5 key takeaways from Xi’s trip to Saudi Arabia

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Abu Dhabi

Years of ties between oil-rich Saudi Arabia and China, an economic giant in the east, culminated in a multi-day state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Riyadh this week, where a series of deals and summits heralded a “new era” in Sino-Arab relations Partnership.

Xi, who landed on Wednesday and departed on Friday, wanted to show his Arab counterparts China’s value as the world’s largest oil consumer and how it can contribute to the region’s growth, including in the areas of energy, security and defense.

The trip was widely seen as yet another snub to Washington, which has grievances against both states on a number of issues.

The United States, which has cherished its strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia for more than eight decades, is now finding its old ally in search of new friends — particularly with China, which the US fears is expanding its sphere of influence around the world .

While Saudi Arabia has been eager to reject notions of polarization or “partisanship,” it has also shown that it can develop deep partnerships with China without the criticism or “meddling” it has long resented at its Western counterparts.

Here are five key takeaways from Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia.

The two countries also agreed to cooperate on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, cooperate on the development of modern technologies such as artificial intelligence, and innovate the energy sector.

During Xi’s visit, Saudi Arabia and China released a nearly 4,000-word joint statement outlining their alignment on a range of policy issues and promising closer cooperation on numerous others. From space exploration to the digital economy and infrastructure, to Iran’s nuclear program, the war in Yemen and Russia’s war on Ukraine, Riyadh and Beijing wanted to show that they agree on most major policy areas.

“There is a lot of consensus on key issues,” Saudi author and analyst Ali Shihabi told CNN. “Remember that this relationship has built dramatically over the past six years so this visit was simply a highlight of that trip.”

The two countries also agreed to cooperate on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, cooperate on the development of modern technologies such as artificial intelligence, and innovate the energy sector.

“I think what they’re doing is saying they see each other as really, really close and important partners on most of the issues that they think are relevant or important to themselves domestically and in the region,” Jonathan said Fulton, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s think tank.

“Are you in agreement on every subject? Probably not, but [they are] as close as anyone could get,” he said.

Xi Jinping, who landed on Wednesday and departed on Friday, was keen to show his Arab counterparts China's value as the world's largest oil consumer.

An unwritten deal between Saudi Arabia and the US has traditionally been an agreement that the kingdom will supply oil while the US provides military security and aids the kingdom in its fight against regional enemies, namely Iran and its armed proxies.

The kingdom has been interested recently A departure from this traditional agreementand said that diversification is essential to Riyadh’s current vision.

During a summit between China and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in Riyadh, Xi said China wants to build on the current GCC-China energy cooperation. The Chinese leader said the republic will continue to “import crude oil consistently and in large quantities from the GCC, as well as increase its natural gas imports” from the region.

China is the world’s largest oil buyer, with Saudi Arabia its main supplier.

And on Friday, Saudi national oil giant Aramco and Shandong Energy Group announced they are exploring cooperation on integrated refining and petrochemical opportunities in China, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The statements come amid global energy shortages and repeated Western pleas for oil producers to increase production.

The kingdom made one of its largest investments in China earlier this year with Aramco’s $10 billion investment in a refinery and petrochemical complex in northeast China.

China is also keen to work with Saudi Arabia on security and defense, an important field once reserved for the kingdom’s American ally.

Concerned about what they see as a growing threat from Iran and a dwindling US security presence in the region, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors have recently looked east when buying weapons.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Arab counterparts pose for a group photo during the Sino-Arab summit in Riyadh December 9, 2022.

One of the most sacred concepts cherished by China is the principle of “non-interference in mutual affairs,” which has been one of the republic’s key ideals since the 1950s.

What began in 1954 as the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence between China, India and Myanmar was later adopted by a number of countries unwilling to choose between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Today, Saudi Arabia is keen to incorporate the concept into its political rhetoric as it walks a tightrope between its traditional western allies, the Eastern bloc and Russia.

Not interfering in each other’s internal affairs presumably means not commenting on domestic politics or criticizing human rights violations.

One of the major hurdles complicating Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the US and other Western powers has been repeated criticism of domestic and foreign policies. This was most notable in the context of the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the war in Yemen and the kingdom’s oil policy – which US politicians accused Riyadh of using Riyadh as a weapon to aid in its war against Ukraine to side with Russia.

China has similar resentments towards the West amid international concerns over Taiwan, a democratically governed island of 24 million people that Beijing claims as its territory, and human rights violations against Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in China’s western Xinjiang region (which Beijing has). denied).

According to Shihabi, the agreed principle of non-interference also means that internal affairs can be “discussed privately but not publicly, as Western politicians tend to do for domestic reasons.”

For both China and Saudi Arabia, not interfering in each other's internal affairs probably means not commenting on domestic politics or criticizing human rights violations.

During his visit, Xi urged his GCC colleagues to “make full use of the Shanghai Petrol and Gas Exchange as a platform for oil and gas sales in Chinese currency.”

The move would bring China closer to its goal of strengthening its currency internationally, severely weakening the US dollar and potentially hurting the American economy.

While many were anticipating decisions on the alleged move from the US dollar to the Chinese yuan in relation to oil trading, no announcements were made in that regard. Beijing and Riyadh have not confirmed rumors that the two sides are discussing abandoning the petrodollar.

Analysts see the decision as a logical development in China-Saudi Arabia’s energy ties, but say it’s likely to take longer.

“That [abandonment of the petrodollar] is ultimately inevitable given that China, as the kingdom’s largest customer, has a significant impact,” Shihabi said, “although I don’t expect that to happen any time soon.”

John Kirby, the National Security Council's White House strategic communications coordinator, said the US is

The US has been fairly calm in its response to Xi’s visit. While comments were minimal, some are speculating there is heightened anxiety behind closed doors.

John Kirby, strategic communications coordinator at the US National Security Council, said at the start of the visit that it was “no surprise” that Xi was traveling around the world and in the Middle East and that the US was “aware of the influence that China is having.” trying to expand worldwide.”

“This visit may not significantly expand China’s influence, but will signal the ongoing decline in American influence in the region,” Shaojin Chai, an assistant professor at Sharjah University in the United Arab Emirates, told CNN.

However, Saudi Arabia was keen to reject notions of polarization, believing them unhelpful.

At a press conference on Friday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud stressed that the kingdom is “focused on cooperation with all parties”.

“Competition is a good thing,” he added, “and I think we’re in a competitive market.”

Part of that quest for competitiveness, he said, comes from “collaborating with as many parties as possible.”

The kingdom believes it is important to fully engage with its traditional partner, the US, as well as other emerging economies such as China, the foreign minister added.

“Americans are probably aware that their messages have been very ineffective on this issue,” said Fulton, who usually “lectures” partners about working with China, “rather than putting together a coherent strategy that works with its allies and partners.”

“There seems to be a big disconnect between how many countries see China and how the US does. And I have to give Washington credit for beginning to see that.”