China Straddling the Persian Gulf

Key information

Virtual Event

About this event

China is a major economic actor in the Persian Gulf and its expansive Belt and Road Initiative ambitions add a strategic element.  In an intensely competitive regional security environment, China has maintained an unusual approach, deepening ties with all Gulf states, perhaps best exemplified by its comprehensive strategic partnerships with Iran and its rivals Saudi Arabia and the UAE.  This approach has led some to characterize China as a neutral regional power, while dense US-GCC relations have led others to presume that China’s real strategic interests in the Gulf lie with Iran.  This has only been exacerbated by reports in July 2020 of a deepening set of economic and strategic developments in the China-Iran partnership agreement. In this talk I argue that what looks like Chinese neutrality is actually a response to the US constructed regional security architecture.  A closer examination of China’s regional interests indicate that China has preferences for Gulf order that actually favors the monarchies over Iran.  In developing their relations with China the GCC states have often relied upon economic opportunities to build leverage against Iran, and this has had a profound influence on China’s regional interests. While Beijing keeps a foot planted on either side of the Gulf, its footprint on the Arab side is much deeper.


About the speaker

Jonathan Fulton is an Assistant Professor of Political Science in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Zayed University, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and a senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council.  He has written widely on China-Middle East relations for both academic and popular publications.  His books include China’s Relations with the Gulf Monarchies, External Power and the Gulf Monarchies (2019), and Regions in the Belt and Road Initiative (2020).


This webinar will take place online via Zoom. After registering, a separate Zoom registration link will be emailed to you closer to the date of the webinar. Online registration

The webinar will also be live-streamed on our Facebook page for those that are unable to participate via Zoom.

Chair: Dina Matar (SOAS)

Organiser: SOAS Middle East Institute and the SOAS China Institute

Contact email: