The forthcoming first Arab – China summit scheduled in Saudi Arabia confirms Beijing’s interests in the Gulf Arab monarchies and the Middle East and Riyadh’s strategy of diversifying its political and commercial partners and decreasing its dependence on the United States.
During the last days in Cairo, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary-General of the Arab League, and Zhai Jun, the Ambassador and Special Envoy of the People’s Republic of China in the Middle East, discussed the current situation in the region, the development of China – Arab world relations, and the Ukraine conflict’s consequences.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit stressed Beijing’s important role in supporting Arab countries in international forums, especially on the Palestinian issue. On the other side, Zhai Jun highlighted how meaningful would be the upcoming Arab – China summit planned for 2022 in Saudi Arabia, a country with whom Beijing has developed a strategic partnership and has attempted to expand cooperation in different fields.
China – Saudi Arabia relations: a brief scenario
On July 21st, 1990, Saudi Arabia and China established diplomatic relations. Over the past 30 years, the two countries have developed their cooperation in different sectors. Nowadays, Riyadh and Beijing are looking for opportunities in a world that has experienced substantial changes.
China and Saudi Arabia have maintained a mutual respect for the last decades. Riyadh has always appreciated Beijing’s support to the Saudi Kingdom in exploring a political system and development path that suits its national conditions, opposes external interference in its internal affairs, and actively supports and participates in the realisation of Saudi Vision 2030. For its part, Saudi Arabia has always backed China’s position on Taiwan and Xinjiang.
On the economic side, China’s Belt and Road Initiative launched in 2013 might interest the Saudi transport system since Riyadh has attempted to attract Chinese investments in strategic sectors promoted by Saudi Vision 2030. Indeed, China ranks first in the world in terms of industrial production value and leads in technology in 5G, artificial intelligence, nuclear energy, renewable energy, and aerospace.
Since the rising relations and cooperation between Riyadh and Beijing and the recent U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which U.S. media described as a failure, it is fundamental to understand in which direction the Saudi Government would like to promote cooperation with the Chinese. In this regard, we met with Dr Waref Kumayha, CEO of the company Global Professional Service and President of the Lebanese – Chinese Dialogue Silk Road Association, to understand current dynamics in the Gulf and the Middle East from the point of view of the Arab world.
Kumayha stressed that:
“Arab – Chinese cooperation has increased in strength, stability, and diversity. It is based on common denominators: the two parties respect the principles of international law, sovereignty, independence of states, commitment to resolving disputes by peaceful means, and the common desire to expand and deepen areas of cooperation.“.
In the last years, the world has faced several problems such as the pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis, the U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s rise to power, which represent a threat to regional stability, the ever-present threat of terrorism, and since February 2022 the Ukraine conflict which not only has threatened peace and security in Europe but also has impacted the energy market and grain distribution.
According to Waref Kumayha,
“the world got accustomed in the last millennium to the axes system. The era of alliances has ended, and the time of partnership has begun. Time has passed the oil-for-security agreement to interest in return for interest. Saudi Arabia, along with the Gulf states, exited from the camp of restrictive alliances to the wide range of partnerships, and from the only path to the four directions.“.
Looking at the world that many geopolitical analysts and commentators have described as multipolar, China plays a decisive role thanks to its Belt and Road Initiative, the Global Development Initiative, and the Global Security Initiative.
“Saudi Arabia is a key partner in regional and global development”, said Kumayha, “and the volume of investments between China and Saudi Arabia has exceeded expectations. Furthermore, China has an important role as a mediator in resolving the Arab-Iranian disputes and stopping the Yemen Civil War. I think attracting Chinese investments, promoting peace and stabilisation in Yemen, and resolving the disputes with Tehran are the main Saudi expectation from the Global Security Initiative.”.
If, on the one hand, China has emerged as a significant geopolitical actor in the Middle East, financially supporting Gulf Arab monarchies such as Saudi Arabia on their economic strategy, on the other hand, the United States risk losing their influence in the region. In this context, commenting on Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia and his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Waref Kumayha noted that:
“First of all, the U.S. Administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is still governed by mutual interests from the two countries point of view, while the Biden Administration is trying to exert more pressure and impose their response without taking a step forward, whether concerning the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear file, which Washington seems to be ready to make more concessions in return for Tehran’s agreement or about classifying the Yemeni Houthi group again on the “terror list” after the United States removed it early last year. I think that everyone, including Saudi Arabia, has realised that Washington does not have much to offer. In addition, the White House has become less capable of threatening, unlike it was in the past since we are moving towards a new multipolar world order where countries adopt the approach of reciprocity to protect their national interests.“
Author: Silvia Boltuc. For more information about Saudi-Chinese relations and cooperation and China – Arab world summit, do not hesitate to Contact Us and request SpecialEurasia full reports and risk assessments.