An examination of the evolution of China’s foreign policy in the decades that followed the Communist revolution in 1949 shows how the PRC came to look for a diplomatic opening in the Middle East in general and the Gulf area in particular. The resulting international order in the post-Cold War years motivated Arab scholars like Bin Huwaidin to study Beijing’s global behavior and how China reacted to tumultuous events such as the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Iran-Iraq War and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. China first attempted to approach the Middle East through the support it gave to some governments trying to build socialist economies in the 1960s and 1970s, and by providing military help to revolutionary and guerrilla movements in the Arab world. China’sgrowing relationship with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) represents the recognition of non-communist conservative governments on the part of China’s new ruling elite.
This book surveys the literature on China and its international political role. The author has also compiled statistics about China’s trade and arms sales to Iraq, Iran and the GCC states. The author studies the theoretical framework of China’s foreign policy and how Marxism-Leninism equipped its leaders with a world-order concept that favored revolutionary change. Later, Maoism became a state ideology that precipitated a number of revisions in China’s world role, such as resistance to Soviet hegemony, intensification of social change inside China during the Cultural Revolution, and eventually the détente relationship with the United States to ease tensions in world politics. Then, China’s modernization program according to the post-Mao leadership and its foreign-policy orientation and goals initiated China’s search for an activist diplomacy in many areas of international relations. Huwaidin refers to many Chinese documents that defined Beijing’s world role in different periods.
The author acknowledges the influence of the Cold War in shaping China’s attitude toward the Middle East. Both Washington and Moscow played the “Chinese card” in their bipolar global competition. In the post-Cold War era, and as China’s power rises relative to the deepening economic and political malaise inside Russia, both Washington and Beijing are using the “Russian card” in their new competition in the world arena. Thus, China hopes that its relationship with the Gulf states will increase its leverage in world politics versus America and Russia or any other power. From 1949 till 1970, China felt unable to approach the Gulf area. Most Gulf states supported Taiwan. Saudi Arabia voted for Taiwan to retain its permanent seat at the Security Council instead of the PRC. The Arab states of the Gulf were apprehensive of China’s radical communist regime, viewing it as an atheist system of government. They resented as well China’s recognition of Israel. The abstention of Saudi Arabia and Yemen from a vote in 1951 to condemn China as an aggressor in the Korean War did not represent an early rapprochement toward Beijing. Rather, it showed the failure of America to maintain the alliance it created during the Korean War. In 1955, trade between China and all the Gulf states in addition to Iraq and Iran stood at $1.7 million. Most of China’s contacts with the Gulf came through the Chinese embassy in Cairo.
From 1971 until 1989, China became an important arms supplier to the countries in the region, especially Iraq. Yet China tilted toward Iran during its war against Iraq, fearing that since Washington supported Baghdad, Tehran would increase its reliance on Moscow. China in early 1990 signed an agreement with Iran to help Tehran develop nuclear energy.
Kuwait and Oman were the first two Gulf states to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan. During the 1990s, China helped change the geopolitical realities of the Gulf region by selling the intermediate-range ballistic missile CSS-2 to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis even tried to buy experimental nuclear reactors from Beijing. China also endorsed the unification of Yemen. China’s relationship with the Gulf states remains complicated because of the question of the recognition of Taiwan. In addition, China’s relationship with the Gulf estates is not conducted with a collective entity such as the GCC, but rather with the separate states individually.
China may find some affinity with Russia in its diplomatic foray into the Gulf. Both Beijing and Moscow look at the Gulf as a possible area for extending their influence in light of the U.S. enlargement of its security perimeter in Europe with the incorporation of the former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO. Both China and Russia look toward the Gulf as a trade area to make up for the markets they lost as a result of the consolidation of the European Union into a single market. But neither China nor Russia can exclude America as they promote their diplomatic interests in the Gulf. The United States is the only country capable of affecting the balance of power in the region. Yet China has remained opposed to the continuation of U.S. sanctions against Iraq. While Huwaidin dwells on the basis of Chinese foreign-policy conduct and the intellectual compass that will guide China’s future diplomatic effort in the Gulf and other areas, he does not take into consideration a number of factors that will affect China’s global, Asian and Arab diplomacy. How will China’s growing energy relations with the Gulf states impact its energy policies in Southeast Asia, especially its competition with Vietnam over the Spratys Islands? Will China continue to clamp down on its Islamic population while it develops ties with the governments of the Gulf? Can China steer a balance between its relations with the Gulf states and its growing ties with Israel? Can China exercise more weight vis-à-vis Japan if it becomes friendly with the Gulf states, considering Japan’s dependence on Gulf oil? Will China’s relationship with the Gulf help transform its status from a regional into a global power?
The book is an important source of information on two increasingly important areas of world politics. It is a useful text for the study of the establishment of diplomatic relations and the development of economic interests among nations. With the strategic environment in the Gulf in a state of turmoil as a result of America’s renewed encounter with Iraq, this book can help the researcher establish a paradigm for understanding the intricate web of relations between great powers and the countries of the Gulf.