China, more than any other country in the world, needs a stable Gulf region. China’s economy depends heavily on oil and gas imports from the GCC states, Iraq, and Iran. This dependence will, if anything, increase if China follows through on its declared intention to reduce its consumption of coal, the principal domestic energy source. No one believes China can replace even a fraction of its coal demands with sustainable hydroelectric, wind, and solar energy in the foreseeable future. While China has also cultivated the region as a market for its exports, the Gulf’s role as a prime source of energy takes priority.
Despite this vital dependence, China has shown little appetite for participating in the preservation of stability in the region. In fairness, for decades China’s foreign policy beyond its immediate neighborhood has been guided by the following principles: (1) non-interference in domestic politics of other countries; (2) subordination of political exchange – other than pressuring countries not to have ties with Taiwan – to trade relations, and (3) a preference for bilateral diplomacy and trade rather than working through multilateral trade mechanisms.
Additionally, China does not possess the instruments to support a robust foreign policy role in the region. Its increasingly powerful navy remains largely a “sea denial” force to keep the Americans at distance, rather than a “force projection” navy that can operate further from the homeland. Furthermore, the Chinese have taken pains not to get involved in regional disputes by maintaining decent relationships with all countries in the region. With the exception of rejecting US withdrawal from the JCPOA, China has signaled no intention of competing with American hegemony in the region and has often indicated that it appreciated the American role in maintaining stability. However, Sino-American relations have worsened sharply in the last year and confrontation looms in October over US efforts to snap back a UN ban on arms sales to Iran.
Can China change its position in the Gulf given its structural inability to do much? What will the Chinese position be regarding the end of the arms embargo on Iran in October? How much can Gulf States influence Chinese policy? Will China retain its hands-off position as rivalry and tension in the Gulf region increase? How will worsening Sino-US relationships play out in the region?
Featured Speakers: Ambassador Patrick Theros, Lucille Greer, Professor NIU Xinchun, and Camille Lons.
Ambassador Patrick Theros (Moderator)
Strategic Advisor, Gulf International Forum
Ambassador Theros has held such positions as Political Advisor to the Commander in Chief, Central Command; Deputy Chief of Mission and Political officer in Amman; Charge D’affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission in Abu Dhabi; Economic Counselor in Damascus; and U.S. Ambassador to the State of Qatar. In a career spanning almost 36 years, he also has served in diplomatic positions in Beirut, Managua, Dharan and Abu Dhabi, as well as in the Department of State. During that period, he earned four Superior Honor Awards. After retirement Ambassador Theros served as President of the U.S. Qatar Business Council in 2000-2017
Schwarzman Fellow, the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States
Lucille Greer is the Schwarzman Fellow at the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. She has conducted policy research in both the Middle East and China. While based at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, she researched China’s engagement in Middle Eastern conflict resolution and the implications for American foreign policy. Her current research project with the Wilson Center is entitled “Bridging the Gulf: China’s Navigation of the Saudi-Iranian Rivalry.” Her interests include authoritarianism, security, intervention policy, sectarianism, and American and Chinese foreign policy. She has published research with the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program, West Point’s Modern War Institute, and The Diplomat. Lucille has a Master’s degree in Global Affairs from Tsinghua University and a dual bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Tennessee.
Professor NIU Xinchun
Research Professor, Director of Institute of Middle East Studies of CICIR
Prof. Niu holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and a B.A. and a M.A. in History. He is currently the Director of Institute of Middle East Studies of CICIR and until 2011, he served as the Deputy Director of the Institute of American Studies. His study mainly focuses on China-U.S. Relations, Taiwan-related issues and Middle East politics. He is frequently interviewed by major media outlets and writes intensively for journals. His recent publications include the book Strategic Intelligence Analysis: Methods and Practices, “On China’s International Identity: A Horizontal Analysis”, “Thoughts on the ‘New Sino-US Relationship'”, “Sino-US Relations: Ideological Clashes and Competitions “, “Eight Myths about Sino-U.S. Relations “, and ” Sino-US Relations: Dependence and Fragility “, “China’s Middle East Strategy under the ‘Belt and Road’ Initiative”.
Research Associate, the International Institute for Strategic Studies
Camille Lons is a Research Associate of the IISS, based in the Middle East office in Bahrain. She covers political and security developments in the Gulf region, with a specific focus on Gulf countries’ economic and political relations with Asian powers and the Horn of Africa.