What the Middle East might expect from Xi Jinping’s trip to Saudi Arabia

The violet carpet was spread out. This week, Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Saudi Arabia for a series of summits with nations from the Middle East, finalizing over thirty energy and investment agreements while enjoying some pageantry on the part of the host country.

The cordial visit stands in contrast to US President Joe Biden’s understated meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) this summer, which was followed by the kingdom’s decision to reduce oil production, much to Biden’s displeasure. Additionally, it gives Xi a chance to leave the country as worries about his zero-COVID policies grow. The government is attempting to gradually roll back these measures amid street protests and bad economic data.

What does this summit indicate for China and Saudi Arabia?

It makes sense to compare Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia to Biden’s visit there in July, but doing so ignores the wider and much more intriguing picture. A Chinese president has visited the Kingdom five times total. Beginning with Jiang Zemin in 1999, the bilateral relationship has grown more substantial with each visit. The two nations’ varied interests in communicating with one another are more important than any perceived slight to Washington. If the Saudis were to only express their discontent with the United States, then Washington could eventually mend fences and Riyadh would abandon Beijing. That won’t take place.

Around 18% of China’s oil is typically imported from the Kingdom. In 2021, trade between the two countries was valued at over $80 billion, and since 2005, contracts with Saudi Arabia have brought in more over $36 billion for Chinese businesses. Saudi Arabia also plays a significant position in the worldwide Islamic community, which is significant for China given the numerous issues the Chinese government has with its Muslim minority groups. China is Saudi Arabia’s top trading partner, a significant tech provider, a consistent energy consumer, and a complete strategic partner with a seat on the UN Security Council. Over the past century, the two nations’ connection has grown stronger, and this visit strengthens that. It’s not just a response to how the US is seen.

Although noteworthy, Xi’s trip to Saudi Arabia also shows how the Sino-Saudi relationship has evolved over time. Although they have mostly been restricted to the oil and petrochemicals sector, Saudi Arabia and China’s economic ties have been expanding for many years. Since 1989, when Ali al-Naimi was Aramco’s CEO, Saudi Arabia has had its eyes on China. He anticipated China being a significant market for Saudi crude oil in the future. However, he was dissatisfied with China’s industrial progress when he went there in 1989 to study possible markets and chose to wait until he saw more automobiles on the road. Aramco began discussions to establish an oil refinery in China and inked its first marketing deal with that country in 1992.

The majority of Gulf states are fully aware that their ability to maintain peace and security depends on their relationship with the United States and that China is either incapable or unwilling to replace the United States in the near term. The White House’s lackadaisical response to a slew of terror attacks by Iran’s proxies on vital energy infrastructure as well as on civilian and financial centers worries them at the same time. The Biden administration is worried about issues like political freedom and human rights, despite the fact that Tehran is now closer than ever to attaining nuclear weapons. Furthermore, while many Gulf nations are actively pursuing their own post-fossil fuel future goals, such as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Washington is attempting to restrict their alternatives with China.

However, Xi’s visit this week showed that Saudi Arabia and the other nations in the area do have options, and they will keep using their enhanced strategic importance for international stakeholders to their advantage. We don’t believe in polarization or picking between one partner and another, as the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal stated last week. The economy of the Kingdom is expanding quickly, so we require all partners. Even in terms of security, China is already providing alternatives in the form of cutting-edge weapon systems at affordable prices, even though there is no absolute replacement for the United States’ comprehensive deterrent.

In the future, the United States needs to pay more attention to the regional nations’ interests and avoid becoming complacent in the face of Chinese efforts to erode regional alliances through Chinese solutions and Chinese knowledge.

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Meet Noah, a full-time news writer based in New York City. With a passion for investigative journalism and a keen eye for detail, Noah has made a name for himself in the fast-paced world of news writing.