5 key takeaways from Xi’s trip to Saudi Arabia
Xi, who landed on Wednesday and left on Friday, was keen to show his Arab counterparts China’s value as the world’s biggest oil consumer, and how it could contribute to the region’s growth, including in fields of energy, security and defence.
The trip was widely seen as another blow to Washington, which harbors grievances with both states on a number of issues.
The United States, which has valued its strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia for more than eight decades, today finds its old partner looking for new friends – especially with China, which the US worries about expanding its sphere of influence around the world. to knit.
While Saudi Arabia has been keen to reject notions of polarization or “taking sides”, it has also shown that it can develop deep partnerships with China without the criticism or “interference” it has long resented its Western counterparts.
Here are five key takeaways from Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
During Xi’s visit, Saudi Arabia and China released a joint statement of nearly 4,000 words outlining their alignment on a range of political issues and pledging deeper cooperation with numerous others. From space research, digital economy and infrastructure to Iran’s nuclear program, the Yemen war and Russia’s war on Ukraine, Riyadh and Beijing have been keen to show that they agree on most key policies.
“There is a lot of agreement on key issues,” Saudi author and analyst Ali Shihabi told CNN. “Remember this relationship has built dramatically over the past six years, so this visit was simply a culmination of that journey.”
The two countries also agreed to cooperate on peaceful uses of nuclear energy, to cooperate on the development of modern technology such as artificial intelligence and to innovate the energy sector.
“I think what they’re doing is saying that on most of the issues that they consider relevant, or that they consider locally and regionally important, they see each other as really, really close important partners,” said Jonathan Fulton, a non- resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s think tank.
“Do they stick to every issue? Probably not, but [they are] as close as anyone can be,” he said.
An unwritten agreement between Saudi Arabia and the US has traditionally been an understanding that the kingdom supplies oil, while the US provides military security and supports the kingdom in its fight against regional enemies, namely Iran and its armed proxies.
The kingdom was recently eager to moving away from this traditional agreementand says that diversification is essential to Riyadh’s current vision.
During a summit between China and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in Riyadh, Xi said China wants to build on current GCC-China energy cooperation. The Chinese leader said the republic would continue to “import crude oil in a consistent manner and in large quantities from the GCC, as well as increase its natural gas imports” from the region.
China is the world’s largest buyer of oil, with Saudi Arabia as its top supplier.
And on Friday, Saudi national oil giant Aramco and Shandong Energy Group said they were exploring cooperation on integrated refining and petrochemical opportunities in China, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
The statements come amid global energy shortages, as well as repeated pleas by the West for oil producers to increase output.
The kingdom has already made one of its biggest investments in China this year with Aramco’s $10 billion investment in a refinery and petrochemical complex in China’s northeast.
China is also keen to cooperate with Saudi Arabia on security and defense, an important field once reserved for the kingdom’s US ally.
Disturbed by what they see as growing threats from Iran and a waning US security presence in the region, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors have recently looked east when purchasing weapons.
One of the most sacred concepts cherished by China is the principle of “non-interference in mutual affairs”, which has been one of the republic’s key ideals since the 1950s.
What began in 1954 as the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence between China, India and Myanmar was later adopted by a number of countries that did not want to choose between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Today, Saudi Arabia is keen to adopt 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 domestic affairs presumably means not commenting on domestic policy or criticizing human rights records.
One of the main obstacles complicating Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the US and other Western powers has been the repeated criticism of domestic and foreign policy. It was particularly notable over the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the Yemen war and the kingdom’s oil policy – which has seen US politicians accuse Riyadh of arming Russia in its war against Ukraine.
China has held similar grudges against the West amid international concern over Taiwan, a democratically-ruled island of 24 million people that Beijing claims as its territory, as well as human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in China’s western Xinjiang region ( which Beijing refused).
The agreed principle of non-interference, Shihabi says, also means that, when necessary, domestic affairs “can be discussed privately, but not made public as Western politicians are in the habit of doing for domestic political purposes. “
During his visit, Xi urged his GCC counterparts to “fully use the Shanghai Petrol and Gas Exchange as a platform to conduct oil and gas sales with Chinese currency.”
The move would bring China closer to its goal of strengthening its currency internationally, and would significantly weaken the US dollar and potentially affect the US economy.
While many awaited decisions on the rumored shift from the US dollar to the Chinese yuan in relation to oil trading, no announcements were made on that front. Beijing and Riyadh have not confirmed rumors that the two sides are discussing abandoning the petrodollar.
Analysts see the decision as a logical development in China and Saudi Arabia’s energy relationship, but say it will likely take more time.
“That [abandonment of the petrodollar] is ultimately inevitable as China as the Kingdom’s largest customer has significant leverage,” Shihabi said, “although I don’t expect that to happen in the near future.”
The US has been fairly quiet in its response to Xi’s visit. While comments have been minimal, some speculate that there is heightened anxiety behind closed doors.
John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator at the US National Security Council, said at the start of the visit that it was “not a surprise” that Xi was traveling around the world and to the Middle East, and that the US was “mindful of the influence that China is trying to grow around the world.”
“This visit may not significantly expand China’s influence, but indicates the continued decline of American influence in the region,” Shaojin Chai, an assistant professor at the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, told CNN.
However, Saudi Arabia was keen to reject notions of polarization as unhelpful.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud stressed that the kingdom is “focused on cooperation with all parties.”
“Competition is a good thing,” he added, “And I think we’re in a competitive market.”
Part of that drive for competitiveness, he said, comes with “collaborating with as many parties as possible.”
The kingdom feels it is important that it is fully engaged with its traditional partner, the US, as well as 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,” said Fulton, who usually “lectures” partners about working with China “rather than putting together a coherent strategy that works with its allies and partners work.”
“There seems to be a big disconnect between how many countries see China and how the US does. And to Washington’s credit, I think they’re starting to realize that.”