Matteo Legrenzi and Fred H. Lawson
Dr. Legrenzi is associate professor at the School of International Relations of Ca' Foscari University of Venice, and author of The GCC and the International Relations of the Gulf (I. B. Tauris, 2011). He is president of the Italian Association for Middle East Studies (SeSaMO). Dr. Lawson is professor of government at Mills College and author of Global Security Watch Syria (Praeger, 2013).
Relations between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the countries of the Gulf have been subjected to an escalating barrage of scholarly scrutiny. At first, academic writing subsumed Beijing's dealings with the Arab Gulf states and Iran into comprehensive surveys of Chinese policy toward the Middle East as a whole. Three landmark monographs fixed the bar for these initial accounts: Yitzhak Shichor's The Middle East in China's Foreign Policy, Hashim Behbehani's China's Foreign Policy in the Arab World and John Calabrese's China's Changing Relations with the Middle East.1 Efforts to situate the PRC's policies toward the Gulf in the context of broader regional developments continue up to the present, as exemplified by Geoffrey Kemp's The East Moves West.2 Such first-generation studies set out to be comprehensive not only geographically, but thematically as well. Attention is usually paid to a wide range of diplomatic, military, economic and cultural trends, albeit with an emphasis on interstate diplomacy.
Second-generation scholarship has become more tightly focused. Recent writings concentrate on the PRC's dealings with the Arab Gulf states and Iran to the exclusion of broad trends across the Middle East. These studies tend to highlight economic matters and play down or even ignore the diplomatic, military and cultural dimensions of Beijing's policies toward the region,3 even though commercial and financial relations are sometimes placed in the context of Beijing's quest for "energy security."4
More intriguing is the remarkably limited range of theoretical concepts that get deployed to explain Beijing's relations with the Gulf. Whether analysts set out to explore the PRC's policies toward the Middle East as a whole or its dealings with the Arab Gulf states and Iran in particular, one type of argument predominates: Its actions are a direct and rational response to changes in the global distribution of power, undertaken in a deliberate effort to maximize the security of the PRC. Likewise, studies of commercial and financial transactions almost always claim that increased trade and investment with the Gulf reflect Beijing's interest in promoting sustained economic growth. In short, what James Rosenau calls "systemic" factors are invariably accorded the greatest weight in accounting for China's relations with this part of the world.5
Pioneering scholarship on the PRC's policies toward the Middle East emphasizes the underlying dynamics of security and power that generate strategic rivalry between China and its primary adversaries, the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States. Malcolm Kerr, for example, observes that "where[as] the Soviets have developed an increasingly cautious, even conservative, sense of their own vested interests as a great power in the international arena, the Chinese remain strongly committed to revolution and struggle for national liberation around the world."6 Despite concerted efforts on Beijing's part to build bridges to revolutionary leaderships in Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad during the mid-1950s, however, "neither China's anti-imperialist militancy nor her domestic revolutionary example have [sic] exerted strong attractions in Egypt or elsewhere in the eastern Arab world."7 On the contrary, "to the [United Arab Republic's] government itself, China's continual agitation at international gatherings is annoying in any case, for on occasion it undercuts the U.A.R.'s own tactical moderation."8 In a similar vein, George Masannat asserts simply that China's consistent and overriding objective has been to "drive Soviet influence out of the Arab Middle East."9
Sino-Soviet antagonism continued to propel Chinese policy throughout the 1970s and 1980s.10 Jiang Chen argues that Beijing's initial foray into the region reflected the PRC's overriding interest in parrying Soviet initiatives. "From a global perspective," Chen claims, "China's overall goal to contain the Soviet southward movement, protect against Moscow's further expansion, and crush Soviet attempts to encircle China, did not change," even after Deng Xiaoping took over as premier in 1978.11 China's interest in "containing the Soviet Union" led it to support the Carter Doctrine and cooperate with Washington to back anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan, as well as to cultivate ties to Saudi Arabia.12 This line of argument can also be discerned in the classic monographs by Shichor, Behbehani and Calabrese.
Calabrese argues, for instance, that the PRC's entry into Middle Eastern affairs can best be explained by the exigencies of the Cold War. More precisely, he claims that it was "the presence and activities of the superpowers [that] have supplied not only incentives and opportunities for China to act, but have also imposed constraints and costs on China's acting" in this part of the world.13 Other factors may have played a role in shaping PRC policy over the years, most notably the "perceptions of Chinese leaders" at any given time. But perceptual factors are assumed to operate in such a way as to "define China's interests, obligations and aspirations" in Middle Eastern affairs.14 There is no hint that Chinese leaders' perceptions might at times diverge from objective strategic realities.
Calabrese points out that, whenever Washington and Moscow inch closer to one another, Beijing responds by adopting policies toward the Middle East designed simultaneously to block Moscow's initiatives and undercut Washington's inherent advantages in regional affairs. Such calculations led the Chinese government to pursue closer ties to Iran during the 1970s, when the United States and Soviet Union found themselves engaged in active détente.15 On the other hand, whenever Washington and Moscow have a falling out, the PRC gravitates toward closer collaboration with the United States. After Soviet forces moved into Afghanistan in December 1979, for example, "Chinese support for the mujaheddin not only improved China's reputation in Washington, it also contributed immeasurably to China's image in West Asia."16 Beijing's relations with Washington's primary regional ally, Iran, strengthened at this time as well.17
These strategic dynamics operate somewhat differently in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since 1991, Beijing has expressed deep concern over the emergence of American "hegemonism" in the Middle East, and has signaled repeatedly that it intends to take steps to counteract U.S. dominance in the Gulf.18 Such considerations set the stage for increased cooperation between the PRC and Iran in the wake of the 1978-79 revolution, a partnership that blossomed during the mid-1990s.19
Mohamed bin Huwaidin's detailed account of Chinese policy toward the Gulf during the half-century after 1949 mirrors Calabrese's analysis. Bin Huwaidin starts off by asserting that "China's relations with both superpowers and the superpowers' interactions with each other, along with [Beijing's] view of the world[,] are the keys to understanding China's policy towards the Gulf and Peninsula region."20 Despite the fact that the empirical opening chapter of Bin Huwaidin's study is entitled "China's Perceptions of the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Region," there is no indication that policy-makers' perceptions might operate at variance with objective assessments of the strategic circumstances that confront the PRC. Greater Chinese activism in the Gulf after 1971, for example, is linked both to Beijing's acceptance of U.S. predominance in the region and to China's campaign to prevent the Soviet Union from filling "the 'power vacuum' in the Gulf region [that emerged] following the British withdrawal."21 After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing took steps to counteract U.S. hegemony and improve relations with the Gulf states, most notably the Islamic Republic of Iran.22 Similar motivations may well have led to China's unprecedented 1995 military cooperation pact with Kuwait, although no explanation for this episode is proffered.23
A somewhat different kind of systemic argument explains the PRC's burgeoning relations with the Gulf states in terms of shifts in global power that have enhanced China's position relative to its primary rivals. Shichor, for instance, explains China's increasingly active involvement in the Middle East during the early 1980s in terms of the rising military and economic potential of the PRC vis-à-vis those of the United States and the Soviet Union. Prior to 1979, when it stood comparatively "crippled in diplomatic, economic and military terms, Mao's China had no option but to cultivate non-governmental unofficial actors, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, by backing a number of Middle Eastern national liberation and revolutionary movements."24 Beijing stepped up its activities in the region only after Moscow found itself "bogged down in Afghanistan," and China's relations with the United States soured "as a result of the Tiananmen massacre."25
Unprecedented levels of U.S. military intervention in 1990-91 prompted the PRC to adopt a posture toward the Gulf that clearly distinguishes Beijing's approach to regional affairs from that of Washington. Specifically, "China has embarked on a charm offensive, using a 'soft power' approach in its efforts to engage with and gain political influence" among the Gulf states.26 Relying on non-military power not only underscores the fundamental contrast between the PRC and the United States, but also gives China a competitive advantage in economic affairs, since "it focuses on no-strings aid to and investment in countries that it does business with and does not demand the 'good governance and human rights' associated with Western assistance."27
Alternatively, it has been argued that systemic dynamics give China an incentive to accommodate, rather than confront, its rivals in the Gulf. Wen-Sheng Chen attributes Beijing's adamant refusal to veto successive UN Security Council resolutions that condemn Iran's nuclear research program to the fact that "the Chinese leadership wants to avoid undermining the Sino-U.S. relationship [merely] for the sake of its energy and strategic interests in Iran."28 Shichor concurs:
Despite their growing and public irritation at Washington's behavior in the Middle East (and all over the world), the Chinese are careful not to tread on U.S. toes. They have not only explicitly failed, or not even tried, to undermine U.S.-led and -initiated offensives in the Middle East, thereby implicitly supporting them. They have also bowed to U.S. pressure on a number of occasions, primarily related to nonconventional arms proliferation.29
Incentives to accommodate U.S. interests in the Gulf have grown more pronounced as unencumbered access to the American market has become vital for the continued expansion of the Chinese economy. Steve Yetiv and Chunlong Lu point out that "China's economic growth depends on American support in international institutions and especially on the U.S. market, technology, and investment, and Beijing is acutely aware of this reality. The United States is far more important to China than is Iran," they continue, "because China can achieve economic growth without Iran's oil, but not without American support."30 Consequently, "the more defiant Iran becomes" in pursuing its nuclear research program, "and the more pressures Washington puts on Beijing, the more likely China will support tougher measures" to punish the Islamic Republic.31
Strategic rivalries other than those involving Russia and the United States have been credited with driving China's Gulf policy as well. It was only after the Iranian authorities opted to recognize the PRC rather than the Republic of China (ROC) as the rightful representative of the Chinese people that Beijing stepped up ties to Tehran.32 Similarly, Shichor traces Beijing's willingness to establish normal diplomatic relations with Oman in 1978 to Muscat's decision to recognize the People's Republic as "the sole legitimate government of China," thereby downgrading Oman's relations with the ROC.33 Beijing likewise initiated a campaign to consolidate links to Saudi Arabia in the wake of "the collapse of the two central pillars of China's Middle Eastern policy [the shah of Iran and Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt],"34 although the initiative faltered when Riyadh refused to sever diplomatic relations with the ROC.35 Formal relations between the PRC and Saudi Arabia only took shape after Riyadh downgraded its embassy in Taipei to a "representative office."36
Systemic factors rooted in the Middle East itself have at times been adduced as explanations for Chinese policy. Calabrese argues that the decision by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) to exercise the "oil weapon" in the aftermath of the October 1973 war reinvigorated the PRC's relations with the region. It did so by giving credence to "Beijing's otherwise hollow exhortation of the Third World to wage war against superpower hegemony," and by making it possible for China "to salvage its materialist-revolutionary credentials while simultaneously continuing to recast its image as a responsible member of the international community."37 More important, the 1973 oil embargo transformed China's dealings with the Arab world by riveting its attention on the Gulf. The newfound global influence of the Arab oil-producing countries converged with Beijing's longstanding interest in forging a strategic partnership with Iran that could outflank the Soviet Union, thereby drawing the PRC into Gulf affairs to an unprecedented extent. Subsequent opportunities to sell armaments to Saudi Arabia and Iran, and after 2003 to gain a foothold in Iraq's oil sector, convinced Beijing to remain active in the region.38
Global security trends blend seamlessly into the Chinese economy's growing thirst for hydrocarbons in most studies of PRC policy toward the Gulf.39 For Calabrese, the deepening diplomatic and commercial partnership with Iran that coalesced during the mid-1970s was buttressed by "Beijing's desire to secure Iranian investment in China's domestic petroleum industry."40 At the same time, the Chinese government attempted to build bridges to Kuwait, "as yet another potential lever to gain input into OPEC policy."41 At the end of the 1970s, Beijing did its best to persuade Kuwait to augment not only shipments of crude oil but also injections of investment capital into the Chinese economy.42 Bin Huwaidin, by contrast, argues that a concern for oil supplies did not drive Chinese policy until the early 1990s; before then it was the prospect of selling armaments and nuclear technology that "dominated China's interactions with the Gulf region."43
All observers agree that by the start of the twenty-first century, the PRC's skyrocketing demand for imported hydrocarbons led it to pursue closer relations with oil-exporting countries tout court.44 In order to avoid becoming inordinately dependent on one or two major suppliers, the State Council in November 2003 adopted the so-called "leapfrog strategy," which ordered China's state-owned energy companies to diversify imports among a wide range of external sources. Economic relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia almost immediately soared,45 and sales of military and dual-use equipment to the Islamic Republic quickly followed suit.46 Closer cooperation with Tehran not only enables China to diversify its oil supply but also entails the possibility of easier access to the hydrocarbons-producing territories that ring the Caspian Sea.47 Furthermore, constructing oil and gas pipelines directly from western China to Iran, or to the nearby Pakistani port of Gwadar, makes it possible for Beijing to circumvent the so-called "Malacca Predicament," which leaves the PRC vulnerable to interruptions in shipping through the narrow sea lanes between Malaysia and Indonesia.48
China's leaders are presumed to believe that competition for access to hydrocarbons is going to intensify in the foreseeable future.49 With a growing number of countries already relying heavily on Gulf output, Beijing has attempted to ensure itself a guaranteed share of regional production. It has accomplished this by "negotiat[ing] long-term supply contracts and conclud[ing] production sharing agreements directly with Gulf countries as opposed to international oil companies."50 The PRC's interest in locking up adequate supplies of oil and gas has on occasion led it to overpay for its current and future fuel requirements, an outcome that no market-driven economy would tolerate.51 Furthermore, China's long history of championing economic self-reliance leads state planners to boost domestic exploration, production and refining at the same time that Beijing negotiates long-term contracts with Gulf producers.52
In an intriguing variant of the systemic explanation for China's Gulf policy, Shichor asserts that there is an inherent contradiction between "Beijing's increased economic activism in the Middle East" and "its political role in the region."53 Despite the commonly held view that "accelerated economic growth" has made it "stronger, bolder, and [more] potent" in regional diplomatic and strategic affairs, the country's explosive economic growth "has [instead] made Beijing politically weaker, feebler, and impotent."54 This is because the PRC is now pushing "for the maintenance of stability almost at all costs and for a policy of avoiding conflict and disorder." In addition, China's emergence as a conventional great power "subordinates the Chinese to a variety of norms, regulations and rules that limit their room to maneuver." Consequently, today's China has ended up becoming, at worst, "'Japanized,' economically strong but politically weak," and, at best, overly cautious in its dealings with this corner of the world.
Strategic complications that accompany the People's Republic's increasing reliance on imported hydrocarbons have inspired a torrent of writings on the connection between "energy security" and China's relations with the Gulf. Sharply rising demand for energy gives the leadership in Beijing a stronger incentive than ever before to ensure that China enjoys unthreatened access to adequate supplies of oil and gas at relatively stable prices.55 Concern over the reliability of energy imports jumped in 2003-04, when the flow of hydrocarbons unexpectedly spiked. Chinese officials immediately set up an Energy Bureau inside the National Development and Reform Commission to implement a comprehensive program to reduce the local economy's vulnerablity to future disruptions in energy supplies.56 This agency was soon superseded by a State Energy Office and an associated Energy Leading Small Group.57
Beijing's initial campaign to maximize energy security included ramping up domestic output, making more efficient use of hydrocarbons, constructing a fleet of Chinese-owned oil tankers58 and acquiring exploration and production rights "in the places where traditional importers were not present, such as Sudan, Angola, Venezuela, Thailand, Papua New Guinea and so on."59 The last of these four strategies has been widely interpreted as being unduly "provocative," on the grounds that "China has taken advantage of the power vacuum in some of these countries and established its presence so that it could undermine U.S. world domination."60 Yi-Chong Xu nevertheless offers a diametrically opposed interpretation: "China went to the countries where the U.S. either had withdrawn, such as Sudan, or had a very weak presence, [precisely] because it did not want to provoke the U.S."61 The PRC leadership thereby acts in such a way as to protect China's most pressing energy interests, without directly jeoparding the security of its most powerful global rival.62
Moreover, the main thrust of Beijing's effort to diversify energy suppliers entails a marked turn away from the Arab Gulf states and Iran. Whereas Gulf producers supplied some 90 percent of China's oil imports in 1995, by 2005 they accounted for no more than 50 percent.63 Angola, Russia, Sudan and Kazakhstan gained what might loosely be called market share in the PRC economy, even as Saudi Arabia and Iran lost ground.64 Chinese activities in the Gulf further diminished during the second half of the twenty-first century's opening decade, as a result of the PRC's commitment to a strategy of acquiring equity stakes in downstream production.65 This strategy turned out to be derailed by the existence of local, state-affiliated oil companies throughout the Gulf that refused to turn over ownership shares to Chinese enterprises.
By 2010, the Arab Gulf states and Iran had once again become crucial hydrocarbons suppliers to the PRC, despite the imperatives of energy security. Plans to cultivate close ties to Venezuela and Sudan ended up precipitating unexpected diplomatic difficulties,66 while the re-emergence of Iraq as a major oil producer provided Beijing with new opportunities for long-term supply contracts and equity partnerships. Massive pipeline projects across Central Eurasia largely failed to meet expectations.67 At the same time, China's halting turn toward market mechanisms as a means of obtaining energy security gave a short-term filip to transactions with Iran.68
Other explanations for China's relations with the Gulf emphasize cultural and ideological factors. Shichor observes in passing, for example, that the moderation that became apparent in PRC policies toward the Middle East during the 1980s and 1990s reflects a long-standing tendency to pursue "the (Confucian) middle way" when dealing with the outside world.69 Kemp adds that Chinese leaders harbor "a very Westphalian concept of sovereignty, which is to say that they strongly believe in the sanctity of territory and reject external interference in domestic politics."70 Both sets of values predispose the People's Republic toward pervasive restraint, pragmatism and moderation in its dealings with the Arab Gulf states and Iran.71
Shichor explains China's attempts simultaneously to conciliate Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic in a similar way: "Reviving the traditional policy of 'playing barbarians against barbarians,' Beijing is well aware of the mutual Saudi-Iranian animosity and exploits it fully to its advantage."72 Somewhat less plausibly, Yetiv and Lu remark that the PRC and Saudi Arabia "have had a common set of [strategic] interests," due to their underlying similarities "as repressive societies."73 Naser al-Tamimi adds that "both states are led by an older generation of leaders, many of whom witnessed or actually participated in the weaving of the basic fabric of their respective nation states."74
John Garver attributes the emergence of intimate relations between Beijing and Tehran to their common experience with European imperialism. "The spirit of Sino-Iranian ties means that Beijing seeks cooperation with Iran as a way of making the world whole after the humiliation of ancient non-Western nations at Western hands in the modern era."75 Kemp concurs: both China and Iran "were major regional powers that found their empires carved up and their autonomy challenged when Western colonial powers came into dominance, and they often are referred to as having a similar victim mentality as a result."76 In a similar fashion, Saudi Arabia's King Faisal bin Abd al-Aziz caught the attention of Beijing after he orchestrated the 1973-74 oil embargo against the United States, Britain and the Netherlands and subsequently emerged as a champion of the Palestinian cause.77
Beijing's steadily receding ideological fervor is often credited with opening the door to better relations with the Gulf states. The turn away from Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy no doubt set the stage for the establishment of diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, although ideological transformation alone turned out to be insufficient to generate a similar opening to Saudi Arabia.78 More recently, China's position in the region has been strengthened by the attractiveness to local governments of the "Chinese model" of economic development. Iranian officials exhibit an especially strong interest in adapting the Chinese model in such a way as to incorporate the fundamental principles of Islam.79 Alain Gresh reports that many young Saudis "profess 'admiration' for China, its civilisation, its Great Wall, the way it organised the Olympic games." In addition, "thousands of young Saudis study in China, following the Prophet's instruction to 'seek knowledge even as far as China.'"80 Gulf interest in the Chinese model of economic development soared after Washington embarked on the global war against terrorism and started to push for the creation of a Greater Middle East.81
Political developments inside China itself are sporadically adduced as explanations for shifts in PRC policies toward the Gulf. Calabrese claims that Beijing's hesitance to extend military and economic assistance to the revolutionary regime in Baghdad in 1958-59 can be traced to the Chinese leadership's "preoccupation with domestic economic reform," along with the severe internal disruptions that accompanied the Great Leap Forward.82 The subsequent outbeak of the Cultural Revolution further interfered with the emergence of orderly diplomatic and economic relations between the PRC and the Middle East.83
Non-crisis trends in China's domestic economy get adduced more frequently as the source of key foreign-policy initiatives. Shichor asserts that China's leaders decided in the late 1970s to step up arms sales to Middle Eastern governments, due "primarily" to "economic considerations." Increasing the scale of weapons deliveries "was aimed at supplementing shrinking defence spending while the military had been officially accorded the fourth (and lowest) priority among post-Mao China's Four Modernizations."84 Profits from the sale of ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia two decades later provided an equally welcome boost to the high-technology sector of the Chinese economy, as did the proceeds from missile sales to Iran.85
Factors that Rosenau calls "governmental" receive occasional mention as well. Shichor reports that China stepped up its diplomatic activity all across the Middle East during the mid-1960s in the wake of a fundamental reorganization of the foreign ministry that created a new department charged with overseeing relations with the Arab world.86 One can infer that China's ties to the oil-producing countries of the Gulf became more intense after 2005, when the State Energy Office and Energy Leading Small Group were created. Along the same lines, oil imports almost doubled as a result of the central government's decision in 2000 to "reform its pricing system for processed fuel by pegging the domestic sales price level to that in the Singapore commodity futures market."87
Daojiong Zha points out that Beijing's puzzling, and at times counterproductive, hydrocarbons initiatives can plausibly be explained by governmental factors. "For over a decade [from 1993 to 2005]," he observes, "China has lived without a central ministerial agency to oversee the country's energy industry. This makes it difficult to ascertain whether a particular oil/gas venture overseas is the result of the Chinese government dictating its state-owned energy company to carry out a governmental mission or the domestic energy industry seeking diplomatic assistance from the government."88 Interpreting changes in the activities of China's public-sector oil enterprises is all the more problematic due to the secretiveness that surrounds the operations of these companies.89
China's Gulf policies may well be driven not only by the high degree of institutional fragmentation that characterizes the central bureaucracy, but also by the separation of authority that exists between central and provincial administrations. Michael Dillon explains the PRC's diplomatic and economic initiatives toward the Middle East during the 1980s in terms of the parochical interests of the country's far western governorates: "Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia and Shaanxi …began to approach their western Islamic neighbours for trade and investment as prospects for cooperation with the Middle East seemed more promising than with Europe or Japan, given geographical proximity and shared religious and cultural values."90 Later on, however, Dillon remarks that "the Chinese [central] government ruthlessly used its Muslim population as intermediaries in the negotiation" over trading arrangements with Saudi Arabia.91 The extent to which China's western provinces exercise any real autonomy in their dealings with the Gulf remains obscure.
A more compelling account of the connection between domestic politics and China's policies toward the Gulf can be constructed on the basis of the debates that take place among key actors in policy-making circles. Erica Downs demonstrates that deliberations about energy security involve at least seven major participants: the three state-run oil companies, the State Development Planning Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the People's Liberation Army and a collection of research institutes. These bodies submit policy recommendations to the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, the party's general secretariat, the Standing Committee of the State Council and the provincial governors.92 The policies that emerge from the pulling and hauling that take place among these disparate institutions can hardly be seen as a direct result of the strategic circumstances confronting the PRC, although Downs refrains from drawing the obvious conclusion: China's energy policies are unintended consequences of the jockeying that occurs among competing components of the country's system of "fragmented authoritarianism."93
Domestic factors that Rosenau would classify as "societal" have also been linked to China's relations with the Gulf. Restiveness among the Muslim inhabitants of Xinjiang draws Beijing's attention to developments in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, as well as to Saudi Arabia and Iran.94 In addition, "historically, Chinese rulers have regarded Central Asia and the Gulf as parts of a single entity," prompting Chinese officials in recent years "to build goodwill with their Iranian, Saudi and Central Asian counterparts."95 Carrie Currier and Manochehr Dorraj frame the argument somewhat differently, arguing that China has taken pains to construct a strategic partnership with the Islamic Republic of Iran at least partly in order "to help deflect scrutiny from Islam-oriented states over its treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang."96 Muhamad Olimat echoes this perspective, asserting that rising tensions in the western provinces at the beginning of the twenty-first century give Beijing a strong incentive to strengthen ties to Saudi Arabia and Turkey as a way "to deny support to the East Turkistan Liberation Organization (ETLO) and its [affiliated] East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM)."97
More broadly, John Garver, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Leverett assert that "the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at home depends to some degree on propagating a sinister and gloomy view of the world, especially regarding the aims of the United States in regions such as the Middle East."98 As widening inequalities of income and wealth inside the PRC generate escalated grievances among workers and salaried employees, and as university students grow more vocal in criticizing the regime, the leadership in Beijing can be expected to raise the spectre of Washington's capacity to disrupt the flow of Gulf hydrocarbons as a way to re-energize flagging popular support.99
China's burgeoning relations with the Gulf have inspired a massive body of scholarship that shows no sign of diminishing. First-generation studies treating the Gulf as just one aspect of Beijing's overall policy toward the Middle East have largely been supplanted by writings that concentrate exclusively on the PRC's policies toward the Arab Gulf states and Iran. Furthermore, earlier surveys that set out to analyze diplomatic, military, economic and cultural trends alike have for the most part been superseded by writings that focus more intensively on diplomatic and economic matters.
Nevertheless, the lavish attention being devoted to the PRC's relations with the Gulf has yet to be matched by a broadening of the range of plausible explanations for Chinese policy. Almost all current studies assert that Beijing acts on the basis of straightforward calculations of security and power vis-à-vis Washington and Moscow, or that it adopts policies that any rational state could be expected to pursue in order to obtain the most benefit at the least cost. Attempts to explain PRC policies in terms of fluctuating cultural or ideological currents remain little better than caricatures. And the notion that a massive and complex polity like the People's Republic of China might carry out foreign policies that eventuate from the kind of decision making one finds in large bureaucracies, or from institutional imperatives associated with deeply divided government, has so far eluded observers of China's relations with the Gulf. There is much work left to do.
1 Yitzhak Shichor, The Middle East in China's Foreign Policy 1949-1977 (Cambridge University Press, 1979); Hashim S. Behbehani, China's Foreign Policy in the Arab World 1955-1975 (Kegan Paul International, 1981); and John Calabrese, China's Changing Relations with the Middle East (Pinter, 1991).
2 Geoffrey Kemp, The East Moves West: India, China and Asia's Growing Presence in the Middle East (Brookings Institution, 2010).
3 Michael Thorpe and Sumit Mitra, "Growing Economic Interdependence of China and the Gulf Cooperation Council," China and World Economy 16 (March-April 2008); and Christopher Davidson, The Persian Gulf and Pacific Asia: From Indifference to Interdependence (Hurst, 2010).
4 John Calabrese, "China and the Persian Gulf: Energy and Security," Middle East Journal 52 (Summer 1998); Erica S. Downs, China's Quest for Energy Security (RAND, 2000); Kent E. Calder, "Coping with Energy Insecurity: China's Response in Global Perspective," East Asia 23 (Fall 2006); Daojiong Zha, "China's Energy Security: Domestic and International Issues," Survival 48 (Spring 2006); Charles E. Ziegler, "The Energy Factor in China's Foreign Policy," Journal of Chinese Political Science 11 (Spring 2006); Kenneth Lieberthal and Mikkal Herberg, "China's Search for Energy Security: Implications for U.S. Policy," NBR Analysis 17 (April 2006); Jean A. Garrison, "China's Quest for Energy Security: Political, Economic and Security Implications," unpublished paper presented to the International Studies Association, February 2009; Daojiong Zha, Oiling the Wheels of Foreign Policy? Energy Security and China's International Relations, Asian Security Initiative Policy Working Paper No. 1, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 2010; and Zhu Feng, "Oil Nexus vs. Diplomatic Crux: China's Energy Demands, Maritime Security and the Middle East Aspirations," in Gulf Research Center, China's Growing Role in the Middle East (Gulf Research Center, 2010).
5 James N. Rosenau, "Pre-Theories and Theories of Foreign Policy," in Approaches to Comparative and International Politics, ed. R. Barry Farrell (Northwestern University Press, 1966).
6 Malcolm H. Kerr, "The Middle East and China," in Policies toward China, ed. A. M. Halpern (McGraw-Hill, 1966), 453.
7 Ibid., 454.
8 Ibid., 455.
9 George S. Masannat, "Sino-Arab Relations," Asian Survey 6 (April 1966): 222.
10 Lillian Craig Harris, "China's Response to Perceived Soviet Gains in the Middle East," Asian Survey 20 (April 1980).
11 Jiang Chen, "From Idealism to Pragmatism: An Analysis of China's Policies toward the Middle East," Digest of Middle East Studies 2 (Summer 1993).
12 Naser M. al-Tamimi, China-Saudi Arabia Relations, 1990-2012 (Routledge, 2014), 63.
13 Calabrese, China's Changing Relations, 3.
15 John Calabrese, "From Flyswatters to Silkworms: The Evolution of China's Role in West Asia," Asian Survey 30 (September 1990): 869; and John Calabrese, China and Iran: Mismatched Partners, Occasional Paper, The Jamestown Foundation, August 2006, 4.
16 Calabrese, "From Flyswatters to Silkworms," 870. See also Amir H. H. Abidi, China, Iran and the Persian Gulf (Humanities Press, 1982): 211-212.
17 Calabrese, China and Iran, 4.
18 John Calabrese, "Peaceful or Dangerous Collaborators? China's Relations with the Gulf Countries," Pacific Affairs 65 (Winter 1992-93): 474.
19 Calabrese, China and Iran, 4. See also Carrie Liu Currier and Manochehr Dorraj, "In Arms We Trust: The Economic and Strategic Factors Motivating China-Iran Relations," Journal of Chinese Political Science 15 (March 2010): 60-61; John W. Garver, "Is China Playing a Dual Game in Iran?" Washington Quarterly 34 (Winter 2010-11); and Scott Harold and Alireza Nader, China and Iran: Economics, Political and Military Relations (RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy, 2012), 18.
20 Mohamed Bin Huwaidin, China's Relations with Arabia and the Gulf 1949-99 (RoutledgeCurzon, 2002), 53.
21 Ibid., 104.
22 Ibid., 119-132.
23 Ibid., 199-200.
24 Yitzhak Shichor, "China's Upsurge: Implications for the Middle East," Israel Affairs 12 (October 2006): 665.
25 Ibid., 667.
26 Kemp, The East Moves West, 65.
27 Ibid., 66-67.
28 Wen-Sheng Chen, "China's Oil Strategy: 'Going Out' to Iran," Asian Politics and Policy 2 (2009): 51.
29 Yitzhak Shichor, "Competence and Incompetence: The Political Economy of China's Relations with the Middle East," Asian Perspective 30 (2006): 61. See also Calabrese, "China and the Persian Gulf," 364; Calabrese, China and Iran, 10; and Philip McCrum, "China and the Arabian Sea," Middle East Report no. 256 (Fall 2010): 27.
30 Steve A. Yetiv and Chunlong Lu, "China, Global Energy and the Middle East," Middle East Journal 61 (Spring 2007): 214.
31 Ibid., 215. See also John W. Garver, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, Moving (Slightly) Closer to Iran: China's Shifting Calculus for Managing Its "Persian Gulf Dilemma," Asia-Pacific Policy Papers, Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, D. C., 2010, 5-6.
32 Maryam Daftari, "Sino-Iranian Relations and 'Encounters': Past and Present," Iranian Journal of International Affairs 7 (Winter 1996).
33 Yitzhak Shichor, East Wind over Arabia: Origins and Implications of the Sino-Saudi Missile Deal (University of California Institute of East Asian Studies, 1989), 18.
34 Ibid., 18-19.
35 Ibid., 21.
36 Bin Huwaidan, China's Relations with Arabia, 228; and Calabrese, "China and the Persian Gulf," 359.
37 Calabrese, China's Changing Relations, 84.
38 Muhamad S. Olimat, "The Political Economy of the Sino-Middle Eastern Relations," Journal of Chinese Political Science 15 (September 2010); and Currier and Dorraj, "In Arms We Trust."
39 Jon Alterman and John W. Garver, Vital Triangle: China, the United States and the Middle East (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2008); and al-Tamimi, China-Saudi Arabia Relations.
40 Calabrese, China's Changing Relations, 87.
41 Ibid., 89.
42 Ibid., 114.
43 Bin Huwaidin, China's Relations with Arabia, 131. See also Martin Harrison, Relations between the Gulf Oil Monarchies and the People's Republic of China, 1971-2006, unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, Lancaster University, 2006.
44 Thomas Parker, "China's Growing Interests in the Persian Gulf," Brown Journal of World Affairs 7 (Winter-Spring 2000).
45 Chen, "China's Oil Strategy," 46; and Chris Zambelis, "China's Persian Gulf Diplomacy Reflects Delicate Balancing Act," China Brief 12 (February 2012).
46 Chen, "China's Oil Strategy," 48; and Bates Gill, "Chinese Arms Exports to Iran," in China and the Middle East, ed. P. R. Kumaraswamy (Sage, 1999).
47 Chen, "China's Oil Strategy," 48.
48 Erica S. Downs, China, Energy Security Series, Brookings Foreign Policy Studies, Brookings Institution, Washington, D. C., December 2006, 14; Marc Lanteigne, "China's Maritime Security and the 'Malacca Dilemma'," Asian Security 4 (May 2008); and Zhong Ziang Zhang, "China's Energy Security, the Malacca Dilemma and Responses," Energy Policy 39 (December 2011).
49 Calabrese, "China and the Persian Gulf," 353.
50 Ibid., 356; and Calabrese, China and Iran, 7. See also Lieberthal and Herberg, "China's Search for Energy Security."
51 Garver, Leverett and Leverett, Moving (Slightly) Closer to Iran, 15-16.
52 Calabrese, "China and the Persian Gulf," 357.
53 Shichor, "Competence and Incompetence," 41.
54 Ibid., 65.
55 Yi-Chong Xu, "China's Energy Security," Australian Journal of International Affairs 60 (June 2006): 266; and Shaofeng Chen, "Motivations behind China's Foreign Oil Quest: A Perspective from the Chinese Government and the Oil Companies," Journal of Chinese Political Science 13 (March 2008).
56 Xu, "China's Energy Security," 272; and Downs, China, 18.
57 Downs, China, 19-21; and Zhou Qi, Organization, Structure and Image in the Making of Chinese Foreign Policy since the Early 1990s, unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, Johns Hopkins University, 2008.
58 Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, "Beijing's Energy Security Strategy: The Significance of a Chinese State-Owned Tanker Fleet," Orbis 51 (Fall 2007).
59 Xu, "China's Energy Security," 278; and Cherie Canning, "Pursuit of the Pariah: Iran, Sudan and Myanmar in China's Energy Security Strategy," Security Challenges 3 (February 2007).
60 Xu, "China's Energy Security," 278.
62 Calder, "Coping with Energy Insecurity," 54.
63 Downs, China, 31.
64 Sigfrido Burgos and Sophal Ear, "China's Oil Hunger in Angola: History and Perspective," Journal of Contemporary China 74 (March 2012).
65 Downs, China, 35-36.
66 Richard Weitz, "China's Strategy on Energy Security," World Politics Review 9 (November 2010).
67 Guy C. K. Leung, "China's Energy Security: Perception and Reality," Energy Policy 39 (March 2011): 1333-1334.
68 Oystein Tunsjo, "Hedging against Oil Dependency: New Perspectives on China's Energy Security Policy," International Relations 24 (March 2010); and Zhang Jian, China's Energy Security: Prospects, Challenges and Opportunities, Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C., July 2011.
69 Shichor, "China's Upsurge," 669; and Shichor, "Competence and Incompetence," 61.
70 Kemp, The East Moves West, 101.
71 Muhamad S. Olimat, China and the Middle East (Routledge, 2013), 173.
72 Shichor, "Competence and Incompetence," 65.
73 Yetiv and Lu, "China, Global Energy and the Middle East," 202. See also Harold and Nader, China and Iran, 12-13.
74 Al-Tamimi, China-Saudi Arabia Relations, 69.
75 John W. Garver, China and Iran: Ancient Partners in a Post-Imperial World (University of Washington Press, 2006), 28.
76 Kemp, The East Moves West, 73; Calabrese, China and Iran, 3; and Manochehr Dorraj and Carrie L. Currier, "Lubricated with Oil: Iran-China Relations in a Changing World," Middle East Policy 15 (Summer 2008): 66-67.
77 Olimat, China and the Middle East, 134-136.
78 Abidi, China, Iran and the Persian Gulf, 225-233; Yetiv and Lu, "China, Global Energy and the Middle East," 201; and Mahmoud Ghafouri, "China's Policy in the Persian Gulf," Middle East Policy 16 (Summer 2009): 83.
79 Calabrese, China and Iran, 12.
80 Alain Gresh, "China and Saudi Arabia: Just Good Friends," Le Monde Dipolomatique, January 2011.
81 Chietigi Bajpaee, "China Becomes Increasingly Involved in the Middle East," Power and Interest News Report, March 10, 2006; and Daniel Wagner and Theodore Karasik, The Maturing Chinese-Saudi Alliance (Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, 2010).
82 Calabrese, China's Changing Relations, 26-27.
83 Ibid., 42-43.
84 Shichor, "China's Upsurge," 671.
85 Ibid., 673; Calabrese, "Peaceful or Dangerous Collaborators?" 481; and Yitzhak Shichor, "China's Economic Relations with the Middle East: New Dimensions," in Kumaraswamy, China and the Middle East; Currier and Dorraj, "In Arms We Trust," 52.
86 Shichor, Middle East in China's Foreign Policy, 111-113.
87 Daojiong Zha, "China's Energy Security and Its International Relations," China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly 3 (November 2005): 41.
88 Ibid., 48. See also Linda Jakobson, "China's Diplomacy toward Africa: Drivers and Constraints," International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 9 (September 2009); and Shaofeng Chen, "Has China's Foreign Energy Quest Enhanced Its Energy Security?" China Quarterly 207 (September 2011).
89 Calabrese, China and Iran, 12.
90 Michael Dillon, "The Middle East and China," in The Middle East's Relations with Asia and Russia, eds. Hannah Carter and Anoushiravan Ehteshami (RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), 42.
91 Ibid., 48.
92 Erica S. Downs, "The Chinese Energy Security Debate," China Quarterly 177 (March 2004): 30. See also Jakobson, "China's Diplomacy toward Africa," 413-416; Bo Kong, "China's Energy Decision-Making: Becoming More Like the United States?" Journal of Contemporary China no. 62 (November 2009); and Michal Meidan, Philip Andrews-Speed and Ma Xin, "Shaping China's Energy Policy: Actors and Processes," Journal of Contemporary China 61 (September 2009).
93 David M. Lampton, "China's Foreign and National Security Policy-Making Process: Is It Changing and Does It Matter?" in The Making of Chinese Foreign and Security Policy, ed. David M. Lampton (Stanford University Press, 2001); Linda Jakobson, "Does China Have an 'Energy Diplomacy'?" in Energy Security, ed. Antonio Marquina (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); Linda Jakobson and Dean Knox, New Foreign Policy Actors in China, SIPRI Policy Paper 26, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Stockholm, September 2010.
94 Bingbing Wu, "Strategy and Politics in the Gulf as Seen from China," in China and the Persian Gulf, eds. Bryce Wakefield and Susan L. Levenstein (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2011), 29.
95 Calabrese, "China and the Persian Gulf," 353-354.
96 Currier and Dorraj, "In Arms We Trust," 62.
97 Olimat, China and the Middle East, 190-191.
98 Garver, Leverett and Leverett, Moving (Slightly) Closer to Iran, 19.
99 Peter H. Gries, China's New Nationalism (University of California Press, 2004); and Susan L. Shirk, China: Fragile Superpower (Oxford University Press, 2007).