Former US President Barrack Obama referred himself as the first Pacific president. The proponents of his policy framework greatly admire him for his attempt to rebalance foreign policy’s focus away from the Middle East to Asia. The move seems to be a failure, leading the US to abandon the Middle East. The reality is that the pivot was a failure that created a security vacuum, providing an opportunity for China to seep in. China in the same vein is trying to integrate various states across the globe and in its geo-economic and strategic model. Saudi Arabia has long been in a strategic partnership with the US however the recent setbacks badly deteriorated the longstanding nexus.
The welcome given to President XI by Saudi Arabia signals a new beginning, ominous to US global designs wherein the Middle East has a special place. Saudi King Shah Salman and President Xi of China have penned down a comprehensive strategic partnership along with 34 investment agreements during Xi’s visit. The two countries also signed several agreements and MOUs including on hydrogen energy and encouragement of direct investment. Additionally, two other summits including the China-Gulf summit and China-Arab summit were held with leaders from GCC and other Arab states. China fought for a peaceful resolve to the Palestinian conundrum. In order to achieve further gratitude and warmth in the relationship, MBS proposed to hold a bilateral summit after every two years and transfigure the existing consanguinity into a strategic partnership.
US President Joe Biden during his election campaign vowed to follow Obama’s doctrine of focusing on China and a swift withdrawal from the Middle East. He promised to return to the nuclear deal with Iran, to end the war in Yemen, and to treat Saudi Arabia as the “pariah” he considered it to be. Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s demand for precision missiles for the Yemen war were also not fulfilled. Biden also failed to revive the nuclear deal with Iran. Consequently, the US has to utilise its local stockpiles of oil amid production cuts and rise in fuel prices. Arab states remained neutral in case of US-China trade war refrained to opt sides during Ukraine war.
The subsequent US attempts to tame the Arabian states remained in vein. Consequently, the Arab world seems no more interested to fulfill American designs. Gulf states’ connections to China are vital to their economic development, meaning that American security commitments cannot be a substitute for their economic relations with China. According to Saudi officials, two-way trade has experienced a swift loom which was almost 304 billion Saudi riyals ($80bn) in 2021 and 103 billion Saudi riyals ($27bn) in the third quarter of 2022.
These events indicate the strong Chinese ingress into the peninsula. China vows to rise peacefully with a multilateral approach incorporated in its Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese BRI and Saudi vision 2030 have mutual endeavors. Their aspirations have received a phenomenal impetus. Since Chinese economic multilateralism has extended its fruits of development to more than 150 states across globe, it is likely to be a big opportunity for the Arabian Peninsula. This year, the KSA has already made a largest joint venture with Chinese government with Aramco’s $10 billion investment into a refinery and petrochemical complex in China’s northeast.
The visuals from the Xi’s visit to the Kingdom choreographs a preceding course of partnership between premiers of Asia and Arab world. This initiative appears to harness economic arenas and avoids the binary vision of global politics. Beijing and the Kingdom seek to further their nexus with a vision to grab global capital. In the contemporary world, China is the largest buyer of oil with Saudi Arabia as its largest supplier. Both sides have signed agreements worth 30 billion dollars.
Moreover, the significant factor of their convergence is non-interference in domestic affairs. Amid a radical stance of successive US administrations over the issues of domestic politics, regional security and global energy, the Kingdom seems exhausted. Luckily KSA finds that China has nothing to do with the internal matters of the allies. The former affirmed its support for the One China Policy and the later vowed to materialise its security concerns. Now China has loomed up as an alternate and fruitful partner with a financial and political replica dearer to the Arabs. It adheres to the principle of noninterference and does not link its diplomatic and economic role with issues of democracy and human rights.
China also enjoys a congenial environment with Iran. The Sino-Saudi nexus may help freese the ice of rivalry between the Kingdom and the Islamic Republic. The likely course of events would surely catalyse smooth and strong trade prospects in the region. This visit may not substantively expand China’s influence but signal the continuing decline of American influence in the region.
President Xi’s visit to the Kingdom is being juxtaposed with Biden’s trip earlier in August. China considers the recent activity as a maiden large scale diplomatic engagement with the Arab world. It is an attempt to detach an American ally and further expand its global footprints.