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Qatar Isolation puts China in bind

Posted June. 08, 2017 07:13,   

Updated June. 08, 2017 07:20


Led by Saudi Arabia and six Arabic states, the diplomatic cut-off against Qatar has caused a backlash to China as well. Experts view that Beijing is finally at a turning point after sitting on the fence by non-interferring with regional conflicts while reaping economic gains until now.

The recent incident is likely to cause a negative impact to Chinese President Xi Jinping's ambitious "Belt and Road" plan (21st century land-ocean silkroad project), which was put forward until recently. The plan to establish social overhead capital and trade routes from Cental Asia and the Middle East to Europe and Africa has faced murky outlook, as the coalition of Middle East nations began to crack.

According to South China Morning Post on Wednesday, the Free Trade Agreements (FTA) China has made with six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) since 2004 have faced a rupture, as seven nations including Saudi Arabia turned their backs against Qatar. Member states of GCC not only include Qatar, but also Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and others who have now become worst enemies of the isolated nation. "The conflict among GCC member states have put Beijing in a double bind position at the FTA table, let alone complicated China's plan to lay infrastructures to penetrate this region due to diplomatic conflicts and suspended transportation network," said Lee Weizen, a fellow researcher at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

When the Saudi Arabian Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud visited China and met President Xi in March this year, the two countries signed a 65 billion-dollar-worth Memorandum of Understanding to seek bilateral investment and cooperation in areas including energy and finance. In 2014, China agreed to participate in building infrastructures such as buildings, roads, bridges, ports, and communication facilities in Qatar estimated at 8 billion dollars (or around 9 trillion won). In addition, Beijing forged close economic ties with Qatar by signing a contract to construct 2022 Qatar World Cup stadiums.

Among many reasons that Saudi Arabia and their alliance have isolated Qatar, their biggest rationale is the alleged links between Qatar and terrorists. Still, many view that the decision came as a punishment on Qatar for its pro-Iran policies. Against this backdrop, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) known as an alliance to curb North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will hold its upcoming summit in Astana, Kazakhstan from Thursday to Friday. There are prospects that when China could decide to embrace Iran as an official member of the SCO, Bejing's possible move will further deepen the rivary between the U.S.-Saudi Arabia and China-Iran. "As China holds strong economic ties with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, China should distance itself from political disputes between the two nations," said Xiao Shen, professor of Middle East Studies at Yunnan University.

Ja-Ryong Koo bonhong@donga.com