A prominent leadership role played by the Saudi Crown Prince in the Middle East


Riyadh is working according to strategic calculations that must accommodate Beijing.
Monday 12/05/2022


Saudi Arabia is the largest supplier of oil to China



The United States is still considered the “preferred partner” of the Gulf countries that depend on it for its security, but the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has begun to develop a new foreign policy that serves its national economic transformation, and among those new trends in the remarkable Saudi political approach, stand out the Saudi-Chinese relations that some see Strengthening it further may lead to further apathy in Riyadh’s relations with Washington.

RIYADH – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will host Chinese leader Xi Jinping this week at a sensitive juncture in US-Saudi relations, signaling Riyadh’s determination to navigate a polarized world order regardless of the wishes of its Western allies.

Prince Mohammed has shown defiance in the face of US anger over the kingdom’s energy policy and pressure from Washington to help isolate Russia.

In a show of strength as an aspiring leader of the Arab world, Prince Mohammed will also gather rulers from across the Middle East and North Africa for a China-Arab summit during President Xi’s visit, which is expected to begin on Tuesday.

“Riyadh is working according to strategic calculations that must accommodate Beijing, because it is now an indispensable economic partner,” said Ayham Kamel, head of the Middle East and North Africa division at the Eurasia Group.

Analysts say that although the United States remains the partner of choice for the Gulf states that depend on it for their security, Riyadh has begun to develop a foreign policy that serves its national economic transformation as the world moves away from hydrocarbons, Saudi Arabia’s lifeline.

And Kamel shows that there is certainly a risk that strengthening relations with China will backfire and further divide US-Saudi relations.

Xi’s visit comes at a time when relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia have fallen to their lowest levels, and with the impact of uncertainty on global energy markets, due to the West imposing a ceiling on Russian oil prices, and at a time when Washington follows with concern the growing influence of China in the Middle East.

independent foreign policy

Xi’s visit comes at a sensitive moment in US-Saudi relations, amid news of a reception similar to Trump’s

In a sign of anger at US criticism of Riyadh’s human rights record, Prince Mohammed told “The Atlantic” magazine in March that he did not care whether US President Joe Biden misunderstood matters related to him, adding that Biden should focus on America’s interests.

He also indicated, in statements reported by the official Saudi Press Agency in the same month, that although Riyadh aims to strengthen its relations with Washington, it can also choose to reduce its interests and investments in the United States.

Saudi Arabia is working to strengthen economic relations with China. Riyadh is the largest oil supplier to China, although Russia, a member, also like Saudi Arabia, of the OPEC + group, increased its share in the Chinese market with low-priced fuel.

Beijing is also pressing for the yuan to be used for trade instead of the US dollar. Riyadh has previously threatened to abandon some oil dealings in dollars to face a possible US law that would expose OPEC members to antitrust lawsuits.

Diplomats in the region point out that Xi will receive a lavish reception similar to that of former President Donald Trump when he visited the kingdom in 2017, in contrast to Biden’s inconvenient visit in July, which was aimed at repairing relations with Riyadh.

Riyadh has begun to formulate a foreign policy that serves its national economic transformation as the world moves away from hydrocarbons, the lifeblood of Saudi Arabia

The Chinese delegation is expected to sign dozens of agreements with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, including energy, security and investments.

Prince Mohammed is focused on implementing the diversification plan of Vision 2030 to end the economy’s dependence on oil by creating new industries, including car and weapons manufacturing, as well as logistics, although foreign direct investment is slow.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in new infrastructure and mega projects in tourism and initiatives, such as the $500 billion Neom region, which represents a huge profit for Chinese construction companies.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies confirm that they will continue to diversify partnerships to serve economic and security interests, despite the United States’ reservations about their relations with both Russia and China.

Jonathan Fulton of the Atlantic Council believes that Prince Mohammed wants to prove to his supporters at home that Riyadh is important to many world powers. “He may be referring to the United States as well, but he’s more interested in what people see inside the kingdom,” Fulton added.

Threatened strategic relationships


Biden promised “consequences” for Riyadh after the OPEC + move on production, but Washington then affirmed its support for the kingdom’s security, with US officials emphasizing the “comparative advantage” of the United States in building integrated defense structures in the Gulf.

US national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday that Washington wants to ensure that its “strategic” relationship with Riyadh serves “our best interests.”

Washington has expressed concern about Gulf Arab states’ use of Chinese 5G technology and Beijing’s investments in critical infrastructure such as ports, including in the UAE, which has halted a Chinese port project due to US concerns.

While Riyadh and Abu Dhabi buy Chinese military equipment, a Saudi company signed a deal with a Chinese company to manufacture armed drones in the kingdom.

Saudi analyst Abdulaziz Saqr, head of the Riyadh-based “Al-Khaleej” Research Center, told Saudi Al-Sharq TV that the Arab countries want to inform Western allies that they have alternatives and that their relations are based primarily on economic interests.

As for John Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the “Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies,” he went on to say that Saudi relations with China, although they are growing “much more quickly” than relations with the United States, the actual relations are not the same, adding that Relations with China pale in comparison to relations with the United States in terms of complexity and familiarity.


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