Saudi Arabia-China strategic ties - GulfToday

Saudi Arabia-China strategic ties

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman (right) welcomes Chinese president Xi Jinping to Riyadh. AFP

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman (right) welcomes Chinese president Xi Jinping to Riyadh. AFP

The warm welcome that Chinese President Xi Jinping got at Riyadh on Wednesday, and the important agreements signed between the two countries, show that the global scenario is taking a new shape, and it would not perhaps be the exclusive domain of the United States and European countries.

China imports 25 per cent of its oil needs from Saudi Arabia, and it is a deep bond of mutual interest for the two countries. On this trip, China has entered agreements for arms exports, and more important the Chinese telecommunications major Huawei has signed an agreement for supplying the 5G network, which the United States and also India have blocked for security reasons. The agreement with Huawei shows that Saudi Arabia and others in the region would buy technology from anywhere in the world. This does not however preclude the traditionally deep ties of the United States with the Arab countries, especially in matters of military supplies and strategic ties. But the Arab countries through their decisions have made it evident that they would not exclusively depend on the UN and Europe.

The Americans are closely watching President Xi’s visit to Riyadh and his meeting with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon and Iraq. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirkby said that China was trying to grow its influence in West Asia but that it would not impact America’s own connection with the region. President Xi declared in an Op-Ed piece published in the Saudi media that he was on a “pioneering trip” to “open a new era of China’s relations with the Arab world, the Arab countries of the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia.” And he also said that China and the Arab countries would adhere to the policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, an indirect reference to the United States and its criticism of other countries on issues of human rights.

In an earlier era, America and the West were competing with the then Soviet Union for influence in West Asia and Africa. But in the last few years, China has emerged as the ideological, and even economic, rival to the United States and to the West. China is today the second largest economy in the world after the United States, and it has been wanting to exert its influence across Asia and Africa. President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an attempt on the part of China to play the role of a global power commensurate with its economic power. There has been much criticism of China, especially from the Western experts , that China is entangling many countries in a debt trap by giving generous loans and taking advantage of the inability of these countries to repay, and the examples of Sri Lanka, Pakistan and many other African countries are given. It is a charge that China had strongly refuted.

During the days of the US-Soviet Union, the fear was that the Soviet Union was exporting communism and supporting communist states. Though China is ruled by the Communist Party, it is a market economy and China is dealing with countries of all ideological persuasions, and it is playing by the rules of the market economy. This makes it difficult for the US to raise the ‘red scare’ as in the case of the Soviets. In contrast to the Soviets, China had vigorous economic ties with Europe and America, which got disrupted during the Covid-19 pandemic. But the economic links are not broken. The attempt in the post-pandemic period is to lessen the dependence on China as the manufacturing hub, and develop alternate centres in India and other south-east Asian countries like Vietnam.

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