Egypt Independent

5 key takeaways from Xi’s trip to Saudi Arabia

Abu Dhabi CNNYears of growing relations between oil-rich Saudi Arabia and eastern economic giant China culminated this week with a multi-day state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Riyadh, where a a number of agreements and summits heralded a “new era”. of the Sino-Arab partnership.

Xi, who landed on Wednesday and departed on Friday, was keen to show his Arab counterparts the value of China as the world’s largest consumer of oil and how it can contribute to the region’s growth, especially in the areas of technology. energy, security and defence.

The trip was widely seen as another snub to Washington, which has grievances with both states on a number of issues.

The United States, which for more than eight decades has treasured its strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia, is now reuniting with its old partner in search of new friends – notably with China, which the United States fears extends its sphere of influence in the world.

While Saudi Arabia has been keen to reject notions of polarization or ‘taking sides’, it has also shown it can develop deep partnerships with China without the criticism or ‘interference’ it has resented ever since. long to his Western counterparts.

Here are five key takeaways from Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia.

During Xi’s visit, Saudi Arabia and China issued a nearly 4,000-word joint statement outlining their alignment on a range of policy issues and pledging deeper cooperation on dozens more. From space research, the digital economy and infrastructure to Iran’s nuclear program, including the war in Yemen and Russia’s war against Ukraine, Riyadh and Beijing were keen to show that they were in agreement on most key policies.

“There is a lot of alignment on key issues,” Saudi author and analyst Ali Shihabi told CNN. “Remember, this relationship has grown tremendously over the past six years, so this visit was just the highlight of this trip.”

The two countries also agreed to cooperate on peaceful uses of nuclear energy, work together to develop modern technologies such as artificial intelligence, and innovate in the energy sector.

“I think what they’re doing is saying that on most issues that they think are relevant or important to themselves nationally and regionally, they see themselves as really, really close important partners,” he said. said Jonathan Fulton, nonresident principal investigator at the Atlantic. Council Think Tank.

“Do they align on every issue? Probably not, but [they are] as close as anyone could get,” he said.

An unwritten deal between Saudi Arabia and the United States has traditionally been one in which the kingdom provides oil, while the United States provides military security and supports the kingdom in its fight against regional enemies, to namely Iran and its armed proxies.

The kingdom recently held get out of this traditional dealclaiming that diversification is key to Riyadh’s current vision.

At a summit between China and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in Riyadh, Xi said China wants to build on the existing energy cooperation between the GCC and China. The Chinese leader said the republic will continue “to import crude oil consistently and in large quantities from the GCC, as well as increase its imports of natural gas” from the region.

China is the world’s largest buyer of oil, with Saudi Arabia being its largest supplier.

And on Friday, Saudi national oil giant Aramco and Shandong Energy Group said they were exploring collaboration on integrated refining and petrochemicals opportunities in China, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The statements come amid global energy shortages, as well as repeated calls from the West for oil producers to increase production.

This year, the kingdom has already made one of its biggest investments in China with Aramco’s $10 billion investment in a refinery and petrochemical complex in northeast China.

China is also keen to cooperate with Saudi Arabia on security and defence, an important area once reserved for the kingdom’s US ally.

Unsettled by what they see as growing threats from Iran and a diminishing US security presence in the region, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors recently looked east during the arms purchase.

One of the most sacred concepts cherished by China is the principle of “non-interference in mutual affairs”, which since the 1950s has been one of the republic’s key ideals.

What began as the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence between China, India and Myanmar in 1954 was later adopted by a number of countries that did not wish to choose between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Today, Saudi Arabia is keen to embrace the concept in its political rhetoric as it walks a tightrope between its traditional Western allies, the Eastern bloc and Russia.

Not interfering in each other’s internal affairs presumably means not commenting on domestic politics or criticizing the human rights record.

One of the main obstacles complicating Saudi Arabia’s relations with the United States and other Western powers was repeated criticism over domestic and foreign policy. This was particularly notable during the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the war in Yemen and the kingdom’s oil policy – which US politicians have accused Riyadh of arming itself to side with Russia in its war against Ukraine.

China has had similar resentments towards the West amid international concerns over Taiwan, a democratically governed island of 24 million people that Beijing claims as its territory, as well as human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in the western Xinjiang region of China (which Beijing has refused).

The agreed principle of non-interference, Shihabi says, also means that, if necessary, internal affairs “can be discussed privately but not publicly as Western politicians are used to for domestic political purposes”.

During his visit, Xi urged his GCC counterparts to “fully utilize the Shanghai Oil and Gas Exchange as a platform to conduct oil and gas sales using Chinese currency.”

The move would bring China closer to its goal of strengthening its currency internationally, significantly weaken the U.S. dollar, and potentially impact the U.S. economy.

While many awaited decisions on the supposed switch from the US dollar to the Chinese yuan with respect to oil trading, no announcement was made on this. Beijing and Riyadh have not confirmed rumors that the two sides are considering ditching the petrodollar.

Analysts see the decision as a logical development in the energy relationship between China and Saudi Arabia, but say it will likely take longer.

“This [abandonment of the petrodollar] is ultimately inevitable since China, as the Kingdom’s number one customer, has huge leverage,” Shihabi said, “although I don’t expect that to happen in the near future.

The United States has been quite discreet in its response to Xi’s visit. Although comments have been minimal, some believe there is heightened anxiety behind closed doors.

John Kirby, strategic communications coordinator at the US National Security Council, said at the start of the visit that it was “not surprising” that Xi was traveling around the world and in the Middle East, and that the United States is “aware of the influence that China is trying to develop around the world.

“This visit may not significantly expand China’s influence, but signals the continued decline of American influence in the region,” Shaojin Chai, an assistant professor at Sharjah University in the Emirates, told CNN. United Arabs.

Saudi Arabia, however, was keen to reject notions of polarization, deeming them unnecessary.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud stressed that the kingdom was “focused on cooperation with all parties”.

“Competition is good,” he added, “and I think we’re in a competitive market.”

Part of that drive for competitiveness, he said, comes with “cooperating with as many parties as possible.”

The kingdom considers it important that it is fully engaged with its traditional partner, the United States, as well as with other emerging economies such as China, the foreign minister added.

“The Americans are probably aware that their messaging has been very ineffective on this issue,” Fulton said, normally “lecturing” his partners about working with China “rather than putting together a cohesive strategy in collaboration with his allies and partners”.

“There seems to be a big disconnect between how many countries see China and how the United States does. And to Washington’s credit, I think they’re starting to realize that.

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