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China and Saudi Arabia strengthen their partnership in energy and defence

Saudi Arabia and China have reaffirmed their cooperation on the global oil market and the principle of non-interference in internal affairs during a visit aimed at deepening strategic relations, at a time when Washington’s ties with Riyadh appear increasingly frayed.

Since Wednesday’s official state visit, the Chinese President Xi Jinping has signed a series strategic deals with Saudi King Salman, including one involving Chinese tech giant Huawei.

In a joint statement on Friday, the two sides said they “exchanged views regarding ways to reinforce and develop comprehensive strategic partnership relations between the Kingdom and China”.

It stressed the principles of sovereignty and “non-interference”, while affirming the importance of a peaceful solution to the Ukraine conflict.

In a nod to Gulf security concerns over Iran, another oil supplier to China and with whom Beijing has good ties, they agreed on the need to “strengthen joint cooperation to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme”, and for Tehran to respect “principles of good-neighbourliness”.

The Chinese leader said his visit, during which he will meet other Gulf oil producers and attend a wider summit with Arab League countries on Friday, heralded a “new era” in relations.

“China looks forward to working with Saudi Arabia and Arab states to turn the two summits into milestone events in the history of China-Arab relations and China-GCC relations, and bring these relations to new heights,” the foreign ministry cited Xi as saying.

Qatar’s emir, Kuwait’s crown prince, and the presidents of Egypt, Tunisia, Djibouti, Somalia and Mauritania are among rulers attending, alongside leaders and prime ministers of Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and Lebanon.

‘Internal affairs of the Kingdom’

Riyadh reaffirmed its adherence to the “one-China principle”, by which the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the sole legal government and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory.

China is determined to forestall Taiwanese independence and bring about the island’s unification with the mainland. The PRC is recognized by the United States and other Western governments as China’s sole legal government. However, the United States also maintain informal relations with Taiwan.

In turn, Beijing “affirmed its opposition to any actions that would interfere in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.

Both sides stressed the importance and stability of world oil markets. The statement stated that they agreed to explore investment opportunities within the petrochemicals sector as well as potential sources of renewable energy.

China is the world’s largest importer of crude oil, for which it is heavily reliant on Saudi Arabia.

They also welcomed the involvement of Saudi companies in various energy and investment partnerships within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure project that would stretch from East Asia to Europe that enhances “the Kingdom’s location as a regional center for Chinese companies”.

Deepening ties

Beijing has been cementing ties with Gulf states over the past few years, but its foreign ministry this week described Xi’s trip as the “largest-scale diplomatic activity between China and the Arab world” since the PRC was founded.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is looking at the world’s second-largest economy as a critical partner in his sweeping Vision 2030 agenda and ambitious megaprojects including the futuristic $500bn megacity Neom.

At a time when relations between the Saudis and their long-term US allies seem to be frayed by disagreements, they are also trying to diversify their political and economic alliances.

In July, US President Joe Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia to try to convince them to increase oil production and lower gas prices. This was despite criticisms from Washington lawmakers over human rights concerns.

The Saudi-led OPEC+ in October agreed to cut oil production by two million barrels, which Biden’s administration viewed as a direct affront ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have resisted US pressure to end relations with Russia, a fellow OPEC+ oil-producer, over the invasion of Ukraine. They also want to limit their dealings with China as they attempt to navigate a polarised global order that focuses on national economic and security concerns.

 

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Jacky

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