01.12.2023 Author: Abbas Hashemite

Importance of Inaugural GCC-ASEAN Summit

Importance of Inaugural GCC-ASEAN Summit

Amidst the ever-evolving global politics, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) convened their inaugural summit in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the end of October 2023. This summit signaled evolving ties between the two blocs at a time when the focus of attention of the whole world is on Israel’s genocide in Gaza. ASEAN comprises ten member countries which include Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. The organization was founded in 1967. Meanwhile, the foundation of the GCC was laid in 1981, and it consists of Oman, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar.

The two blocs established contacts for the first time in 1990. Although their maiden minister-level meeting was held in 2009, it took more than a decade to conduct a mutual summit as they were not long-term partners. Both the blocs enjoy eminent economic relations. Collectively, they account for around 6 percent of the total GDP of the world, accounting for 6 trillion USD. Trade volume between the GCC and the ASEAN nation stood at a mere $78 billion in 2010, which rapidly grew to 110 billion USD in 2022. This depicts that both the two blocs have much more potential for bilateral trade. According to GCC, they have invested more than 14 billion USD in the ASEAN countries, with almost 74 percent of these investments coming from the UAE, most of which goes to Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. However, they seek to expand their relations behind traditional economic ties.

On the whole, ASEAN mainly holds some broad objectives, related to individual member states of the GCC, which are mostly led by individual members of the organization. The most significant of them is the diaspora of some ASEAN countries in the GCC and the remittances they bring. The Philippines and Indonesia have a substantial diaspora in the Gulf states, which help them receive colossal amount of remittances. Therefore, these countries are highly concerned about the welfare of their citizens residing in the Gulf states. Similarly, for Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia the Hajj quotas hold much eminence which coerces them to establish cordial ties with Saudi Arabia, not with the whole Gulf region. Moreover, ASEAN states seek to diversify economic cooperation with the GULF countries, especially in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI) and the energy sector.

Furthermore, they seek to establish an inclusive relationship where every member plays a substantial role. In order to establish diverse relations, the Gulf countries are playing a much larger role. KSA and UAE already have cordial relations with some ASEAN states at the individual level, but now they seek to establish regional-level relations, which is visible from the recent GCC-ASEAN summit. Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements between individual states from both regions signify the possibility of free trade agreements between the two regions. China has already engaged the ASEAN countries in its Belt and Road Initiative, which makes them huge recipients of foreign-funded infrastructural projects and entailing foreign direct investment. It will be lucrative for the ASEAN to host infrastructural projects of GCC countries or become part of regional connectivity projects. India has already started a regional connectivity project, India Middle East Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), which will link South Asia to the Middle East and Europe. The Western members of ASEAN have the least proximity to India. Therefore, ASEAN countries can also become part of this project with the help of GCC countries.

The GCC and the ASEAN, both, have converging interests. Their prime focus is on development. A recent summit between the two organizations demonstrates that they seek to implement peaceful economic and foreign policy goals. Both the blocs have strong ties with the United States, and they also enjoy good relations with India as well. This further increases the probability of their cooperation and inclusion of ASEAN in IMEC. If the latter succeeds in becoming a part of the IMEC will not only be beneficial for the ASEAN and the GCC economically, but will also expand their political clout. Furthermore, the decrease in the role of the United States in the Middle East is also one of the factors that prompted the GCC countries to explore novel diplomatic ventures. This would also help the GCC to explore new markets for oil and gas trade, which would also help fulfill the energy needs of the ASEAN. Moreover, labor from the ASEAN nations can also prove mutually beneficial.

A joint statement was issued at the end of the summit manifesting convergent views on many regional issues. The summit successfully avoided discussing the topic of US-China rivalry or showing any towards either side. The prime focus of the summit had been economic cooperation, technological advancement, and investments instead of any geopolitical issue. The GCC’s decision to convene the summit despite Israel’s massacre in Gaza depicts that the Gulf states seek to redefine their priorities and are no longer interested in Pan-Islamism. It shows that have reoriented their foreign policy and they solely seek to focus on their national interests. ASEAN also gained a diplomatic victory as the GCC states joined the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC). Simultaneously, the issuance of a separate statement from ASEAN over the Israel-Hamas proved a success for the GCC countries.

ASEAN countries have divergent views on this issue. The Philippines and Singapore have cordial ties with Israel, while Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia hold no diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv and are staunch supporters of Palestine. Therefore, a statement demanding a cease-fire, condemning violence against civilians, and implementation of the two-state solution as proposed by the UN in 1967. This statement aligned with the views of the Muslim world. Thus, it proved a diplomatic triumph for the GCC, as they succeeded in internationalizing the issue. Both sides also agreed on maritime and economic cooperation, connectivity, and sustainable development goals. They also developed a 2024-2028 cooperation framework, which intends to integrate regional markets and promote private sector engagement.

The summit is also a significant step towards multipolarity in the era of a rising multilateral world. It also signifies the decline of US hegemony, as it does not have any sort of pressure or mediation by the United States. Moreover, it has emerged as a result of mutual consent from both sides and is elusive of any sort of geopolitical goals. The regional connectivity between the two regions would increase the probability of economic growth and strength of both the regions and their peaceful rise in the long run.


Abbas Hashemite – is a political observer and research analyst for regional and global geopolitical issues. He is currently working as an independent researcher and journalist, exclusively for “New Eastern Outlook”.

Related articles: