While the world is talking about Qatar FIFA World Cup as the world cup of “firsts”, the tiny island state of Qatar, marred by criticism and tangled in international politics, is the first Islamic state to host a “winter” FIFA world cup. It’s the second Asian country is hosting a FIFA World Cup after 20 years since South Korea and Japan Co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
It also coincides with the strategic realignment that is taking shape in the geopolitics of West Asia in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war. Qatar is punching above its weight and carefully crafting an independent foreign policy to assert an image of a sovereign player in world politics and not a vassal state of Saudi Arabia. While Military Cooperation is one of the intriguing dimensions of Qatar-US relations, Qatar’s foreign policy is very distinct from that of the United States.
On the other hand, China has been entering the gulf market and making inroads into the region through great investment opportunities. It isn’t a coincidence that Chinese brands are the biggest Qatar’s FIFA World Cup Tournament Sponsors and have an investment of $1.395 billion for the competition, surpassing the slate of American multinational companies, including Coca-Cola Budweiser etc. This also suits the soft power strategy of Chinese President XiJinping, whose vision is to turn China into a powerhouse of sports.
Qatar is looking towards its east, seeking partners to boost its economic cooperation and trade exchanges to secure its market and diversify its economy from reliance on oil and gas export. Qatar is trying to promote itself as a global financial and commercial hub while competing with other Gulf regional neighbours, Saudi Arabia and UAE. With a massive market for natural gas in Asia, it is the largest natural gas supplier to China, Japan, and South Korea.The Core of Qatar-China cooperation lies inthe energy sector. Qatar covers 20 percent of China’s natural gasneeds and is China’s second-largest natural gas supplier. Qatar-China relations are also mutually beneficial as Qatar seeks to capitalize on Chinese demand for natural gas, and China wants to ensure a smooth energy supply from the Gulf.
Qatar and China have signedthe largest-ever Liquified Natural Gas deals worth a record $60bn. It comes at a time when western sanctions against Russia have affected the energy supplies to western countries, and everyone is trying to lock its energy deal to handle the shortages caused by the Russia-Ukraine War. Europe is also seeking a strong replacement for the Russian pipeline gas but has stalled due to Germany’s apprehension to commit to long-term contracts with Qatar.
Qatar Petroleum, the national oil and gas company, has several joint ventures with Chinese counterparts and holds investments in exploration, production, and refining projects. And this landmark deal ensures 27 years of 4 million tons of LNG supply per year starting from 2026 from its new North Field East project to China petroleum and chemical cooperation. It also makes the longest-flowing and biggest by volume Energy cooperation between Qatar Energy, its state-run energy arm and Chinese counterpart Sinopec. This deal comes when China’s Belt and Road and Qatar National Vision 2030 converge. Both are trying to build strategic partnershipsfocusing on investment and trade, connectivity, military ties, energy cooperation, culture and tourism. China is also massively involved in infrastructure development projects in Qatar. It has poured massive investment into the construction of Hamad Port in Doha and the Lusail Stadium,where the 2022 FIFA World Cup is ongoing. Also, Chinese Huawei Technologies became one of Qatar’s few fully-owned technology companies.
Qatar has been systematically counterbalancingthe West while forging its relations with China. The Qatar-GCC crisis of 2017 witnessed China upgrading of security partnership with Doha. The relative decline of the Gulf’s dependency on the US and the rise inChina’s presence in the regionhas considerably shifted the region’s geopolitics. Qatar’s tension with itsneighbors also makes it build stronger military ties with China. Although Qatar’s strategic alliance with the US remains unchanged,a small state always uses hedging to survive the turmoil. Qatar is seeking a new strategic partnership with China to counter-balance the geopolitical interest of the Western allies. Itstrengthens its position in an increasingly vulnerable geopolitical balance of power. Therefore, Qatar is embracing a ‘Look East’ approach realizing theshift in economic prosperity from West to east.The Qatari-China strategic partnership is expected to deepen as strategic realignment becomes visible across the world,including West Asia, which started with the Russia-Ukraine War outbreak.
Dr Sreshtha Chakraborty holds a Ph.D. in International Studies from the Centre of West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and is presently working as an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Manav Rachna International Institute of Research and Studies.