China and the future alliance with Saudi Arabia

Difficult years lie ahead, perhaps five or even 10 years. This future requires a new regional and international approach. The U.S. may no longer have the prominent role it garnered after becoming the major player following World War II and Europe will become more concerned regarding its southern neighbors in northern Africa. Other countries, such as those in the Arab Gulf, may have to create small blocs to defend themselves. They may also have to establish additional alliances based on big interests.

Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz’s visit to China is of additional interest. Saudi Arabia is special to China as it is a prominent partner. On a daily basis, China buys more than one million barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia. Also, Saudi Arabia remains the spiritual country of reference for the Chinese Muslim minority.

I was present on this visit to China. Before now, I witnessed Saudi political openness towards China when King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz decided that China would be the first country he visited after assuming governance. King Abdulaziz thus ended a long era of ruptured relations between the two states.

Oil and large scale investments are the foundation of a long-term relationship between China and Saudi Arabia

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The problem is that the Chinese don’t like politics much. So, the important question is: how can one seeking to protect his interests depend on this sleeping dragon? Countries that will confront new challenges over the next few years will have to protect their interests. Prominent countries such as those in Europe and China know that relations with stable countries are better than relations with erratic countries or with countries such as Iran. There are several signs which indicate China’s desire to expand the scope of its strategic interests and not just the scope of its purchases. Oil and large scale investments are the foundation of a long-term relationship between China and Saudi Arabia.

Expanding relations with China

The Saudi delegation, which ends its visit on Sunday, wants to expand relations with China. This may balance out Saudi Arabia’s oil exports at a time when the U.S. says it is no longer capable of buying oil from the Gulf as it has enough shale oil.
China itself is in a state of transition similar to countries like Saudi Arabia – it is undergoing a gradual transition, one that may appear slow.

Although it has been 20 years since my first visit to China, the country continues to be mysterious and interesting. Almost everything has changed in Beijing. When I first visited, Beijing’s wide streets were packed with bicycles. There were tens of thousands of them and very few cars. A dark cloud from the coal used in heating systems covered the city. However China, its people and its ideology have changed. Despite this, the regime, which staged a counter-revolution, hasn’t and it is trying to make a gradual transition whilst avoiding chaos. This is how China managed to become one of the richest and strongest economies in the world. It is now at a point where it wants access to new markets and wants to cement new alliances.

This does not necessarily mean that China will replace America, but it will be an important player on the world stage. Also, its philosophy and practices are different to Russia’s, which exposed its ugly face wherever it intervened.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 16, 2014.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

 

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