Salman Al-Dossary
Salman Al-Dossary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

Between Saudi Arabia and China… a Vision, a Belt and Road

The eyes of the world are on the Saudi capital Riyadh today. Chinese President Xi Jinping is a guest of the Saudi people as he begins his three-day state visit, during which he will attend three summits, not one. Thirty heads of state and heads of international organizations will take part. What is the secret behind all of this interest? Is it down to the importance of the guest, the host or both? Or is there a different reason?

Many analyses have been written about this visit, some as early as a few weeks ago. Some see it as a political plight, while others see it reflects a shift by the countries from West to East. Others believe that the Saudis want to calibrate their relationship with the Americans by getting closer to China. However, it seems that all of these analyses are short-sighted or, in a way, irrational. Indeed, state relations are governed by nothing but shared interests, regardless of the scale of political differences.

True, the United States has turned its attention away from the region under Joe Biden, with its interest receding at divergent rates. However, this doesn’t mean much, as any gap can be filled by others.

Here, it is useful to remind our readers of what Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman said in his interview with The Atlantic when asked about China. The transcript reads:
Saudi Arabia is one of the fastest-growing countries in the world. We have two of the 10 biggest global funds. We have one of the largest global cash reserves. Saudi Arabia has the ability to provide 12 percent of the world’s oil. It is situated between three main straits; Suez, Hormoz and Bab Al-Mandab, it overlooks the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf in which 27 percent of world trade passes through. The total Saudi investment in America is 800 billion dollars. In China to date we’ve invested less than 100 billion dollars. But it seems that things are growing very fast there. The American companies have a huge concentration in Saudi Arabia. We have more than 300,000 Americans in Saudi Arabia, some of them Saudi-American, living in Saudi Arabia, and it’s growing every day. So the interest is obvious. Whether you want to win Saudi Arabia or lose Saudi Arabia, is up to you.”

The Saudi-Chinese relationship is developing strongly in every respect. Both countries are active in the Group of Twenty, which includes the largest and strongest economies of the world. Beijing is the largest importer of Saudi oil, accounting for around a quarter of all Saudi oil exports. The two countries also share a similar economic vision (Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative). The two countries are also working, through a high-level joint committee, to increase political and security coordination and strengthen collaboration in investment, energy, culture, and technology.

To these efforts, we can add over 20 preliminary agreements worth over 110 billion Riyals signed on the margins of the Saudi Chinese Summit, with a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries to integrate Vision 2030 and the Belt and Road Initiative. All of these steps inaugurate a new, important phase of this strong strategic alliance.

Today’s world is governed by interests. What we know for sure is that Saudi policy is not drafted in reaction to the battle of axes or polarization, nor is it made to strengthen one alliance at the expense of another. However, because of its position at the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, as well as its economic weight in the region and the world, Saudi Arabia is fated to be a center for building bridges of cooperation with both East and West. Just as it had contributed to opening a new page and correcting the relationship between the US and the countries of the Islamic world at a time when relations between them were at their lowest point, Saudi Arabia is now doing the same for China and the Arab world.