The Gulf

& China

A Panama-flagged Chinese ship is docked in Oman's Duqm - © 2018 Sebastian Castelier

Over the past decade, the Arab Countries of the Gulf have substantially expanded their political and economic ties with the People's Republic of China, often referred to as the 'Gulf's eastward turn'. Indeed, trade value has increased from just under $10 billion in 2000 to nearly $115 billion in 2016. Yet, China plans to move forward by signing a China-GCC Free Trade Agreement and connecting several strategic locations throughout the Arabian Peninsula to its multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.

Although cooperation on hydrocarbons is the core of the relationship - a third of Chinese energy imports come from the Gulf - infrastructure projects, bilateral trade and foreign direct investment are growing exponentially. Yet, several local communities raise concern over China’s expanding influence across the region.

New projects


In the remote desert along Oman's southern coast, the port town of Duqm hopes to become a major Middle East logistics hub, connecting the Gulf to the world’s busiest maritime trade route. According to the site’s general manager, the port could provide unhindered access to the Indian Ocean for gas, oil and other bulk products arriving overland from the Gulf states. In 2016, Oman Wanfang, a consortium of six private Chinese firms, has signed a partnership agreement to invest US $10.7bn. Read more...


Local opposition

In Kuwait, lawmakers are raising concerns over China's interest to connect its Belt and Road Initiative to Silk City, a mega-project at the forefront of the emirate’s Vision 2035. However, the project will have to face opposition from some of Kuwait's vocal Islamist opposition members in the Kuwait National Assembly. Conservative parliamentarians oppose China’s global ambitions.

“If they don’t stop slaughtering Chinese Muslims, we will hold up the Silk City talks with them,” Islamist parliament member Mohammed Hayef Al Mutiri said. He was referring to the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of about one million Muslims belonging to the Turkic ethnic minority in Xinjiang, a province in northwest China. “In those camps, they are subjected to forced political indoctrination, renunciation of their faith, mistreatment, and, in some cases, torture,” Human Rights Watch stated in February 2019. In alliance with other parliament members, Al Mutiri intends to form an opposition group to block Chinese investments. 

In Duqm, big changes are brewing, with the coastal town slated to become the Middle East’s biggest fisheries hub - and a link in China’s multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative. While waiting for the new port to be inaugurated, Duqm’s fishermen have been temporarily restricted to an isolated, windy beach. “About 400 big fishing boats will exploit our vast marine resources. Fish processing plants and cold storage facilities will work around the clock to export our products, mainly to Asia,” the local Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries chief said. In spite of promising economic forecasts, villagers are voicing concerns over the risk of exploitation associated with a growing industrialisation of the sector. In Duqm, a millennia-old fishing tradition looks set to be modernised on the altar of economic diversification. Read more...

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 -   © 2020 Sebastian Castelier

Overview of the Port of Duqm, on the Arabian Sea - © 2018 Sebastian Castelier