Wed, Nov 08, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Qataris’ strategy a blueprint for Taiwan

By Young Chea-yuan 楊之遠

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain on June 5 severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, reducing imports by 40 percent and triggering a rise in prices. The Qatari government spent nearly US$30 billion of its fiscal reserves to relieve the impact.

Since then, Qatar has made changes to its import strategy and has sought to increase support from Iran and Turkey. It has turned the situation to its advantage.

First, as one of the world’s major producers of natural gas, Qatar has an estimated US$335 billion in assets, enough to cope with short-term economic losses caused by the blockade.

Second, Qatar quickly moved to use its funds to purchase armaments to deter its enemies and to gain the support of the countries that sold it the weapons.

Despite the modest size of the Qatari military — it only has about 20,000 to 30,000 personnel — it has continued to hold military exercises with the US, Turkey and France, and is establishing military strategic partnerships, demonstrating the strength of military diplomacy for a small country.

The US initially supported the blockade and cut ties with Qatar: It was unhappy with Qatar’s close links with Iran, and even suspected Qatar of supporting terrorists. Nevertheless, the US has also recognized the importance of political stability in the Persian Gulf for its Middle East strategy. It is therefore seeking dialogue among the countries involved in the blockade to lessen tensions.

Qatar has hosted several international conventions promoted by the UN, as well as a number of global financial and trade summits; it will also host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. These upsets have broken the myth that a small country is excluded from playing with the big boys.

To gain international support, Qatar’s minister of foreign affairs has visited many European countries several times, leading the UK, France, Germany and Italy to condemn the countries behind the boycott. Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani also toured Southeast Asia to gain support.

The embargo was bound to have a major impact on Qatar’s imports and exports. Qatar lodged a complaint with the International Civil Aviation Organization and then, in mid-August, Bahrain and the UAE agreed to open an air corridor for Qatar Airways so that its international flights would not have to make detours. Qatar has also opened up many new routes connecting it with major airports in Oman, India, China and Pakistan.

Previously, Qatar’s natural gas was bound mostly for Saudi Arabian and Emirati seaports. Since the embargo, Qatar has redeployed its mooring and transshipment ports and opened Hamad Port after an expansion was completed ahead of schedule. Costs have increased for oil traders and shipping firms, but the volume of natural gas exports has not been affected.

Qatar used to rely on road transportation to import daily supplies from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Now that this is completely blocked, Qatar, working with private enterprises, has managed to open new routes to import food from Turkey and Russia via Iran.

The embargo has pushed Qatar to open up new trading opportunities and seek more sources of imports.

The Qatari government, under pressure from stronger neighbors, has been able to bring the nation together, to make good use of its abundant oil and gas resources and to deploy flexible military and political diplomacy to respond to the economic shocks and safeguard national sovereignty.

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