The GCC pivot to Asia : the security of US interests in the Arabian Gulf




Kaiser-Cross, Sarah Elizabeth

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The Gulf Cooperation Council's pivot to Asia began as a slow process of economic integration in the early 2000s but significantly accelerated after the US Shale Revolution, beginning in 2008. As US production increased and imports from foreign oil suppliers declined, many expected the relationships between the US and its GCC partners to similarly decline. The emerging markets of Asia and rising demand from China captured GCC interest. The GCC nations took steps to diversify their markets away from the US. Economic cooperation morphed into budding diplomatic and strategic relationships between the GCC and China. Meanwhile, the US, no longer as reliant on GCC energy, restructured its foreign policy toward the GCC around defense cooperation and human rights. Though US-GCC relationships remained relatively strong, the uprisings of the Arab Spring resulted in mounting US criticism of GCC human rights violations, weakening US leverage in the region. The Chinese took advantage of US-GCC tension, offering an alternative model of diplomatic engagement-- ignoring human rights. Arab populations saw the economic rise of China as an alternative diplomatic model, one that prioritized economic development without attaching political strings to bilateral relationships. Some GCC nations also viewed Chinese influence as a potential foil to US influence in the region. Despite budding local support for stronger ties with China, the Chinese are not able to displace US influence in the Gulf yet because China is unable to provide the quality or quantity of defense sales and cooperation the US provides. In the long-term, though, Chinese policies will likely present a challenge to US influence in the Gulf. The US should reexamine its policies on human rights promotion and reevaluate its strategic interests to protect the short and long term interests of the US in a region of great geostrategic importance.



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