The announcement of an agreement ‘twinning’ the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou with the Kuwaiti capital Kuwait City is a significant event in China’s relations with that country.
It is also significant in the context of China and the US’s recent moves to gain greater geopolitical influence in the Middle East via its involvement in Kuwait. While at first glance it appears to be of little importance, the twinning of the two cities is a prime example of how soft power can be used to maintain a high degree of clout in a nation. In this case, the Guangzhou-Kuwait City twinning has occurred in sync with other mainly economic initiatives, which have helped strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.
Announced on Wednesday by Kuwaiti Consul General to Guangzhou, Abdulwahab Al-Saqer, the twinning agreement between Guangzhou and Kuwait City would be signed to bolster ties between the two countries. Al-Saqer said the agreement would be signed on an upcoming visit to the Chinese city by Kuwait Capital District Governor Sheikh Ali Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. The impending twinning of the two cities is indicative of the direction that has been taken in Chinese-Kuwaiti relations in recent years. Guangzhou is the largest city in southern China, a center of major joint initiatives between the two nations, an example being the upcoming construction of an oil and petrochemical complex on the coast of Guangdong province.
China has placed more emphasis on enhancing its relations and influence in the Middle East as it continues to assert itself as a global economic power. This has helped lead to stronger bilateral ties between China and Kuwait. Last month, the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), the sovereign wealth fund in that country, announced its intentions to open an office in Beijing, a sign of its desire to make large-scale investments in that country. (Source)
In March, China and Kuwait also announced intentions to jointly fund and build a US$9 billion oil refinery and petrochemical complex in the southern city of Zhanjiang. (Source)Due to begin construction in 2012, the complex would refine imported Kuwaiti oil and help China address its energy security needs while giving Kuwait a major guaranteed source of oil revenue. Such initiatives have also ensured China’s clout in the Middle East will remain strong in the near future.
Stronger China-Kuwait relations are of a potential concern to the US, who have also undertaken their own initiatives to increase its involvement in the Middle Eastern nation. The largest of these initiatives that it has been attempting to pursue is an increase in the number of US troops based in the country. The desire for an increased US troop presence in Kuwait follows the planned US military withdrawal from Iraq by the end of this year. With approximately 20,000 troops currently stationed in Kuwait, the US has been seeking to redeploy a further 3,500 troops from Iraq during the withdrawal period (Source)
The attempt by the US to increase their military presence in Kuwait shows that that country has become highly pertinent to its present and future interests in the region. This makes it highly likely that the US is watching China’s own initiatives in the country with a close eye.
Kuwait has been an appealing nation for China and the US largely due to it being one of the various large-scale Middle Eastern oil suppliers. It has, however, gained a newfound appeal to those two countries due to the continuing instability in Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen, as well as the continuing uncertainty with Iran. Kuwait, on the other hand, has remained stable throughout the instability in the aforementioned countries. This is something that Kuwait has used to its advantage, as can be seen in its willingness to strengthen its relations with China and negotiate with the US on major issues. Should the instability in other parts of the region continue to go on unresolved, Kuwait may see even greater involvement by China as well as the US.
While the US and China’s influence in Kuwait may make both nations wary of each other’s objectives, their involvement may also benefit each other in various ways. The outcome of the negotiations to boost US troop numbers in Kuwait is unlikely to be influenced by Kuwait-China relations due to the already established US military presence in the country. The military presence contributes to ensuring the stability of the Persian Gulf, which helps to ensure undisrupted oil production. It also helps counteract any attempts by Iran to wield their influence in the region, as it has done in Iraq and Lebanon in the past, further maintaining stability in the Gulf. This helps alleviate some of the energy security concerns of both the US and China. Further US military involvement in Kuwait is also unlikely to adversely affect China-Kuwait relations. This is because Kuwait sees China as a major growing asset to its economy, which can be seen through the aforementioned decision by KIA to increase investment in China as well as joint Chinese-Kuwaiti ventures.