Source: Global Times Published: 2017-6-12
A diplomatic crisis has erupted as major Arabian countries represented by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain have all severed ties with Qatar, which is considered by China a crucial partner in promoting the Belt and Road initiative. How will the crisis affect China`s initiatives in the Middle East? What kind of measures are expected to be taken to minimize potential negative influences? Global Times reporter Ma Linna interviewed two scholars on this issue.
Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University of China
The Qatar diplomatic crisis essentially reflects the historical contradictions between Sunnis and Shias, which have been leveraged by the US to destabilize the region. Sectarian conflicts will continue to affect security and stability in the Middle East, and will also pose negative effects on the Belt and Road initiative.
As China is actively promoting the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the current crisis will weigh heavily against the FTA negotiations. The isolation of Qatar, a member of GCC, makes it difficult for China to conduct negotiations with the GCC as a unit. It will also affect the circulation of China`s yuan in the region.
The instability in the region and the inevitable sectarian contradictions will complicate China`s cooperation with the area. Saudi Arabia has signed a $110 billion arms deal with the US, and Trump wants to spend $1 trillion on improving American infrastructure, expecting Saudi Arabia to help achieve this goal. These moves are conducive for Saudi Arabia to ameliorate its relations with the US, which had experienced a downturn during the administration of Barack Obama. However, Sunnis` moving toward American influence will affect China`s influence in the Middle East.
Legal and multilateral cooperation should be resorted to in case of political risks in promoting the Belt and Road initiative. The contents of cooperation are preferred to be standardized in the form of legal documents, which are a prospective direction for cooperation. Moreover, it will be beneficial to explore cooperation in a third-party market when necessary.
Political turmoil and diplomatic crisis will exert influence on the price of oil. As 60 percent of China`s petroleum is imported, China will be affected to some extent. Consequently, China should pay close attention to the issue, taking diplomatic and mediation measures. China can send envoys to mediate in case of further escalation.
Wang Yiwei is also a senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.
Tang Zhichao, a research fellow with the Institute of West Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
It is not necessary for China to take sides on the recent Qatar diplomatic crisis and the situation has not reached the point where the crisis will turn into a grave escalation. It is too early to refer to the impacts the crisis will exert on the Belt and Road initiative and make predictions. Furthermore, the effects exerted on the market and bilateral economic and trade cooperation is currently negligible and will become a problem only if the crisis drags on.
In order to exercise a positive effect on the crisis, China had better not take sides on the issue and should play an active role in the mediation of the crisis. Relevant enterprises are advised to take precautionary measures in case of further deterioration in the region.
It is reported that Qatar supplied 19 percent of China`s imports of liquefied natural gas and China is also overly dependent on Qatar for natural gas. Exploring alternative suppliers could help alleviate the excessive dependency on Qatar and cope with a possible future energy crisis.
Energy security could be affected if a serious escalation breaks out. In view of the present situation, the odds of it triggering an oil crisis are not high. However, in the long run, diversification of import sources should be highlighted as a key way to enhance China`s energy security.