The GCC States and the Viability of a Strategic Military Partnership with China

By Imad Mansour, Qatar University, The Middle East Institute, Mar 17, 2015

The term “strategic partnership” has been increasingly used in GCC circles to signify that relations with China are important and worthy of long-term investment. In a March 14, 2014 speech during his visit to Beijing, Saudi Arabia’s then Crown Prince Salman announced that “we are witnessing the transformation of the relationship with China to one of strategic partnership with broad dimensions, to the benefit of both our countries.”[1] Saudi Arabia’s position was echoed by the emir of Qatar during a 2014 visit to China in which issues of common concern to all GCC states, especially combating terrorism, were discussed.[2] Abdel-Aziz Aluwaisheg, GCC general assistant secretary for negotiations and strategic dialogue, has also noted that there is growing interest in the Gulf to develop a “strategic dialogue” with China.[3]

Despite this growing GCC recognition of China’s strategic role in the region, what exactly a “strategic partnership” or “strategic dialogue” would look like remains unclear. This essay discusses why officials in GCC member states might be hesitant to embrace the idea of China as a viable strategic military partner, while at the same time recognizing the need to further develop relations with China.

Securing Independent Military Capabilities

From the perspective of GCC leaders, the main military advantage of partnership with China is Beijing’s potential willingness to provide weapons that the United States is currently reluctant to sell. Given the United States’ lukewarm responses to recent regional unrest, the GCC countries are seeking to augment their independent capabilities, and China could be an important supplier, whether or not it is a full “strategic partner.”[4] These GCC views are based on the understanding that as economic interdependence grows, China might be more willing to provide advanced weapons systems in greater quantities. It is important to note that looking to China for arms sales is consistent with the GCC states’ broader strategy of expanding their network of suppliers.[5]

However, GCC leaders continue to assess the benefits of such an arrangement through the prism of their enduring relationship with the United States. This is largely due to historical momentum. GCC states have long procured most of their military hardware, training, intelligence systems, and combat systems directly from the U.S. government or from American businesses. In addition, the United States and its allies share GCC concerns about containing regional conflicts in Iraq and Syria, as well as the region-wide threat posed by al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates.[6] Furthermore, it seems that despite its reluctance to sell certain weapons directly to the GCC, the United States has tacitly approved GCC purchases of such weapons from China.[7] This balance―whereby the United States sells the GCC most of its conventional weapons systems, while GCC states purchase other approved weapons elsewhere―allows the GCC to accrue the benefits of remaining within the U.S. umbrella while also buttressing its defenses. Obtaining military hardware from China that the United States has not approved would involve an extremely delicate diplomatic game—one in which the GCC stands to lose more than it would currently gain. (more…)

The Middle East-Asia Project (MAP) is an initiative undertaken by the Middle East Institute which is designed to serve two broad objectives:

1. To promote awareness and understanding of the multidimensional relations between the Middle East and Asia by providing information and analysis on cross-regional economic, political, security, and social/cultural interactions and their implications; and

2. To foster collaborative research and other activities regarding Middle East-Asia relations through establishing an online community of experts and forging institutional partnerships.

The Cyber Library contains publication details, abstracts and live links to full text versions of previously published works on Middle East-Asian affairs organized by country and by topic/issue.

The Experts Directory contains the profiles and contact details of a worldwide network of academics, business leaders, diplomats, journalists, researchers and other practitioners affiliated with the MAP.

The Infographics project element consists of periodically updated charts, tables and timelines depicting key trends and developments in trade, investment, migration, and other spheres of cross-regional activity.

The Publications element is organized as follows: (more…)

Mackintosh-Smith in China

One of the most celebrated Arab travelers was the 14th century Ibn Battuta. For a book on the travels of Ibn Battuta, Timothy Mackintosh-Smith literally followed in the footsteps that the Arab savant had taken some seven centuries earlier. In addition to the book, a documentary film was made. An excerpt of the film on Tim’s experience int he Chinese city of Zaytun is available on Youtube and well worth watching. Other Youtube excerpts are on an Ibn Battuta shopping mall in Dubai and on Turkey. Vimeo provides access to the entire first part of the three-part series. For more information on the work of Mackintosh-Smith, check out his website. An earlier documentary on the English Sheikh and the Arab Gentleman by Bader Ben Hirsi is available in its entirely on Youtube.

Arabic Paper #0972, University of Utah- J. Willard Marriott Library

by Anouar Majid, Tingis Redux, January 31st, 2013

After reading Jonathan Bloom’s splendid book Paper Before Print: The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World, published more than decade ago, I now think that there is a close relationship between Islam as we know it and the discovery of paper by Arabs in the 8th century. I also understand why natives of Tangier in Morocco call paper “kaghit.” Since it was the Chinese who invented paper some 2000 years ago, the Muslims who conquered Central Asia in the 8th century used that term, which was borrowed from the Persian kaghaz, itself originating from the Chinese guzhi.

The Muslims adopted paper with gusto and the technology of papermaking soon spread in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, North Africa and Spain. Europeans learned papermaking from the Moors who established the first paper mills in Spain. Paper eventually facilitated the printing process that was started by Johann Gutenberg in 15th-century Germany.

According to Muslim sources, the first Muslim paper mill was established in 8th century Baghdad either by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur or by Harun al-Rashid. Regardless of who claims the honor, the use of paper soon led to the establishment of a Stationers’ Market (Souk al-Warraqeen). By the 12th century, according to one account, the Moroccan city of Fez had some 472 paper mills. No wonder papermaking has been associated with Arabs and Arabic. When one talks about “reams” of paper, one is using an Arabic term—rizma, which means bundle—via the Spanish resma and Old French rayme.

The discovery of paper by Arabs led to a major revolution in human civilization. Until then, most documents outside Asia were written on parchments (dried animal skins) or papyrus rolls—both laborious and expensive processes. Paper was easier to use. The Abbasids lost no time in making use of it to enhance their standing among world civilizations. They established a House of Wisdom (bayt al-hikma), commissioned the translations of foreign works in Greek, Hindu and Persian, wrote down the Hadith and codified Islamic law from what had been a mostly oral tradition. Libraries grew and played a major role in the dissemination of knowledge. The Shiite dynasty of the Fatimids in Egypt had an annual budget for library collections and activities. (more…)