Kuwait Reengages With China to Revive Gulf Port Project

(Bloomberg) -- Kuwait’s revived plans to finish a port meant to act as a major trading hub for the northern end of the Persian Gulf.

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A Chinese delegation traveled to the oil-rich Gulf state this week, meeting Kuwaiti officials for “in-depth technical and field discussions” over the construction of the Mubarak Al-Kabeer port and other projects, Kuwait’s state news agency reported.

The resurrection of the project some 10 years after building stopped — when it was only partially complete — was sparked in part by neighboring Iraq’s ambitious plan for a $17 billion road and rail network to boost trade in the region. Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are working on that proposal, with Kuwait being sidestepped.

“It has become clear that if Kuwait doesn’t move forward it will be left behind,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “That is already happening.”

Kuwait’s Ruler Suspends Parliament to End Political Deadlock

Kuwait is a key US ally in the Middle East and one of the world’s richest countries thanks to its abundant oil reserves. Yet its development goals have long been blighted by political dysfunction, underscored most recently by the ruling emir suspending parliament.

The revival of the port plan may be a signal that the emir, Sheikh Mishaal Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, plans to use the suspension to push through projects stalled by disputes between lawmakers and ministers.

On Tuesday, the prime minister said the country is on the verge of a “huge” number of development projects.

There are still plenty of obstacles. The Persian Gulf also has several major ports already, including those in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. And the economies of Syria and Iran — which the port was initially supposed to serve — have been hammered by war and Western sanctions, limiting the benefits of any trade corridor with them.

Mubarak Al-Kabeer also poses direct competition to Iraq’s nearby Faw Port and Baghdad has nullified a maritime agreement that gave Kuwait access through the Khor Abdullah waterway, causing a dispute between the two countries.

“Kuwait is centering its strategic planning on the northern port and city project, which will encourage trade-led development and — it hopes — cement its leadership in the northern Gulf,” Diwan said. “That will be impossible” if the maritime problem with Iraq remains unresolved.

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