China took a defensive outlook from the start, playing six men at the back.
The high levels of heat and humidity seemed to affect China most, and they took on extra fluids at every opportunity.
But they were first to come close to scoring with their midfielder Jihai Sun putting a shot from the edge of the box just wide of the goal after 15 minutes.
From then on China played a holding game, breaking down Qatar's intermittent passing moves.
The only concerted offensive play came from Qatar in the second half who put a header straight at the Chinese goalkeeper on 52 minutes.
Qatar came closest to scoring two minutes before the end of normal time when substitute Syde Bechir's header hit the crossbar.
Despite the lack of activity on the pitch tension was high on the sidelines.
In front of the 12,000 strong crowd, Serb Vladmir Petrovic, the Chinese manager, was sent off midway through the second half, apparently after amking comments to the linesman.
Qatar's Uruguyan coach Jorge Fossati's said: "We wanted to win this match but at the same time we were aware that China are a big team so we were cautious too. That was our game plan."
Petrovic said: "I agree that the standard of the match was not up to the mark because perhaps Qatar also didn't want to lose."
The return match is to be played in on Saturday in Tianjin, China.
Petrovic added: "Qatar might have had the major share of exchanges, but I am sure it will be different when we play in China."