China’s Xi Jinping deepens Saudi relations on a pivotal journey

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Chinese leader Xi Jinping met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Pivotal visit To the Middle East, with which the world’s largest oil importer has deepened ties largest sourcein trade agreements that included energy and technology deals but stopped short of explicitly expanding military cooperation.

A guard of honor greeted the Chinese president, and Prince Mohammed greeted him with a handshake at the Saudi royal court on Thursday. Then Mr. Xi met with King Salman, and the two men signed a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement that gives Riyadh a high status in China’s foreign relations. They vowed to visit each other every two years.

The two countries have signed dozens of trade agreements, initially worth more than $29 billion, in sectors such as clean energy, technology and manufacturing. These include the establishment of the Huawei Cloud Computing Zone, the construction of an electric vehicle manufacturing plant in Saudi Arabia, and the supply of green hydrogen batteries for Futuristic smart city The prince wants to build.

The leaders’ public statements made no mention of the more contentious aspects of the relationship that have angered US officials — such as advanced military sales, the expansion of 5G and 6G telecom networks, and Pricing some Saudi oil sales in yuanThat accelerated this year, the Wall Street Journal reported. The talks took place entirely behind closed palace doors.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday.


Huang Jingwen/Xinhua/Zuma Press

One of the agreements includes a leading Saudi company in the field of renewable energy, ACWA Power, and

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd.

– China’s largest commercial bank, a direct participant in CIPS, the Chinese version of SWIFT – hinting at deepening financial cooperation between the two countries. SWIFT is a Belgium-based messaging system that provides a secure way for banks to send transfer requests to each other.

Zongyuan Zoe Liu, fellow for international political economy at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the ICBC agreement portends a future in which Saudi banks can join CIPS, which could accelerate the use of the yuan in the Saudi-Chinese oil trade.

“This is how policymakers in the United States should feel,” she said.

China has elevated its relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to a “comprehensive strategic partnership”, which is the highest level in China’s foreign relations network, which includes cooperation in multiple fields, at different levels and in bilateral and multilateral contexts. It has established these relationships with around thirty countries including the United Kingdom, Australia and Russia.

Dr. Liu said the agreements also strengthen the case for Saudi Arabia joining multilateral frameworks led by China such as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. “I see this as a real pragmatic partnership,” she added. China and Saudi Arabia are cooperating in areas that can benefit the Saudi economic diversification plan.

The West scrutinizes Mr. Xi’s visit for clues about Saudi foreign policy and China’s influence in the Middle East. The United States has long been the dominant security power in the region, but it faces chronic doubts about its long-term commitment.

As Mr. Xi arrives, John Kirby, a White House National Security Council spokesman, said the Biden administration is not asking countries to choose between the US and China, but acknowledged that the trip is taking place amid strained US-Saudi relations in the wake of the October decision by the kingdom and other oil producers. to reduce production Despite Washington’s requests.

We are aware of the influence that China is trying to develop around the world. Mr. Kirby told reporters that the Middle East is certainly one of those areas where they want to deepen their level of influence. The way China handles this, he said, threatens the international order that the United States and its allies and partners are trying to preserve.

The trip comes as the oil-rich desert kingdom cements ties with US adversaries amid a global reshuffle of power accelerated by the Ukraine war and escalating tensions between Washington and Riyadh under President Biden, who has made His own trip to Saudi Arabia in July.

That visit — and an awkward fistfight with the crown prince — drew a rebuke back home from critics who said the US president was helping to cover up human rights abuses after he promised as a candidate to treat Saudi Arabia as a pariah over the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And it does not seem to remove the personal animosity between him and the 37-year-old crown prince.

By contrast, Mr. Xi’s journey has not involved such tension, reflecting the shared values ​​and growing cultural ties between the two authoritarian regimes, both of which do not tolerate public criticism and carefully manage their economies. Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, has publicly defended China’s policies in its western region of Xinjiang, giving cover to Beijing. Treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority, Supporting China’s position on Taiwan. At home, Mandarin is being introduced into the Saudi school curriculum.

In a letter published in Al-Riyadh newspaper as he began his visit, Mr. Xi placed his visit in the context of the 2,000-year-old relations between Chinese and Arab civilizations, and referred to China’s mention in the Qur’an. “The Arab people value independence, oppose external interference, stand up to the politics of power and tyranny, and always seek progress,” he wrote.

Tomorrow, Friday, the Chinese leader is scheduled to attend a large gathering of leaders of the Gulf and Arab countries. Some, including the Egyptian president, the Iraqi prime minister and the crown prince of Kuwait, have begun to flock to Riyadh, as their countries’ flags line up alongside China’s.

Discussions there are likely to focus on aligning regional countries’ development plans with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a groundbreaking trillion-dollar foreign policy effort that envisions building railways, ports, roads, dams, pipelines and industrial corridors across dozens of countries in Asia. Europe and Africa.

The trip culminates in a big week for global energy markets, following the introduction of Western price ceiling and ban Russian oil exports. Chinese government back off A zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19 that sparked rare protests and slumped global energy demand.

Formal relations between the two countries were first established in 1990, and are firmly rooted in energy and trade. China is already Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner and largest buyer of its crude. Even as the world looks to renewables, these energy relationships are expected to accelerate, with the last barrels of oil likely to come from Saudi fields and be consumed in Asia.

Business between the two countries has expanded to include large contracts for Chinese construction firms, widespread adoption of Chinese technology despite security concerns and the transfer of military equipment such as drones and ballistic missiles, as well as Helps make yellowcake from uraniumwhich is necessary for a nuclear energy program or a nuclear weapons capability.

Washington’s patience with its partners’ dealings with Beijing was tested last year when the Biden administration learned of China He was building in secret What US intelligence agencies suspected was a military facility at a port in the United Arab Emirates, which also hosts US forces. After rounds of meetings and visits by US officials, construction came to a halt.

Smoke planes in the colors of the Chinese flag were fired over Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on the day of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s arrival.


Xie Huanqi/Xinhua/Zuma Press

Write to Stephen Kalin at [email protected]

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