union had changed, and Soviet Union had enhanced its expansion in the Gulf region. On the level of regional pattern, although the contradiction between Iraq and Gulf monarchies still existed, the national contradiction between Iran and Arab nation has already emerged. On the level of China’s foreign strategies, due to the intensification of conflicts between China and Soviet Union and the easing of the Sino-U.S. relationship, the main target of China’s policy toward Gulf Region in this period was confronting Soviet Union. For this reason, China began to establish relationship with Gulf monarchies such as Kuwait, Iran and Oman.

3. The 1980s. As to the international system, Soviet Union started the Afghan war while the U.S. raised the Carter doctrine to respond to Soviet Union’s expansion. As to regional pattern, after the Iran Islamic Revolution in 1979, the contradiction between Iran and Iraq and the contradiction between Persians and Arabs behind have been the main regional contradictions. Such contradiction has even led to the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War. To protect themselves, six Gulf countries formed the GCC. As to China’s foreign strategies, after the reform and opening up, China began to dilute the factors of ideology in diplomacy and carried out independent foreign policies. China adopted the neutral policies toward the Iran-Iraq War and continued to develop relationship with Gulf monarchies. It established relationship with the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain in this period, and finally established relationship Saudi Arabia in 1990. Till then, all eight Gulf countries have diplomatic relationship with China.

4. The 1990s. In the field of international system, the U.S. was in dominance position after the collapse of Soviet Union. It established hegemony in the Middle East through the Gulf War. In the field of regional pattern, prominent contradiction in this period is the trilateral structure among Iran, Iraq and the GCC. GCC countries coordinated with the U.S. to contain Iran and Iraq. In the field of China’s diplomatic strategies, China took the diplomatic strategy of “hide our lights and bide our time”. Generally speaking, China stood aloof on important affairs including the Gulf War and Iraq disarmament crisis. However, taking the chance of the Gulf War, China improved its relationship with the U.S. and other Western countries. U.S. factors began to influence China’s policies. Economic and trade cooperation between China and Gulf countries have started since then, and national interests began to play a role in China’s policies toward Gulf countries.

5. From 2001 to 2010. On international system, since the September 11 attacks, U.S. global strategies have been guided by wars against terrorism while its national strength has also declined because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. On regional pattern in Gulf region, Iraq war and Iran nuclear crisis became the main topics in regional security. Iran has risen with strong momentum, which worsened the contradiction between Iran and GCC. On China’s foreign strategies, against the backdrop of the improvement of the Sino-U.S. relationship after the September 11 attacks, China proposed the concept of the period of strategic opportunity. It carries out the “going outside” strategy and launched negotiations and strategic dialogues on FTA with GCC countries. Meanwhile, China has also attended the post-war reconstruction of Iraq and negotiations on Iran nuclear problem. The relationship between China and Gulf countries has been increasingly close. However, U.S. factors still restricted the relationship between China and Gulf countries, especially the Sino-Iranian relationship.

6. From the “Arab Spring” in 2011 till now. On international system, the multipolarity of the international pattern has been promoted by the financial crisis. The rise of emerging powers, including China, has led to profound changes in international system. The U.S. began to carry out the strategic rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific and strategic contraction in the Middle East. On regional pattern, the outbreak of the “Arab Spring” and the withdrawal of U.S. army from Iraq led to the intensification of the sectarian conflicts. U.S. efforts in promoting the improvement of the U.S.-Iranian relationship and the negotiations on Iran nuclear problem all result in the worsening of the contradiction between the GCC and Iran. On China’s foreign strategies, after the taking power of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Chinese diplomacy has been more active, and attached more importance on diplomatic relations with neighbors. The raising of the “One Belt One Road” strategy provides driving forces to the cooperation between China and the Gulf region. At the same time, however, the differences between China and Gulf countries on regional affairs, such as “Arab Spring”, Syria crisis and Iran nuclear problem, still stand in the way of China’s balancing the relationships with the GCC and Iran.