President Xi’s Historic Visit to Riyadh: A Modern Era of China-Arab Partnerships

President Xi Jinping of China is currently in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, for a series of summits with regional and international leaders. These include the Chinese-Saudi summit, the Chinese-Gulf summit, and the Chinese-Arab summit.

China continues to follow the vision of previous Chinese President Deng Xiaoping in its foreign policy, who counseled the country at the time to work quietly and avoid drawing attention in order to achieve their aim. The Chinese political system has been guided by this knowledge for decades.

As a result of the slowdown in economic growth brought on by the spread of Covid-19 and the “Zero-Covid” policy that has been in place for years, China is moving towards breaking the collar of isolation and reopening to the world in order to secure the necessary markets once the production wheel returns to work. The closing policies had significant effects on global economies, critics began to attack the “Zero Covid policy” that was having a negative impact on the people of those countries and adding to the economic pressures they were already feeling. Eventually, the International Monetary Fund got involved in the health policies being implemented in China and the criticism that was being leveled against the country.

That’s why it made sense as the media’s assault on Beijing grew, culminating in a gross overstatement of the scale of the unrest there. In any case, the government’s answer to the people’s demands dealt a killing blow to the efforts to stoke sedition.

The world is watching today as Chinese President Xi Jinping travels to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, to attend three summits: Chinese-Saudi, Chinese-Gulf, and Chinese-Arab.

China places a high value on this visit, and preparations have been underway since the beginning of the year, when the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the Sultanate of Oman visited Beijing.

Arab-Chinese ties are ancient, going back to before the year 2000 B.C. when the Silk Road was the main thoroughfare for trade between the two regions. Talks between China and the League of Arab States were initiated through the “Chinese-Arab Dialogue Forum” in 2004.

In addition, the Arab world was the intended target when Beijing presented the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 as the greatest strategic project in history; all Arab countries except Jordan and Palestine have since joined this initiative.

This trip is being made in the wake of recent events in the international community, including the United States’ withdrawal from the Middle East, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and the heightened tensions between China and the United States as a result of the latter’s efforts to contain China as a strategic enemy of the United States, as outlined in the United States’ recently approved National Security Strategy.

The position of major commercial routes in the Arab region is seen as strategically vital by Beijing. Plus, it’s a good place to get energy, which is important because Beijing is the world’s biggest energy consumer. In 2013, China surpassed the United States as the largest buyer of Middle Eastern crude oil. Since 2017, China has been the world’s largest importer of crude oil, and by 2030, the Middle East is expected to provide 70% of China’s energy needs.

Beijing has aimed to broaden its energy portfolio. It struck a 25-year, $400 billion deal with Iran in 2021. Just a few days ago, it inked the world’s longest agreement to buy liquefied gas, covering 27 years of gas from Qatar.

Furthermore, the Arab region is a sizable consumer market, which encourages China to seek forging partnerships with it. This is especially true in light of the presence of large development projects, such as the Kingdom 2030 project, the new capital in Egypt, and sea ports in a number of Arab countries, in addition to reconstruction projects in other regions, like in Syria.

Beijing is interested in signing long-term energy contracts with several Arab countries to protect its investments from political instability. Here, the Infrastructure projects that are successful should be highlighted, notably in the areas of building, roads, bridges, and ports. This is especially true after the success it had with numerous projects for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Chinese administration is promoting the concept of “high-quality development,” which was put forth by the Chinese president at the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and entails placing more emphasis on quality than quantity in the future, in order to enhance the standing of Chinese exports in the Arab world.

Beijing may interfere diplomatically to end the conflict in Yemen and to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia to maintain peace and security in the Persian Gulf, where Chinese interests are growing rapidly. During 2015-2016, consultations were held in Beijing between the two countries.

Beijing had previously put forward many ideas aimed at achieving a “two-state solution,” and the Palestinians and Israelis had been urged to adopt this approach. The “Palestinian-Israel Peace Symposium” was held in China in December of 2017.

Beijing is also attempting to bring an end to the fighting in Syria by pursuing a political settlement and ratifying Resolution 2254. This would pave the path for the reconstruction of the country. In May of 2018, Beijing played home to an international symposium focusing on problems related to Syria.

The potential of China and the Arab countries to agree to sell Arab oil in Chinese yuan instead of dollars, which signals the beginning of the end of the renowned petrodollar regime. The capacity to negotiate security agreements with China will equip it with a footing in the region, as a possible option to the United States of America. Especially in light of the Gulf states’ need for allies, especially since they live in a situation of strategic vulnerability that makes them unable to protect themselves.

Mohamad Zreik
Mohamad Zreik
Mohamad Zreik is an independent researcher, doctor of international relations. His areas of research interests are related to the Foreign Policy of China, Belt and Road Initiative, Middle Eastern Studies, China-Arab relations, East Asian Affairs, Geopolitics of Eurasia, and Political Economy. Mohamad has many studies and articles published in high ranked journals and well-known international newspapers. His writings have been translated into many languages, including French, Arabic, Spanish, German, Albanian, Russian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, etc.