Xi Jinping's visit to Saudi Arabia: Deepening ties over more than oil
The state visit of Chinese President Xi to Saudi Arabia is not solely about oil, but it is about showing the United States that new geopolitical allies have been found.
Chinese President Xi Jinping's three-day trip to Saudi Arabia is widely seen as the country's most extensive diplomatic push in the Middle East to date. An "epochal milestone in the history of the development of Sino-Arab relations," as stated by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, was reached during this visit.
The Saudi Foreign Minister met the Chinese President on a huge purple carpet as he arrived at the airport, and Saudi fighter planes painted the Chinese red and yellow flag colors in the sky as a show of respect.
On the sidelines of Xi's visit, 34 investment agreements were reached between Saudi and Chinese companies in the fields of renewable energies and information technology, transportation, construction, and logistics, cementing the fruition of the discussions he had with Saudi King Salman and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The projected value of all contracts is roughly $30 billion.
Saudi Arabia, one of China's most crucial oil suppliers
The economic interests of both China and Saudi Arabia are of paramount importance. John Calabrese, a political scientist at the American University in Washington, DC, suggested that Xi Jinping's trip was part of a charm drive. China relies heavily on oil and gas imports from the Gulf region. Oil is the trip's primary objective. China is the world's largest consumer of energy and a major trading partner for Saudi Arabia. Last year, Saudi oil exports to China were valued at over $50 billion, making Riyadh one of Beijing's most vital oil suppliers.
Xi was in Saudi Arabia for three days, and during that time, he attended two summits: one with Gulf leaders and another with other Arab heads of state.
However, commentators have noted that the visit is also a clear geopolitical message from the Saudis and the Chinese to the United States — the signal that there are alternative allies in the world except the United States. Angela Stanzel, a researcher at the German Science and Politics Foundation, has noticed this warming between the Saudis and the Chinese for some time. And China is telling the US that it has entered the US area of influence by forming an alliance with Saudi Arabia.
For the sake of human rights, at least, China and Saudi Arabia can be considered close relatives. This means that the Saudis won't have to worry about any Western heads of state or government using the Chinese visit as an opportunity to cast the finger of blame at the Saudis for their human rights crimes.
In particular, the murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018 has strained relations with the United States, with many believing that members of the Saudi royal family were responsible for the crime. Joe Biden went to the Gulf this summer to try and ease tensions. The current reception for the Chinese President is far more formal than the previous one for the US President.
Angered by what it regards as a threat to security assurances, Saudi Arabia is disappointed by the United States' steady disengagement from the Middle East. Even more galling to the Americans is the fact that Saudi Arabia, the most influential member of OPEC, had publicly advocated for production cuts just weeks before the US midterm elections, causing President Biden to suffer domestically during the campaign due to the high cost of gasoline and other energy sources.
Rife with tension on both ends. What you need is a partner with no baggage from Asia who can help you navigate the Gulf. Phelim Kine, a correspondent for Politico, made the following statement about the Chinese in an interview for CBS a few weeks ago, "The Saudi decision made by Xi Jinping helps China achieve two major objectives: One reason is to fortify ties with the country whose energy supplies are crucial to the Chinese economy's motor." However, Xi went to Saudi Arabia because he knows he will be accepted there. That red-carpet treatment that Biden didn't want is being given to him.
China does business with all sides, and that's the single sour spot for the Saudis in their otherwise cordial relationship with the People's Republic. The People's Republic of China relies heavily on oil imports, and Beijing keeps a tight partnership with Saudi Arabia's rival Iran.
But despite their relationship with the United States, the Saudis still have tight commercial contacts with Moscow, and they purchased enormous quantities of cheap oil from Russia for their own consumption in the summer so that they could utilize their own oil instead of importing it, bringing in a profit by trading oil on the global market.
It is expected that China and Saudi Arabia would have a deep understanding of one another on this topic as they seek to maximize their respective economic benefits at the next summit. In addition, the Gulf states are making it clear that they have expanded their network of strategic allies beyond the West and into Asia.