The View From Asia

Dousing the heat in the Middle East

Asia News Network commentators share concerns over the Saudi-Qatar spat that could reshape the Middle East. Here are excerpts.

Longer the crisis, higher the stakes

James Dorsey

The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) appear to be contemplating some drastic action in Qatar with the stakes in the Gulf crisis so high that a negotiated solution may prove difficult, if not impossible. Neither side in the Gulf divide can afford to back down.

Caving in to Saudi Arabia and UAE demands that it break its ties with Islamists and militants and curb, if not shutter, Qatar-funded media like Al Jazeera will amount to Qatar surrendering the ability to chart its own course and, like Bahrain, becoming a Saudi vassal.

Bahrain has been walking in step with the kingdom since Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with Qatari support, helped its minority Sunni Muslim ruling family squash a popular uprising in 2011.

Similarly, neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE can tolerate a repeat of 2014 when Qatar appeared to put on public display the limits of their powers by refusing to bow to the two states' demands after they and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have this time raised the stakes by not only breaking off diplomatic relations but also declaring an economic embargo. The longer that tiny Qatar with a citizenry of only 300,000 people resists Saudi and UAE pressure, the more embarrassing it will be for the two Gulf states. Amid indications that Qatar may have the political will and economic backbone to hold out for some time to come, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will likely look for ways to increase pressure on it.

Increased economic pressure could involve the withdrawal of Gulf deposits from Qatari banks, the closure of a partly UAE-owned pipeline that pumps Qatari natural gas to the UAE and Oman, and pressure on other Muslim states like Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan to join them in taking punitive economic measures.

The majority of Muslim and non-Muslim nations, except for the economically dependent six nations, including Bahrain, Egypt, the Maldives and Mauritania, which joined Saudi Arabia and the UAE in acting against Qatar, have sought to remain on the sidelines of the dispute. States like Pakistan and Bangladesh are, however, vulnerable because they rely to a significant extent on migrant workers' remittances from the Gulf for their foreign currency reserves.


A container ship in Doha. Saudi Arabia closed its border with Qatar, blocking one-third of food and water imports. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Turkey and Iran are helping Qatar meet its food and water needs after Saudi Arabia closed the two countries' land border, preventing one-third of the Gulf state's food and water imports from reaching it.

Failure to force Qatar on its knees any time soon would force Saudi Arabia and the UAE to look at other ways of forcing Qatar to comply, including regime change.


Trump is elephant in room

Ding Long

China Daily, China

China has expressed hope that the Arab states will resolve the dispute through dialogue and consultation, and maintain unity and promote peace and stability in the Middle East. China is the largest trading partner of Qatar, which produces nearly 20 per cent of China's liquefied natural gas imports.

The Gulf row started two weeks after United States President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia on his maiden foreign trip. For many, Mr Trump is the real elephant in the room as his recent visit to the Middle East triggered the discord.

The US President unequivocally backed Riyadh while making known his ambition to contain Teheran, which, to some extent, emboldened Riyadh and its allies to impose sanctions on Doha, laying bare the Trump administration's Middle East policy: Reinstating the anti-Iran military alliance with regional powers, particularly Saudi Arabia and Israel, and swinging behind them in the fight against terrorism without getting involved.

Obviously, the US does not want Qatar to maintain close ties with Iran and have open channels with extremist groups like Al-Qaeda. Nor does it want to risk pushing Qatar, home to the largest US air base in the region, towards Iran by imposing harsh conditions on it. Mr Trump has offered to help Qatar and the other Gulf allies settle their disputes. But the mediation will not be easy.


Serious risk to global economy

Editorial

The Japan News, Japan

The turmoil in the Middle East has been exacerbated. The latest developments may have an adverse impact on the campaign to stamp out the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and even on the world economy. There must be an early end to the turmoil.

Qatar holds the world's third-largest natural gas reserves, and also exports natural gas to Japan. If its natural gas supplies to other countries are restricted, it could send gas prices soaring. Turmoil over a protracted period of time will be a serious risk to the world economy.

In Iran, terrorist attacks were simultaneously carried out at the Parliament building and one other place. It is feared that hardline conservatives may increase their influence, thus further intensifying Teheran's antagonism against Saudi Arabia and other countries.

Countries concerned, such as the United States and Turkey, must accelerate their mediation diplomacy and stop the chain reaction of sectarian conflicts and terrorism that would destabilise the Middle East.


A neutral role for Pakistan

Editorial

Dawn, Pakistan

There may be many strands to the latest crisis engulfing the Middle East, but there is only one conclusion for Pakistan: this country cannot afford to get embroiled in the conflict.

The bizarre and patently false assertion by a section of the Turkish state-run media that the Pakistani Parliament is considering sending thousands of troops to Qatar underlines the risks involved in a conflict in which the media has become a weapon. The possibility of false stories and propaganda setting off a diplomatic crisis for Pakistan is very real and the Foreign Office has done the right thing by quickly and emphatically denying the possibility of troops being sent to Qatar.

While Pakistan's leverage may be limited and its diplomatic heft in the Middle East far from obvious, it occupies a unique and potentially useful position as it has friendly ties with all countries embroiled in the crisis. From Saudi Arabia to Qatar and from Egypt to Iran, Pakistan has genuinely friendly and stable ties with all sides. But a crisis-fighting role is not something Pakistan can realistically take on and there must be an emphatic signal sent to all sides: Pakistan values its relations with all countries and the Pakistani national interest requires it to stay neutral in the current crisis.


  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 news media entities. For more, see www.asianews.network.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2017, with the headline 'Dousing the heat in the Middle East'. Print Edition | Subscribe