The geo-strategic significance of Saudi Arabia’s growing relations with China

There is an irreversible strategic plan between the two giants that is important to flesh out at this juncture

Dr. Theodore Karasik
Dr. Theodore Karasik
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Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the People’s Republic of China illustrates a new heightening of Beijing’s importance to Riyadh’s Vision 2030. Although politics, such as China’s recent outreach to Syria, may raise eyebrows, there is an irreversible strategic plan between the two giants that is important to flesh out at this juncture.

First is the energy security link between the Kingdom and China. Both countries exhibit a multi-tiered foreign policy designed to acquire and secure long-term energy supplies by diversifying their sources of oil and gas, engaging in “energy diplomacy,” and establishing energy reserves.

Plans to cooperate with China in storing crude oil is the beginning of a new level of strategic partnership that is likely to feed East Asia. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said Aramco is in talks with China National Petroleum Corporation and Sinopec for investment opportunities in refining, marketing and petrochemicals. Saudi Arabia reportedly wants China to invest in Aramco’s public offering.

In addition, deeper Saudi involvement and investment in China is seen as contributing to the Kingdom’s 2030 with open investment opportunities for Beijing in areas including renewable energy, telecommunications, infrastructure, rail, aerospace, and finance.

Thus, the Kingdom is restructuring its foreign and energy policies to become consistent with the National Transformation Program and the Vision 2030. With China’s requirements as being the top consumer of Saudi energy products, the relationship between the two countries will only continue to grow in a positive manner.

Chinese investment in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is to come from Beijing’s banks. This development is significant because of the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank that is to drive Asian development. The possibilities for collaboration on a multitude of projects is amply clear.

With these requirements in mind for Saudi Arabia to succeed in its goals, China offers also a vision: The One Belt, One Road (OBOR). Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision and China’s OBOR are mutually beneficial and help cement a united vision, possibly one of more exciting components of the emerging geo-strategic engagements between Riyadh and Beijing.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and China’s One Belt, One Road are mutually beneficial and help cement a united vision, possibly one of more exciting components of the emerging geo-strategic engagements, between Riyadh and Beijing

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Various dimensions

This growing geo-strategic relationship plays out in a number of different arenas. The intersection of Asian security, where OBOR goes, is of major importance to Saudi Arabia with King Salman’s strategic outlook to Central Asia as a nexus between the two powers.

ISIS adherents take great interest in Central Asia that directly affects the interests of both Saudi Arabia and China. These extremists see a strong desire to attack the interests of both the countries in the historical nexus of great powers in Central Asia. In the near term, there needs to be quick coordination between Riyadh and Beijing on counter-terrorism issues.

What is important to understand is that Saudi Arabia’s requirements for a successful transition also lie in the East. The Kingdom will keep a foot in both the American, European, and Chinese camps, judging that its long-term interests are well served by maintaining comparative advantages offered by many countries.

As the Kingdom’s economic ties grow firmer with China, the two countries need to work together to keep these maritime sea lanes free of threats. This is the main reason why Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed support for the Saudi-backed Yemeni government in Aden.

Currently, the Saudis are using Chinese UAVs in Operation Restore Hope in Yemen against Iranian-supported Houthi rebels. This shows that the Saudi-Chinese relationship is above ideology, and that Chinese pragmatism extends to the Arabian Peninsula.

Beijing sees itself as a negotiator that stands above the geo-strategic front by promoting economic development and ignoring what it sees as religious-political dispute. China is, as ever, taking a long-term approach in its dealings with the Middle East.

However, Iran stands in the way of this joint opportunity. Given the historical backdrop, Saudi Arabia is attempting to bring a balance to Beijing’s Iran policy through economic engagement. Moreover, emerging estimates show that the global oil glut will be reduced, initially slowly but increasingly building an upward pressure on crude prices sooner rather than later.

That recovery will benefit not only Saudi Arabia when the time is right, but also China’s ability to grow their investment cycles. Tehran’s recalcitrance will be an important, yet repetitive, occurrence.

Overall, Saudi Arabia is seeking to engage in identifying and creating new avenues and areas of cooperation with China, and by extension, Central Asia, where both are keenly interested in the stability and future prosperity for that strategic region. This geopolitical nexus is a great leap forward via the OBOR’s planned growth and expansion.

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Beijing represents a sensible piece of the future Saudi-Chinese relationship as China has a vested interest in seeing Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 succeed.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Gulf-based analyst of regional geo-political affairs. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets @tkarasik

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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