China can promote interregional cooperation between BRICS, Gulf Cooperation Council

China plays a pivotal role in the establishment and expansion of BRICS.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on the sidelines of the 15th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, Aug. 24, 2023. (Xinhua/Xie Huanchi)

by Liu Hong

This year marks the first year after the expansion of BRICS with Russia assuming the rotating presidency.

As U.S. political scientist Peter Katzenstein has said, “We live in a world composed of regions.” At present, the global political landscape is marked by a trend featuring the fragmentation of regional and international organizations. However, there is also a concurrent inclination towards interconnections and integration. A prime example is the expansion of BRICS to include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both being members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

BRICS can be seen as a regional organization in a broader context, while the GCC is a typical regional organization historically connecting the West and the East. Having a distinct position within BRICS and strong connections with the GCC, China has the potential to promote interregional cooperation.

China plays a pivotal role in the establishment and expansion of BRICS. Particularly, after the pandemic, China unleashed tremendous economic potential, attracting other countries to join BRICS.

China established connections with the GCC from its inception and has maintained a positive relationship ever since. In December 2022, President Xi Jinping attended the inaugural China-GCC Summit held in Saudi Arabia and issued a 2023-2027 action plan for strategic dialogue between the two sides. Currently, all GCC countries have signed cooperation agreements with China regarding the Belt and Road Initiative. China has also become the GCC’s largest trading partner. China’s unique role within BRICS and its strong relationship with the GCC will drive both organizations towards greater complementarity and mutual benefit.

This holds significant relevance in the current era characterized by increasing rhetoric of “decoupling” and “de-risking.” In the face of challenges such as climate change, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and the Israeli-Hamas conflict, there is a growing need for collective efforts to devise effective solutions and address the common challenges. As the United States’ commitment and interest in economic and security matters decline, and the world is currently pondering how to seek new sources of equilibrium and influence, China has naturally emerged as a major player on the global stage.

BRICS boasts an inclusive structure, reflecting the diversity of perspectives and interests among its member states. In contrast, the GCC is actively pursuing integration to create “one market, one economic entity, one financial system.” Nevertheless, despite these differences, both BRICS and the GCC possess significant potential for collaboration. Indeed, the GCC has established longstanding connections with the European Union and, more recently, hosted a summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). BRICS can follow a similar path of engagement.

BRICS and the GCC can explore numerous avenues for collaboration. First, BRICS and the GCC can convene regular ministerial or leadership meetings, engage in joint projects and planning, and exchange information. Both can stress mutual commitment to non-interference in domestic affairs and respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, providing a solid basis for cooperative efforts;

Second, they can collaborate across multiple sectors, including trade, energy supply, finance, infrastructure development, and sustainable development. Notably, China and the GCC can further their efforts in free trade agreement negotiations and facilitate FTA talks between the GCC and BRICS nations;

Third, Saudi Arabia and the UAE can play a distinctive role as a bridge connecting the GCC and BRICS. Saudi Arabia has already established itself as a prominent trading partner within the BRICS group, while since 2021 the UAE has been a member of BRICS’s New Development Bank;

Fourth, the good relationship between the GCC and BRICS also enhances the likelihood of more GCC countries like Kuwait joining BRICS.

Certainly, it’s worth acknowledging that conflicting interests exist between BRICS and the GCC. The GCC states have reservations on currency usage issues within BRICS. Moreover, their positions on international sanctions against Russia and Iran diverge. Nonetheless, guided by the principles of openness, inclusivity, and mutual benefit, as was China in facilitating the restoration of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, both the GCC and BRICS will persist in laying the foundation for expanding cooperation on a more extensive scale.

Obviously, interregionalism and globalization are closely intertwined. This is because countries pursue cross-regional cooperation to prevent themselves from being engulfed by the wave of globalization while simultaneously striving for a better position to integrate into the global system. In the pursuit of a more cohesive global order, China’s efforts to promote interregional cooperation between the GCC and BRICS serve as a compelling example of this endeavor.

Editor’s note: Liu Hong is a research fellow of the Center for China and Globalization.

Xinhua News Agency

Founded in 1931, Xinhua News Agency is one of the largest news organizations in the world, with over 10,000 employees across the globe. As the main source of news and information for China, Xinhua plays a key role in shaping the country's media landscape and communicating its perspectives to the world. The agency produces a wide range of content, including text news articles, photos, videos, and social media posts, in both Chinese and English, and its reports are widely used by media organizations around the world. Xinhua also operates several international bureaus, including in key capitals like Washington, D.C., Moscow, and London, to provide in-depth coverage of global events.

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