China and the Gulf crisis — the stakes are high

Chinese President Xi Jinping is greeted by King Salman. (SPA)
Updated 08 July 2017
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China and the Gulf crisis — the stakes are high

LONDON: Events in the Gulf have accelerated dramatically over the past month, bringing with it global attention given the region’s strategic position in terms of energy and financial resources. One country that has a big stake in the Gulf is China, which is watching developments very closely.
According to some Chinese experts, the Gulf crisis may have taken Beijing by surprise. China has called for a peaceful resolution of the crisis through dialogue, but has kept a low profile and made until now a few cautious comments and moves.
Beijing cannot ignore what is happening. The Gulf is China’s largest supplier of oil and second-largest provider of natural gas. The region is also the eighth-largest export market for China. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) markets account for 46 percent of China’s total exports to the Middle East, according to official Chinese data.
Saudi Arabia is China’s top trade partner in the Middle East, while the UAE is the largest market in the region for Chinese goods. China is Saudi Arabia’s third-largest oil customer after Japan and the US, while Qatar is China’s second-largest supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) after Australia.
Song Niu, associate professor of the Middle East Studies Institute at the Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), told Arab News: “The current Qatar crisis has seriously affected the overall stability of the Gulf. The GCC countries are one of the top priorities for China’s Middle East diplomacy, since they’re significant partners in the Belt and Road Initiative.”
Beijing has not yet sided with any party in the crisis, but Song said: “Saudi Arabia is the largest and most powerful actor in the GCC, and has close contacts with China in political, economic, military and religious areas. Qatar is a small country, and its status in China’s Middle East diplomacy is hard to compare with Saudi Arabia.”
Qian Xuming, a research fellow at the Middle East Studies Institute at SISU, told Arab News: “The Gulf crisis will have no substantive impact on China as Beijing has good relations with all sides.” But Beijing “should communicate with both sides, help find a peaceful solution to the crisis and reduce the negative impact on the Belt and Road Initiative.”
Energy is at the heart of Gulf-China relations. Degang Sun of SISU’s Middle East Studies Institute told Arab News that Beijing “has been quite surprised by the Gulf crisis. Since 50 percent of its imported oil comes from the region, China is a major stakeholder.
“Besides, China wants a stable and peaceful Gulf so it can implement its Belt and Road Initiative. With substantial investment in infrastructure in the area, Beijing strongly advocates that the dispute should be settled by peaceful means as soon as possible.”
Chinese analysts expect that energy imports from the Gulf will not be affected, but Qian said: “Some contracted construction projects will be affected, including a new port, a medical services area, a section of railway and eight venues. The price of some materials will rise due to closure of the land crossings.”
Importantly, a former Chinese ambassador who previously worked in a GCC country told Arab News that the crisis has negatively affected the Gulf’s image among China’s political decision-makers. “After the region was seen as an oasis of stability in the troubled Middle East, the rapid deterioration of the situation took the Chinese leadership by surprise,” he said, adding that Beijing may seek to diversify its energy imports.


Iran's foreign minister walks back from remark on missile talks

Updated 17 July 2019
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Iran's foreign minister walks back from remark on missile talks

  • Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with NBC News that if the US wants to talk about Iran's missiles, it needs "first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region"
  • A compromise deal remains the best way to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday

TEHRAN: Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday that his country has no choice but to manufacture missiles for defense purposes — comments that reflect more backtracking after a remark by the top diplomat suggesting the missiles could be up for negotiations.
Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with NBC News that aired earlier this week that if the US wants to talk about Iran's missiles, it needs "first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region."
Iran has long rejected negotiations over its ballistic missile program, which remains under the control of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard that answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The foreign minister's remarks suggested a possible opening for talks as tensions remain high between Tehran and Washington.
But the Iranian mission to the United Nations promptly called Zarif's suggestion purely "hypothetical" and said the Iranian missiles were "absolutely and under no condition negotiable with anyone or any country, period."
In Tehran, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, tweeted late on Tuesday that Zarif's comments meant to challenge Washington and "threw the ball into the US court while challenging America's arm sales" to its Mideast allies.
Zarif himself on Wednesday backpedaled on the missiles issue, saying Iran has no choice but to manufacture the missiles for its own defense.
He cited the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and tweeted that, "For 8 YEARS, Saddam (Hussein) showered our cities with missiles & bombs provided by East & West. Meanwhile, NO ONE sold Iran any means of defense. We had no choice but building our own. Now they complain."
"Instead of skirting the issue, US must end arms sales to Saddam's reincarnations," Zarif also said.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have sharply escalated since President Donald Trump unilaterally last year withdrew America from the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and re-imposed sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into freefall.
America has also rushed thousands of additional troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Mideast amid unspecified threats from Iran.
Mysterious oil tanker blasts near the Strait of Hormuz, attacks by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen on Saudi Arabia and Iran's shooting down of a U.S. military drone in the past months further raised fears of a wider conflict engulfing a region crucial to global energy supplies.

A compromise deal remains the best way to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday.

The UN nuclear watchdog has confirmed that Iran earlier this month violated the 2015 accord, and Iran's supreme leader on Tuesday said Tehran would keep removing restraints on its nuclear activity in the deal.

In her last major speech before stepping down next week, May said the nuclear deal must be protected "whatever its challenges".

"Whether we like it or not a compromise deal remains the best way to get the outcome we all still ultimately seek – to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and to preserve the stability of the region," May said.

Recently, British authorities intercepted the Iranian supertanker Grace 1, carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, and seized it with the help of British Royal Marines off the coast of Gibraltar.
They believed it to be violating European Union sanctions by carrying a shipment of Iranian crude oil to Syria. Spanish authorities said the seizure came at the request of the United States.
This is not the only issue between Iran and Britain.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman imprisoned in Iran following her arrest in April 2016 on charges of plotting against the Iranian government, has been transferred to a hospital mental health facility, her husband said Wednesday.
Her family denies the allegations against her.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said in Britain that his wife has been moved to the mental health ward of Iman Khomeini hospital under the control of the Revolutionary Guard.
"Hopefully her transfer to hospital means that she is getting treatment and care, despite my distrust of just what pressures can happen behind closed doors. It is unnerving when we don't know what is going on," he said.
Iran does not recognize dual nationality.
British officials have urged Iranian officials to let her have contact with her family.