GCC faces complexities as US-Sino ties shift

Singapore’s ambassador-at-large and policy adviser at its ministry of foreign affairs spoke at a Majlis Singapura event which aimed to strengthen economic ties between the region and Singapore.

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DUBAI // Arabian Gulf countries could be hit by fractious ties between China and the United States as the Asian giant's thirst for energy surges.

They could soon experience geopolitical complexities as a result, said Bilahari Kausikan, Singapore’s ambassador-at-large and policy adviser at its ministry of foreign affairs.

Mr Kausikan was speaking at a Majlis Singapura event in Dubai on Tuesday, which aimed to strengthen economic ties between the region and Singapore. It was titled “Insights on strategic developments and political risk in Asia”.

The ambassador said friction between the world’s two biggest economies would probably preoccupy Asia and the Middle East increasingly in the future.

"I think you're going to see some of those complexities, in a different way, manifest themselves in your region because the Chinese dependence on energy from the Gulf is growing, even as the US dependence on energy in the Gulf is decreasing," he said.

Although the US will not leave the region, there will be changes.

“It [the US] won’t be as energy-dependent as it was before, but its allies are dependent and so is the world economy,” said Mr Kausikan.

“Up until now, the Chinese have tried to define their interests in the region in terms of energy and economic opportunities, trade and investment. And they tried as much as possible to steer clear of getting involved in strategic geopolitical events in the region, which is difficult.”

He said smaller countries were able to define their interest in the region in a purely economic way.

“But a large country has a strategic impact, whether or not he intends to have one,” he said.

“The US maintains the stability for energy to continue going eastward and it protects the sea lines of communications and the tankers used. But I don’t believe this is sustainable because no major power will indefinitely allow its major rival to control its access to such a vital commodity.”

The ambassador said it was inevitable that the Chinese would develop a capability to secure those maritime channels.

"It doesn't mean they'll come in conflict with the US, but it's a further complication to US-China relations," he said.

“It’s not impossible but it’s complicated. At some point, as they [China] develop this capability, like conducting military exercises in the South China Sea and East China Sea, these sea lines will run through the Indian Ocean, so there will be a further factor of complication as the US and China try to work out how India will be involved.

“I have no idea how this will play off, but I see it happening sooner or later, it’s going to happen whether we like it or not.”

Singapore’s ambassador to the UAE, Umej Bhatia, said the event was meant for both sides to boost their knowledge on international issues.

“This majlis is very important for us because we wanted to bring Singapore assessments, views, experience, whether in developments or in our analysis of the region, and share it with the UAE,” he said.

“So this is part of the flow of ideas between west Asia and east Asia.”

Mr Bhatia said it was important for both regions, which shared many connections, to exchange their strategic assessments on world matters.

“We’re glad we’re able to share our point of view from a very real and candid perspective. There are no simple answers and this is a work in progress,” he said.