The Gulf’s eastward turn is a rational political orientation based on economic logic and shifts in the global political economy. It also reflects a stark acceptance that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states’ future economic growth will be based on oil, gas, and energy products, including petrochemical production. At the same time, China’s expansionist policy via its Belt and Road Initiative has “rebalanced” its economic interests, connecting trade and infrastructure growth in Europe and Central Asia, with the Middle East as the center of that nexus.1 The synergy now created by both Chinese economic statecraft and the Gulf states’ orientation eastward is a powerful force that will affect patterns of investment in emerging markets, practices of development finance, post-conflict reconstruction, and ideas about appropriate governance of Middle Eastern markets.

This report traces some of the patterns of investment and financial flows between China and the Arab Gulf states. Building on an emerging literature of Gulf-China relations,2 and Middle East–China relations more generally, this report identifies specific flows of investment in the Gulf states, export destinations of Gulf energy products, and the institutional networks of development finance between the Gulf and China.

Based on the specific demands of the Arab Gulf states and their shared efforts to diversify their economies away from oil and gas dependency, the research suggests that the current orientation toward China, and Asia more broadly, is a bridge strategy to create a next-generation energy market and future market access in expected areas of consumer growth. The Gulf and China need each other, but the strategies developing now are also oriented toward future growth in India and the Horn of Africa and in transport and trade flows. This future growth will cement the Arab Gulf states as central to developing economies and our shared global economy.

Key Points

  • Arab Gulf states are expanding their political and economic ties with China as a bridge strategy to create a next-generation energy market in traditional oil and gas products, as well as petrochemical production and future market access in expected areas of consumer growth.
  • China is also a competitor in some areas where Arab Gulf states are investing in infrastructure, ports, and political outreach to secure new security partnerships, particularly in the Horn of Africa.
  • China and the Arab Gulf states share a model and vision of economic development that is state centered and profitable to state-owned enterprises and financial institutions.

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