Greater Middle East (bbabo.net), - More recently, there was no need to talk about Chinese influence in the Persian Gulf. The Arabian monarchies have traditionally been viewed as US allies in the Middle East. However, the breakdown of the current world order also brings changes in the choice of partners. Cooperation with Beijing is becoming more desirable, and the President of the People's Republic of China is now an honored guest in any Arab monarchy.
A friend came from afar
Chinese President Xi Jinping, at the invitation of King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, paid an official visit to the kingdom from December 7 to 9. The event became truly significant. This is the third visit by a Chinese leader since the start of the pandemic and the first to the Saudi monarchy since 2016.
Xi Jinping was welcomed as the most honored guest. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman personally received the President of China at the Al-Yamama Palace in Riyadh. All the world's media immediately drew a parallel with Joe Biden's visit to the kingdom this summer. The American president has not been given so many honors. The Chinese leader was received royally, as an equal to the Saudi royal family. The capital has been adorned with Chinese flags, and Xi's portrait is on the front pages of all state newspapers. Two summits dedicated to the development of economic ties between Beijing and the Middle East are timed to coincide with his visit.
“This visit is the culmination or crowning achievement of a deep strengthening of relations over the past few years,” said Ali Shihabi, an advisory board member for the Saudi megaproject Neom.
China also highly appreciated the chairman's visit to Riyadh.
"Xi Jinping's participation in the Sino-Arab Summit marks the largest diplomatic event of the highest level between China and the Arab world since the founding of the People's Republic of China and will be an epoch-making milestone in the history of Sino-Arab relations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said.
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A new chapter in relations with the Arab worldIndeed, the visit of the PRC President to Saudi Arabia has become truly significant. The parties signed 34 economic agreements in various areas - from green energy and information technology to transport and construction. The total amount of all contracts is 110 billion Saudi riyals (about $29.2 billion). The two states also agreed to coordinate between Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 development program and China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The icing on the cake was the conclusion between Beijing and Riyadh of a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement. In an interview with Saudi media, Xi stressed that he is "a trailblazer, ushering in a new era of China's relations with the Arab world, the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia."
In addition to bilateral negotiations, the Chinese President took part in two summits: "China - the Arab world" and "China - Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC)".
The main topic on the agenda of these events was maintaining stability in the global energy market. As part of its policy, Beijing is diversifying energy supplies, so it is interested in concluding agreements with energy-rich Arab countries.
"China will continue to import a large amount of crude oil from the Gulf countries on an ongoing basis," Xi said, also promising to expand other areas of energy cooperation, including imports of liquefied natural gas.
China is rapidly developing energy cooperation with the monarchies of the Persian Gulf. Oil giant Saudi Arabia is today a leading supplier to China. In 2021, KSA black gold alone accounted for 17% of all Chinese imports. And last month, gas giant Qatar announced a 27-year deal with Beijing to supply natural gas.
However, the most unexpected was Xi Jinping's statement about China's readiness to become a new regional security provider.
"China will continue to firmly support the Gulf countries in maintaining their own security and building a common collective security system for the region," he said.
Thus, Beijing openly declares its readiness to compete with the US for leadership in the Gulf.
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Away with Washington's policyWashington did not ignore the visit of the leader of the People's Republic of China.
“We are mindful of the influence that China is trying to increase in the world. The Middle East is definitely one of those regions where the Chinese authorities want to increase their level of influence," John Kirby, strategic communications coordinator at the White House National Security Council, told reporters.According to him, Washington is focused on its own interests and is not asking anyone to choose between the United States and China. True, Mr. Kirby immediately emphasized that "in this strategic competition, the United States is certainly in a position to lead and achieve success."
The White House is concerned about Xi's visit for a reason. Today, the decline of American influence in the Middle East is becoming more noticeable. The Gulf states are drifting away from Washington, strengthening their ties with China as part of a pivot to the East that involves diversifying their economies to depend on fossil fuels. In the meantime, Beijing is trying to expand its sphere of influence, in particular through the Belt and Road Initiative, in which it provides funding for infrastructure projects around the world.
Most of all, cooling in relations with the United States can be traced in Saudi Arabia. In October, Joe Biden accused Riyadh of colluding with Russia to cut oil production and promised "consequences." It is worth saying that the decline in bilateral cooperation has been going on for more than a year. Ten years have passed since Washington was Riyadh's largest trading partner, and in that time not only China has overtaken the United States, but also India and Japan. The total volume of trade between the US and the KSA has decreased from $76 billion in 2012 to $29 billion in 2021.
Xi Jinping's visit to Riyadh demonstrates a general trend: America's influence in the Middle East is gradually declining and Beijing is trying to fill a vacant seat. In addition, regional countries are showing increasing autonomy from Washington, especially in the field of energy policy. This opinion is shared by the head of the expert council of the Russian-Chinese Committee for Friendship, Peace and Cooperation, Yuri Tavrovsky.
“In fact, a double blow is being dealt to the West, to the United States, which is trying to dictate its terms to the energy market. In this I see a historical character - that the Saudis, who for many years were clients of the United States, as well as other countries of the Persian Gulf, decided on such a revolution. This shows the shrinking role of the US as hegemon and center of rule. The very fact of these meetings is already epoch-making and revolutionary and a sign that the new world order is becoming more realistic,” the expert emphasized.
Most likely, China can become the main investor in the regional energy sector.
“The choice of investors is a political issue. The visit of President Xi may continue the trend towards a large-scale expansion of energy cooperation, last year alone bilateral trade grew by 30% compared to 2020, to $87.3 billion,” said Yevgeny Mironyuk, an expert on the stock market at BCS World of Investments.
In any case, the competition between Beijing and Washington is not weakening, and the Middle East is already becoming a new field for their struggle.