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Analysis

China Eying Deeper Influence in Saudi Arabia

Wednesday 7 September 2022
China Eying Deeper Influence in Saudi Arabia

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Alwaght- Planning to shine as a superpower by the 100th anniversary of foundation of the Communist Party government in 2049, China is working hard to bolster its global influence, specifically in areas where the US has active presence. 

For decades recognized as the strategic allies of Washington, Arab countries since 2021 that the US fled Afghanistan scandalously began to largely lose confidence in their American protectors. This distrust even surged after eruption of Ukraine war, with Arab ruler growing impudent to their American masters. This provides Beijing with a chance to take advantage of the Arab-Western gap. To this end, recently President Xi Jinping of China wrote a letter to King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia that can be considered important in the current circumstances. 

Though details of the letter have not been leaked yet, it is said that they emphasize strong bilateral relations and ways to strengthen them further in all areas. According to Saudi sources, the Chinese leader threw his support behind the Saudi bid to host Expo 2030 international fair. 

Using Saudi oil 

This letter follows increasing US military movements in Taiwan that escalated tensions with China and in response the latter wants to challenge its rival in the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia is considered as one of the influential countries in the global oil market, and this issue is seen vital for China, which is the world's largest oil importer. 

By developing its relations with Saudi Arabia, China intends to increase its influence in the strategic waterway of the Persian Gulf, in addition to using the country's energy resources for its growing economy. As part of this effort, China and Saudi Arabia signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2016, related to long-term and sustainable energy cooperation, and as a result of this agreement, their bilateral trade value reached $65.2 billion in 2020 and $87.3 billion in 2021, showing an annual growth and more to come in the future. 

According to figures, China is Saudi Arabia's top trade partner and Riyadh, which accounts for over a quarter of the Arab trade with China, is Beijing's top trade partner in West Asia and supplies to it an average of 1.8 million oil barrels per day. Despite the fact that the US has had a strong presence in Saudi Arabia for decades and even built military bases in this country and in other words is the guarantor of Saudi security in the Persian Gulf, it is China that has become the top trade partner of the oil-wealthy kingdom. Also, a few weeks after US President Joe Biden's failed visit to Saudi Arabia, Saudi oil giant Aramco signed a MoU with China's state-owned SINOPEC to cooperate in areas including carbon extraction and hydrogen processing. These developments indicate that Beijing has well found its way into the Persian Gulf and even surpassed Washington. 

On the other hand, due to the considerable influence of Saudi Arabia among the Arab countries, China invited it to become an observer member of the Beijing-dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2021 in order to bring the Saudis into its camp from security aspects. The presence of Saudi Arabia in this bloc, in addition to increasing its weight in West Asia, can also be a prelude to Arab countries coming on board. 

Striking a balance with Iran and Arab countries 

China, which needs Persian Gulf oil, has signed long-term contracts with Arab countries and made large investments in the energy sector of these countries, especially in the energy sector of the UAE, which amounts to $22 billion. China has also signed a 25-year economic pact with Iran, during which the level of cooperation between the two countries in the trade and economic fields will increase to $400 billion. China is eying similar long-term agreements with Saudi Arabia in order to strike a balance between Iran and the Arabs in their economic agreements so that there is no reaction from the Arab rulers against the agreement with Tehran. 

Chinese leader's letter to King Salman follows recent reports by Saudi sources about imminent visit of Xi Jinping to Riyadh. The expected trip is very important as tensions between Beijing and Washington have intensified as the Saudis refused to increase oil output to calm the world energy market amid pressures caused by Russian operation in Ukraine. The Politico Magazine wrote about this trip that Xi's visit to Riyadh, as his first foreign trip after the two-year lockdown, is not only a new proof of China's growing global power, but also allows Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to show Washington that the US has a serious and powerful rival supporting Riyadh. 

The Chinese leader reportedly told the kingdom that China will take part in the Expo 2030 as the fair is an ambition to bin Salman, and this is expected to upgrade their interactions significantly in the years to come. 

China, which uses every international opportunity to show its domestic achievements to the world, participated in the Dubai Expo 2020 exhibition in the UAE last year, and in it, China's breakthroughs in the aerospace, information technology, modern transportation, artificial intelligence, smart life, culture, and customs were put to show. Therefore, Beijing plans to repeat this experience at a Saudi-hosted Expo. 

Another important point in the Chinese strategy to boost relations with the Saudis is New Silk Road project, also called Belt and Road Initiative. China's initiative consists of three routes, and part of it crosses Iran and the Persian Gulf, as well as Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea from Central Asia, and Saudi Arabia is important for the Chinese because of its status in the energy market, and since this project is economically beneficial for all countries, the Saudis will also welcome it should the major project is accomplished. 

What does Saudi Arabia want from China? 

Bilateral relations with China, which are driven by security and economic goals, are also important to the Saudis as they, too, pursue their own goals. Saudi leaders who have realized the weakness and decline of the US on the world stage in recent years, especially last year, are shifting their eyes to the emerging powers in East Asia. Since, according to global reports, China and India will become economic giants in the next decade and will need energy resources to fuel their growth, Saudi Arabia is trying to boost its relations with these Asian heavyweights and seize the energy market for huge revenues. On the other hand, the Saudis, who no longer trust the US in times of crisis after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, want to have the military support of China and India behind them in the future by shoring up partnership with them. 

Another important point is that Saudi Arabia, which has a tough competition with Iran in the Persian Gulf, is trying to ink long-term pacts with China, like the one Iran signed, in order not to fall behind. 

Moreover, Saudi Arabia, which is the world's largest arms buyer, in recent years tried to manufacture part of its arms at home to reduce its defense expenses. To this end, it has specially counted on China. Last year, American media outlets reported that Saudi Arabia plans to produce ballistic missiles on its soil with China's assistance. This agreement, which was secret, was temporarily taken off the agenda after its disclosure and the strong opposition from Washington as the kingdom's top weapons supplier. 

The Saudi rejection of the US request for oil output increase after Ukraine war shows that from now on, the Saudi rulers do not set their plans with the Americans and, therefore, odds are, security pact with Beijing will be resumed. After all, China has made substantial growth in military sector in recent years and this adds to its attractions to the Saudis. Also, the Arab kingdom wants to diversify its arsenal and sees China the best other provider of part of its arms. Actually, the heated China-US rivalry for geopolitical influence in West Asia grants Saudi Arabia the opportunity to capitalize on their confrontation, without distancing either of them. 

 

Tags :

China Saudi Arabia Oil Trade. US Competition

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