Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a three-day visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Thursday, December 8, which represents the largest diplomatic activity between China and the Arab world in China's modern history, as Xi participated in the Gulf Cooperation Council summit, He also participated in an Arab-Chinese summit, during which he met a number of Arab leaders.

During the visit, Xi signed a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, in which the presidents of the two countries commit to holding semi-annual meetings. Chinese and Saudi companies have signed 34 agreements worth $30 billion, covering green energy, information technology and infrastructure.

Partnership in a turbulent world

Chinese President Xi's visit to Saudi Arabia confirms Riyadh's efforts to establish its position as a force on the international arena.


Relations between China and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are mainly based on infrastructure investments, merchandise trade, and oil, but in recent years they have also extended to the fields of technology and security. A third of this amount is from contracts with Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, China is currently the first trading partner for Saudi Arabia, as the value of trade between Beijing and Riyadh in 2021 amounted to approximately $80 billion, and Saudi Arabia received about $5.5 billion this year in investments and contracts through the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.

While China represents the largest market for Saudi oil exports, as Beijing received about 40% of its total oil imports from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries this year, half of these imports came from Saudi Arabia alone.

However, Saudi-Chinese relations are no longer related to economic benefits alone, as Chinese President Xi's visit to Saudi Arabia confirms Riyadh's efforts to establish its position as a force on the international arena, trying to make the most of its strategic importance, which increased in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and in Within this framework, the Kingdom seeks, through building broader relations with China, to achieve several goals at the same time.

First of all, the deepening of relations with China comes as part of a broad and deliberate strategy aimed at diversifying alternatives to the kingdom's alliances, and not completely relying on the United States, as Riyadh realizes that choosing one relationship with one side at the expense of the other will have a heavy cost, so Riyadh is keen to develop its relationship. With China, its largest trading partner, and at the same time it is keen to maintain its relationship with the United States, its first security ally.

This Saudi approach comes in response to a tangible shift in US foreign policy priorities away from the Middle East region, which has raised Riyadh's concern about America's commitment as the main guarantor of regional security and confronting Iranian threats.

The second goal, which is perhaps no less important, is that with the emergence of China as a rising international power, Riyadh does not want China's relations in the Gulf region to be limited only to strategic relations with Iran, with which Beijing signed last year a strategic partnership agreement that extends to 25 years.

Saudi Arabia aims to strengthen the Gulf and Arab weight in the circle of China's relations with the region in order to restrict Beijing's support for Iran in regional politics, especially the nuclear file.

Finally, the relationship with China provides various economic opportunities that serve the directions of the Saudi Crown Prince, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who seeks to diversify the Kingdom's economy and attract large foreign investments in the fields of infrastructure, manufacturing and technology.

On the Chinese side, the structural changes taking place in global energy markets after the Russian invasion of Ukraine contributed to motivating China to expand its relations with the Gulf countries rich in energy resources, not only with Saudi Arabia, but also with Qatar, with which it signed a strategic agreement to supply liquefied gas for a period of 27 years. , as China strategically aims to secure basic energy supplies for its economy, as well as to ensure the flow of oil and gas in the event that tensions over Taiwan escalate to Western sanctions.

In addition, continued energy supplies from the Gulf also give Beijing significant negotiating leverage to keep the prices of its Russian oil imports at low levels.

Qatar Energy and Sinopec sign an agreement to supply 4 million tons per year of liquefied natural gas to China for a period of 27 years # Qatar Energy⁣ # Qatar

— QatarEnergy (@qatarenergy) November 21, 2022

China and Regional Security

However, the increasing Chinese involvement in the Middle East, and in the Gulf region in particular, does not mean that Beijing does not seek to change the regional security equation in the Middle East, which is still firmly based on the United States, which does not seem to be facing real competition in this space in the long term. perspective.

We can attribute Beijing's reluctance to engage in security for several reasons.

First of all, Chinese foreign policy is closely related to economic development, which has prevented it from forming permanent security alliances abroad that could involve Beijing in long-term conflicts that lead to crises and problems that hinder Chinese investments.

Accordingly, it is not expected that China will seek to replace America and assume its roles in the Middle East region, which suffers from political instability and chronic turmoil.

On the contrary, China benefits from the US role in the region as a guarantor of security and stability, which provides China with more economic interests.

Otherwise, China fears that its increasing involvement in the Middle East, especially with regard to political and military alliances, requires directing more of its resources to the region, while the Indian and Pacific region comes as a priority for China to confront the activities of the United States in this region, which is the main arena of competition between Beijing. Washington in the coming years.

On the American side, energy investments, construction contracts, and overall trade and economic relations between Saudi Arabia - and the Gulf countries in general - and China do not cause much concern for the US administration, while Washington's concerns are limited to whether Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, and the Arab countries in general tend to grant China A strategic foothold in the Gulf region through cooperation in a range of strategic areas.

Washington is definitely afraid that Riyadh will rush into advanced nuclear cooperation with China in order to maintain the balance of power between it and Tehran, especially with the uncertainty of the future of nuclear negotiations with Iran, (Reuters)

On top of these areas comes the field of communications technology, especially dealing with the Chinese company "Huawei", which is subject to severe sanctions by the US government, especially in the field of fifth generation (G5) networks, and the US fear is due to the possibility of Beijing using Chinese-made equipment and technology. To spy on US military technology.

More importantly, the United States is keen to keep military cooperation between the Gulf states, and its Arab allies in general, and between China limited and far from strategic levels, especially air defense systems, combat aircraft of advanced generations, ballistic missiles, and military spy systems, a policy that is not limited to Chinese weapons. It also includes Russian weapons, as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states depend mainly on American military equipment, as Saudi Arabia obtained 73% of its military purchases from the United States in the period from 2015-2019, which is not only a very profitable market for American arms companies, but also It also maintains long-term US security influence in the region, which includes, for example, long-term joint training contracts and programs, and a field presence in all Gulf countries, which Washington does not seek to give up in favor of China or Russia.

No less importantly, the United States is looking closely at the infrastructure projects that China is involved in in some Gulf countries, which are likely to have dual-use purposes, as is the case with the pressures that America has exerted on the UAE to stop its construction operations. China to a port near Abu Dhabi, because America believes that the port will serve as a naval base for China.

Finally, Washington is definitely afraid that Riyadh will rush into advanced nuclear cooperation with China in order to maintain the balance of power between it and Tehran, especially with the ambiguity of the future of nuclear negotiations with Iran, which will not only lead to an increase in Chinese influence in the Gulf region, but also could That the increase in nuclear activity threatens the main US interests in the region.

What are we waiting for?

In light of these intertwined interests, and Saudi Arabia's increasing desire to diversify its network of alliances, it is likely that Riyadh will rely in managing its foreign policy towards both Washington and Beijing on a "hedging" strategy, meaning avoiding full bias in one of the American or Chinese camps, and continuing to maintain a balance in relations. between the two international powers.

So far, Saudi Arabia is still keen on renewing its security and military alliance with Washington, and is seeking to establish a framework for a clear agreement supported by Congress and not subject to the vagaries of the White House administrations.

The economy will remain the main pillar of Saudi-Chinese relations, as Saudi Arabia's military cooperation with China is still limited compared to the United States. In 2021, Washington sold weapons worth $1.3 billion to the Kingdom, while China sold weapons to the Kingdom worth only $40 million. The Kingdom’s endeavor to develop and diversify its military options, especially in light of the political constraints associated with approving important arms deals in Washington and European countries, may lead to the development of military relations between Saudi Arabia and China in the medium term, among other options that include European countries, Turkey and even Russia, especially since the Crown Prince The Saudi adopts a trend to localize military industries.

Meanwhile, the United States is unlikely to push its partners in the Gulf and the Arab region to choose between the American or Chinese sides.

This is because many forms of cooperation between those countries and China do not represent a major threat to Washington's interests, and the withdrawal of the Gulf states from continuing cooperation with China may be impossible to implement in practice.

The economies of Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf countries are closely intertwined with the Chinese economy.

In addition, America's adoption of this approach in dealing with its allies will prompt them, in return, to demand more security and economic guarantees from Washington, which Washington may be reluctant or unable to provide.


This article was published in agreement with Asbab. To view the original article from here.