GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Collective Security in the Gulf and Participation of China
Paper Proposal Text :
The paper will focus on the following issues and analysis the Gulf security dynamics in history, potential collective security in the Gulf, China’s participation in the Gulf collective security and its challenges step by step.

1. Gulf security dynamics
Gulf security is one of the vital issues, if not the only one, that concerns almost all regional and global powers related to this region. Despite the Gulf plays a critical role in managing global energy security, given its unique geographic position connecting Europe, Africa, vast South and East Asia, it also emerged to be a considerably significant hub to the worldwide commercial trade via sea lane and land route during the last two centuries. Simultaneously, the Gulf locates at one of the most conflicting areas in the world, which currently is surrounded by civil wars in Yemen and Syria besides ferocious terrorist organization DAESH(ISIS) in the North.

As a commercial and strategic asset to outside powers, it is obviously that the security structure of the Gulf has always been intimately tied to external powers and global political dynamics:

In the early 20th century, the British Foreign Secretary Lord Lansdowne once made an official statement of the Britain’s policy in the region: “Our policy should be directed in the first place to promote and protect British trade in those waters (the Gulf region), and the British government should regard the establishment of a naval base, or of a fortified port, in the Persian Gulf by any other Power as a very grave menace to British interests, and we should certainly resist it with all the means at our disposal. ”

In mid-February 1945, when President Roosevelt met King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz at the Great Bitter Lake, it indicated that American interest in this area, mainly oil interest at that time, and its military protection in return for this replaced Britain’s dominate role in this region. The Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia was a “stupendous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material prizes in the world history” to the US expressed in an internal State Department memorandum in 1945.

Later in 1980s, American president Jimmy Carter’s proclamation addressed that: “Any attempt by an outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” Saudi Arabia and Iran were, in fact, the two pillars of American policy in the Gulf, before the two years’ Islamic Revolution lasting from late 1977 to 1979. The radical domestic political transformation inside Iran not only led to the collapse of Shah’s monarchy, but also fundamentally revised the security structure in the Gulf region.

2. Collective Security in the Gulf
The Gulf Security Structure should have at least three dimensions and three pivotal factors:
There’re three dimensions in deferent levels:
Domestic level: Regime stability and Ideology
Regional level: power balance and sea-lane security
International level: global power divergence and energy security
(I shall explain this in details in my paper.)

Three pivotal factors: Military protection, Economy connection and Political Trust
Albeit military alliance plays a decisive role to the Gulf security, the economic linkages inside and outside the Gulf also have deeply interactive influences with the security structure of the Gulf. And no need to mention that the military existence and economic cooperation are always accompanies in many occasions. The energy entanglement contributes to the American military involvement in the Gulf region and the U.S. self-sufficiency of unconventional oil and gas boom already has direct strategic effects on its foreign policies in the Gulf region.

Currently, the Gulf security is facing severely challenges in the past several years, that neither the GCC countries nor Iran or Iraq can assure the region security respectively and independently. Based on the truth that Saudi-Iran tensions placed pressure on smaller GCC states and sectarian divided Iraq and Yemen , these small countries cannot guarantee their own safety between the two powerful hegemonies (Iran and Saudi) in this turbulent region. At the same time, Iran and Saudi also face threats from inside and outside in some perspectives, and have limited ability in securing the regional stability. To avoid a catastrophic disaster or intensifying conflicts in this region, it seems like that a collective security proposal appears to be a promising and likely solution on the table.

The Collective Security framework doesn’t always mean an intimate military alliance within all the eight Gulf countries but could also extent to be a non-hostile or at least a non-combatant relationship between these countries. If based on the later point of view, it will be possible and essential to establish a collective security structure bring peace not conflicts in this area.

There will be more in the following paper focusing on the objectives and structure of collective security in the Gulf.

3. China’s Participation to collective security in the Gulf
After two long wars in West Asia and suffering through a lingering domestic recession, U.S. is pivoting to Pacific Asia and more inward to internal issues, as Ambassador James Larocco described. Meanwhile, the rising powers in global stage, like China and India that have growing interests in this region, are trying to fasten their economic and political ties with the Gulf.

During China’s new leader Xi Jiping’s presidency, he initiated One Belt and One Road Economic Strategy, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Silk Road Fund and later visited Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran during his first state visit to Middle East after the release of China’s first Arab Policy Paper since PRC’s establishment. China announced to have Comprehensive Strategic Relationship with both Saudi and Iran, a higher close relationship according to Chinese government’s definition. So far, no other global powers can be expected to have close relationships with the two opposite rivals.

The Chinese leading Shanghai Cooperation Organization already adopted Pakistan and India as its full members, these two South Asia countries has great influences on the Gulf stability. Except the above movements, China is investing Gwadar Port in Pakistan and Djibouti Port in northeast Africa. Its naval escorting in the Gulf of Aden and the Somalia waters, evacuation of nationals from Yemen all based on its expanding military existence in this region.
Currently, China is the world’s largest oil importer of crude oil, almost half of it imported from the Middle East(mainly the Gulf region). It also has hundreds of thousand expatriates in the Gulf region, and up to 300,000 nationals in UAE alone.

Considering China’s vast investment and growing interests in the Gulf, it should have a strong willing to maintain the Gulf security in the future. The Yemen war and sever diplomatic relations created difficulties to Xi’s first state visit to the Gulf, and these unexpected emergencies will continue to happen if there’s no collective security framework in this region.

According to the security structure and elemental factors mentioned above, China will mainly contribute to the international level and regional level of Gulf security and at the same time utilize its political and economic influences to both sides to neutralize their opinions.

4. Challenges for Sino-Gulf cooperation
There’re lots of challenges for the Sino-Gulf cooperation in the collective security.
First, if China has the proper intention and ability to get involved in the Gulf affairs. China has its settled “non-interference” foreign policy and unclear Middle East strategy and many people questioned if China has the ability to deal with the intricate muddy issues and protect its interests here.

Secondly, the Saudi-Iran antagonism is the biggest headache to all external powers and it will test China’s diplomat skills as a mediator in promoting peace.

Thirdly, the Saudi-US alliance will add difficulties to China’s involvement in this region and whether Saudi can accept the concept of dual-track alliance, military cooperation with US and economy connection with China, is the key issue to Sino-Saudi relation. Military cooperation and economy connection separately contribute to the Gulf stability, and China is gaining military influences in this region considering its close relationship with Pakistan, it will be very helpful for China to extend its consistency with this region.

Fourthly, the dual misunderstanding of Sino-Gulf relations is an obstacle for both sides to further bilateral relationship in the future.

This is the basic outline of my paper, which shall be finished in the next few months. Given the advantages of doing fieldwork in the Gulf and my background from China’s side, I shall have some helpful archives and resources to complete my paper.

House of Lords debate, ‘Great Britain and the Persian Gulf,’ 5 May 1903. Hansard, vol. 121, column 1348.
Joe Stork, Middle East Oil and the Energy Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), p. 34.
Gary Sick, ‘The United States and the Persian Gulf in the Twentieth Century,’ in Lawrence Potter(ed.), The Persian Gulf in History(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), p, 298.
Afkhami, Gholam-Reza. The Life and Times of the Shah, University of California press, Berkeley Los Angeles, London
Jon B. Alterman, America's Divergence, Center for Strategic and International Studies,
Theodore Karasik, Saudi-Iran Tensions Place Pressure on Smaller GCC States, Jan 11, 2016. Middle East Institute
James Larocco, U.S.-Gulf Relations in 2014, Center for Strategic and International Studies,
China’s One Belt and One Road initiative and its connection with the Gulf region.