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A proposal by Kuwait’s Emir H H Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah to set up a $2bn fund to fight poverty in Asia is a firm step towards strengthening relations between the Gulf countries and the rest of Asia. Sheikh Sabah made the proposal at the fist summit of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) held in Kuwait, which was attended by Qatar’s Emir H H Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Founded in Thailand in 2002, the ACD members include all the ten countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), the economic powerhouses of Japan, China, India, the Gulf states, Iran as well as Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
ACD is a relatively new entrant on the global stage where scores of international groups operate with varying clout. But this is an organisation whose time has time. The seismic shifts we have witnessed in the global power structures and changes in global economy have made ACD an urgency. The power is gradually shifting away from the West, which has triggered realignments in global alliances and aspirations. In Asia, India and China are emerging powers, and both are being aggressively courted by the West. At the same time, the Gulf countries too have acquired power due to their robust economic growth and as the exporter of energy to the world. Western countries suffering from economic haemorrhage are looking to the Gulf for investments to prop up their economies. Already, the sovereign wealth funds of this region have invested heavily in the West and this investment is likely to gather momentum as crisis-hit countries search desperately for succor.
There is a feeling in certain Asian countries that the foreign policy of the GCC is oriented more towards the West. The ACD summit will dispel that image. The participation of a large number of Asian and Gulf leaders in the summit points to the importance the leaders attach to the group. In the comings years, the ACD needs to acquire the status and clout of other regional and international groups.
The ACD functioned as a ministerial dialogue for the past ten years before it was upgraded to a full summit involving representatives of heads of government.
The GCC and the rest of Asian countries enjoy a friendly relationship which has stood the test of time. Hundreds of thousands of expatriates from all over Asia are working in the Gulf, which has added an extra dimension to the ties between the two sides, even insulating it from negative forces. Both sides just have to work on these relations and find new avenues of expanding them. The Kuwait Emir’s anti-poverty fund proposal is a good idea. Also, the Gulf countries need to channel more of their investments to Asia.