Chinese Xi Jinping meets Saudi Crown Prince in a pivotal visit

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Chinese leader Xi Jinping met Saudi leaders Thursday at the start of a multi-day state visit as the oil-rich desert kingdom. Strengthens relations with the opponents of the United States Amid doubts about Washington’s commitment to the Middle East.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who manages the kingdom’s daily affairs, greeted the Chinese president with a handshake upon his arrival at Al Yamama Palace, the seat of the Saudi monarchy. A Saudi honor guard welcomed Mr. Xi before Prince Mohammed escorted him inside to meet his father, King Salman. The two sides are expected to sign about 20 initial agreements worth a total of more than $29 billion before attending a major meeting of Gulf and Arab leaders on Friday.

No details of the deals were available, but progress in talks on pricing some Saudi oil sales in yuan was not available The Wall Street Journal reported This year’s acceleration, however, would attract intense US scrutiny, as would any new arms deals or further cooperation on 5G and 6G telecom networks.

Mr. Xi’s journey will inevitably draw comparisons to Mr. Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia in Julyduring which the 37-year-old Prince Mohammed engaged in an embarrassing fist strike that drew rebukes back home from critics who said the US president was helping to cover up Saudi human rights abuses.

Mr. Xi, who was received at the airport on Wednesday by the kingdom’s foreign minister and head of the sovereign wealth fund, said he will discuss bilateral and international issues with Saudi leaders and plan to develop Sino-Saudi relations, which were first established in 1990.

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The relationship between the world’s largest oil importer and the largest oil exporter is firmly rooted in energy and trade – China is already Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner and largest buyer of its crude. Even as the world looks to renewables, these trends are only expected to accelerate, with the last barrels of oil likely to come from Saudi fields and be consumed in Asia.

But relations between the two countries have grown in recent years to also include massive contracts for Chinese construction firms, widespread adoption of Chinese technology despite security concerns and even the transfer of military equipment such as drones and ballistic missiles, as well as Helps make yellowcake from uraniumnecessary for a civilian nuclear power program or a nuclear weapons capability.

The increasingly defensive and geopolitical aspects of the Sino-Saudi relationship worry Washington, which has long been the dominant security power in the energy-rich Middle East. But analysts say China has not yet shown an interest in taking on this role, or the ability to do so, and the Saudis don’t really want to replace the United States as the main guarantor of their security.

John Kirby, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said Wednesday that the Biden administration is not asking countries to choose sides between the United States and China, but acknowledged that Mr. Xi’s trip is taking place amid tensions in US-Saudi relations. After Saudi Arabia and other oil producers decided in October to cut production Despite Washington’s requests.

We are aware of the influence that China is trying to develop around the world. Mr. Kirby told reporters that the Middle East is certainly one of those areas where they want to deepen their level of influence. The way China handles this, he said, threatens the international order that the United States and its allies and partners are trying to preserve.

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Craig Singleton, a former US national security official and now a senior China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank, said Beijing wants to benefit from the US security umbrella in the Middle East while securing access to key oil and commercial shipping routes there.

He added, “It is clear that Xi is eager to take advantage of the Biden administration’s many missteps in the Middle East,” including the White House’s contentious relationship with Prince Mohammed.

Airplanes release smoke in the colors of the Chinese flag over Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on the day of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s arrival.


Xie Huanqi/Zuma Press

After two years of tensions between Washington and Riyadh under Mr. Biden and a redistribution of global power accelerated by the Ukraine war, Mr. Xi’s trip underscores Beijing’s growing influence in the Middle East, where it has also developed ties with Saudi Arabia’s adversary Iran. This week’s visit will be scrutinized for clues about a more rebellious Saudi foreign policy trajectory.

The trip culminates in a big week for global energy markets, then Introducing a price cap in the West and an embargo on Russian oil exports. The Saudis will be excited to hear about Mr. Xi’s plans to deal with Covid-19 back home, where he’s been The government is reversing its zero-tolerance approach This sparked rare protests and dented global energy demand.

Washington’s patience over its partners’ dealings with Beijing was tested last year when the Biden administration learned that China was building a secret US intelligence agencies suspected it was a military facility at a port in the United Arab Emirateswhich also hosts US forces. After rounds of meetings and visits by US officials, construction came to a halt.

Mr. Xi’s visit will also highlight the growing cultural ties with Riyadh and the shared values ​​of the two authoritarian regimes, both of which tolerate little public criticism and carefully manage their economies. Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, has publicly defended China’s policies in its western region of Xinjiang, giving cover to Beijing’s oppression of the Muslim Uighur minority, and backing China’s position on Taiwan. At home, Mandarin is being introduced into the Saudi school curriculum.

In a message published by Al-Riyadh newspaper, Mr. Xi placed his visit in the context of the 2,000-year-old relations between Chinese and Arab civilizations, and made reference to China’s mention in the Qur’an. They opposed external interference, stood up to the politics of power and tyranny, and always sought progress,” he wrote.

Write to Stephen Kalin at [email protected]

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