Arab diplomatic sources, two senior Arab officials, and an individual familiar with Xi Jinping’s trip report that the Chinese president will enter Saudi Arabia on Thursday for a two-day state visit amid intense tension between the two countries. During his visit to Riyadh, President Xi is expected to attend a China-GCC meeting and a China-Arab summit. A Chinese diplomatic source described the trip as a “milestone” for the Arab-Chinese relationship, as at least 14 Arab heads of state will attend.
Xi Jinping, the president of China, is scheduled to arrive in Saudi Arabia for a two-day state visit on Thursday following a high level of tension between the United States and Saudi Arabia.#Xijingping #KSA #China #SaudiArabia #UnitedStates pic.twitter.com/NQP5MjJazl
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) December 6, 2022
The sources spoke anonymously so they would not be identified, as they were not authorized to talk to the media. For months, rumors have circulated about a Chinese presidential visit to Saudi Arabia, the American government’s largest Middle East ally. However, neither government has confirmed the rumor. Beijing still needs to announce Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia formally. CNN has requested comment from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.
In response to a request for registration, the Saudi government sent out registration forms for journalists to cover the summit without disclosing the exact dates. CNN requested information regarding Xi’s visit to KSA and the planned meeting, but the Saudi government declined to respond. Several disagreements between the U.S., Beijing, and Riyadh have only strengthened ties in recent years, which to Washington’s dismay, are only expected to continue.
China Has been Strengthening Ties with U.S. Enemies and Gulf
With OPEC+ cutting output by two million barrels per day and aiming to “stabilize” prices, the cartel is still at odds with the Trump administration over oil production, culminating in strong rhetoric and accusations in October. Although the U.S. campaigned heavily against the decision, it was nonetheless taken. Moreover, Saudi Arabia, a strong ally of the United States for eight decades, has grown bitter over what it perceives to be a waning U.S. security presence in the area, which is particularly concerning as Iran and its proxies in Yemen become more and more dangerous.
China is an economic giant in the east. China and the United States have been at odds over Taiwan, which U.S. President Biden has repeatedly promised to protect if China attacks the island. The United States and China, which have already been competing for influence in the volatile Middle East, have greatly compounded their precarious relationship over this challenging issue. China has strengthened its relations with Gulf monarchies and U.S. enemies Iran and Russia, as American allies in the Persian Gulf accuse Washington of not providing adequate security guarantees.
Unlike Western countries, Saudi Arabia and China have opposing views regarding the Ukrainian war, and China also has opposing views regarding the Ukrainian war, unlike Western countries. Riyadh has repeatedly stated that Moscow is a very important energy-producing partner that needs to be consulted on all OPEC+ decisions, and neither Saudi Arabia nor Riyadh has expressed support for sanctions against Russia. However, Saudi Arabia has been accused by some U.S. officials of siding with Russia and aiding President Vladimir Putin in his war on Ukraine following last month’s massive oil cut. Officials of the Saudi Arabian government have denied either the weaponization of oil or their cooperation with Russia.
Saudi Prince Seeks Mideast Leadership
Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, hosted the Chinese leader this week at a delicate time for US-Saudi relations, signaling the kingdom’s determination to steer the world away from a polarized global order regardless of the wishes of northern allies. After the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, which cast a pall over Saudi-US relations, the ruler of the oil giant has made a comeback on the global stage, and he has defiantly fought U.S. criticism over his country’s energy policy.
Prince Mohammed is expected to convene a summit between Chinese and Arab leaders during the visit of President Xi Jinping, which is intended to demonstrate Prince Mohammed’s strength as an aspiring Arab leader. Ayham Kamel, head of Eurasia Group’s Middle East and North Africa region, states that Riyadh is working according to its strategic calculations in accommodating Beijing, which is now an indispensable economic partner.
Saudi Arabia plans a foreign policy that supports its national economic transformation as the world pivots away from hydrocarbons, its lifeblood, analysts say. As a result, Saudi Arabia is pursuing a foreign policy designed to serve its national economic transformation, even though the United States remains the country of choice for Gulf states.
“Certainly, there is the possibility that deepening relations with China will backfire and exacerbate the U.S.-Saudi relationship… but MBS is not undertaking this out of spite,” Kamel said. At a time when U.S.-Saudi relations are at their lowest point in decades, while the West has imposed a price cap on Russian oil, and as Washington begins to worry about China’s growing influence in the Middle East, Xi’s visit comes at an important time for both nations.
Deals and Fanfare
The diplomatic community in the region predicted that Xi would be welcomed lavishly in the region, similar to what was extended to President Donald Trump when he visited the kingdom in 2017. However, it contrasts sharply with Biden’s awkward visit to Riyadh in July. While in Saudi Arabia, Trump was welcomed by King Salman and signed several contracts worth more than $100 billion for the U.S. military industry. During his visit to Saudi Arabia, President Biden, who had once promised to make Riyadh “a pariah” in the wake of the Khashoggi killing, had downplayed his meeting with Prince Mohammed, instead giving him a fist-bump instead of a handshake.
Reuters has reported that the Chinese delegation will sign dozens of agreements on energy, security, and investment with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. Mohammed is committed to developing new sectors as part of his Vision 2030 diversification plan, including industries such as automotive production and arms logistics. However, foreign direct investment into the country has been relatively slow. A major investment in infrastructure and megaprojects in tourism is being made by the kingdom, as well as initiatives such as the $500 billion NEOM zone, which will benefit Chinese construction companies.
Several Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia, have stated that they will continue to diversify partnerships to serve their economic and security interests, despite reservations from the United States regarding their ties with Russia and China. In his address to his constituents, Prince Mohammed would like to convey the message that the kingdom has the support of many global powers, according to Jonathan Fulton, senior resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, who is not a resident of the kingdom.