Xi’s Trip to Saudi Arabia Shows Gulf Drifting to China - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Xi’s Trip to Saudi Arabia Shows Gulf Drifting to China
Xi Jinping and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh last week (Arab News/YouTube)

Chinese President Xi Jinping recently concluded a multi-day trip to Saudi Arabia, which included a Chinese state visit to Saudi Arabia, the first-ever China–Arab States Summit, and a China–Gulf Cooperation Council Summit. In the Kingdom, China and Saudi Arabia signed 34 deals, encompassing cloud services, information technology, construction, transportation, and green energy. China also signed an agreement to invest in Saudi Arabia’s gaming sector. While exact numbers were not available, earlier reports stated that the countries would sign agreements totaling $30 billion. Additionally, the two countries signed a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement and agreed to hold state visits every two years. Xi’s visit highlighted some serious wins for China in the Gulf, contrasted with the Biden administration’s erosion of influence in the region.

“Non-interference” Doctrine Benefits China and Arab Countries Alike

Key to growing China-Gulf ties is the mutual promise not to meddle in the internal affairs of the other. In fact, during Xi’s recent meeting, Xi promised that China and its Arab allies would “continue to hold high the banner of non-interference in [each other’s] internal affairs.”

This realist approach to diplomacy stands in stark contrast to the Biden administration’s fixation on Jamal Khashoggi’s death, civilian casualties from Saudi Arabia’s proxy war against Iran in Yemen, and Saudi Arabian human rights violations. This sanctimonious approach has yet to yield any tangible results that promote the interests of the United States.

In contrast, China can count on Saudi Arabia and many other Arab countries for support. For example, China has scored two big wins in the United Nations Human Rights Council: when Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen all supported China’s National Security Law in Hong Kong, and when Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and the U.A.E. supported Chinese persecution of the Uyghur Muslims.

Huawei Expanding in the Gulf

Xi’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia highlighted that Huawei has had a very good year in the Gulf. On Xi’s trip, Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum of understanding with Huawei Technologies “on cloud computing and building high-tech complexes in Saudi cities,” according to Reuters. This follows a deal in July in which Kuwait green-lighted Huawei cloud services. In March, the U.A.E.’s du signed a 5G contract with Huawei, and, in December 2021, Oman’s Omantel and its Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth signed a memorandum of understanding with Huawei. Huawei’s Mate50 Pro phone will be available in Qatar soon.

In contrast, the United States has opposed Huawei’s expansion in the Gulf to no avail. The Federal Trade Commission recently banned importing Huawei and FTE communications equipment stateside.

China Increases Energy Cooperation With Gulf

The trip also demonstrates that Xi was able to score key wins in the Gulf on energy, another area where the Biden administration came up short. During Xi’s visit, oil producer Saudi Aramco signed an “initial agreement” with China’s Shandong Energy Group to provide China with oil and “chemical products.” The two companies also agreed to cooperate in “hydrogen, renewables and carbon capture and storage.” This followed a deal in November in which QatarEnergy agreed to supply China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) with four million tons of liquefied natural gas per year for 27 years.

In contrast, despite the Biden administration believing that it had clinched a deal to get the kingdom to increase oil production, Saudi Arabia declined to oblige, and instead cut production. In retaliation, the Biden administration threatened to review the strategic partnership and so far has not followed up on this threat.

China Is Providing for Saudi Arabia’s Military Needs

During his trip, Xi stated that China wants to partner with Saudi Arabia on nuclear energy and nuclear security. Only days later, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister stated that “all bets are off” in the event that Iran obtains a nuclear weapon. Additionally, a recent report in the Israeli press indicated that one of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s demands for Saudi normalization of ties with Israel is U.S. recognition of Saudi Arabia’s civilian nuclear program.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia’s Advanced Communications and Electronics Systems Co. and China Electronics Technology Group Corp. agreed in March to produce military drones in Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is constructing ballistic missiles with China’s help, according to reports from December 2021.

Faced with the growing threat of its arch-enemy Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, and incessant attacks from Iranian proxies in Yemen, it makes sense that Saudi Arabia would desire nuclear weapons, drones, and ballistic missiles. Whether through policies of banning “offensive weapons” to Saudi Arabia, its removal of the Houthis from the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, or its failure to definitively scrap negotiations with Iran, the Biden administration has failed to assure Saudi Arabia that it understands (and will assist in providing for) Saudi Arabia’s military needs. So China is filling the gap.

As Xi’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia shows, China continues to make inroads in the Gulf regarding telecommunications, energy, and even military cooperation. The Biden administration could best mitigate this advance by abandoning a nuclear deal with Iran, shoring up more support for Saudi Arabia’s defensive needs, and brokering Saudi Arabia’s normalization of ties with Israel. Treating our Gulf allies as such would be a step in the right direction to temper Chinese influence in the region.

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