At the Manama Dialogues last week Sen. John McCain and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns attempted to answer questions about what role the United States would have in the Middle East as it pursues its “rebalance” toward Asia. While many analysts and commentators will continue to watch the pivot unfold, it is important to note that the US may not be the only country whose attention will be turning East in the next few years.
Saudi Arabia is already beginning to deepen its ties with both Pakistan and India, leading some to make wild accusations of diplomatic backstabbing. Others see greater Saudi engagement with both India and Pakistan as part of its wider efforts to contain Iran. The Saudis are likely eager to weaken India’s reliance on Iranian energy exports and have shown their frustration with plans for a Pakistani-Iranian Gas Pipeline by pursuing improved relations with India.
These strategic concerns only bolster the growing importance of East Asian energy markets for Gulf Countries. The vast majority of Gulf oil already heads to the East (indeed, Saudi Arabia exports 1005 thousand barres per day to China alone), and Asian markets are expected to consume 90% of Gulf oil by 2035. Thus while turmoil and conflict in places like Syria and Egypt will continue to be serious concerns for leaders in the Gulf, it seems inevitable that their focus – like that of their counterparts in the US – will become increasingly fixed on South and East Asia. The question that remains, is whether or not they will pursue compatible strategies for this crucial region?
Please not that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.