Deputy Crown Prince in China and the Silk Road vision

The visit was meant to prepare the ground for greater cooperation and discussing significant political and regional issues with Beijing

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

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The Saudi Deputy Crown Prince’s visit to Asia represents more serious openness towards economic and political powers and proves his keenness to strengthen relations with major powers for the purpose of realizing Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. The visit was also meant to prepare the ground for greater cooperation and discussing significant political and regional issues with Beijing.

Those who have followed the development of relations between the two countries since the mid-1980s will find it difficult to believe that the slow pace of relations has been accelerated. The first meeting between China and Saudi Arabia was held in Oman in November 1985. There was military cooperation between China and Saudi Arabia before they opened embassies in 1990.

The military cooperation was based on the Iraqi-Iranian war as King Fahd had dispatched a delegation on a secret mission to buy surface-to-surface missiles. This contributed to altering the balance of power in the region. Saudi Arabia even reportedly kept the details of this deal away from the US, which did not find out about the Chinese missiles in Saudi Arabia until two years later.

Saudi Arabia managed to cooperate with China before official relations were instated and prior to that, had diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The establishment of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and China at the beginning of the 1990s made Saudi Arabia a unique Middle Eastern partner.

Saudi Arabia cannot be dragged into the Russian-Iranian plan that is being devised to set Syria on a predetermined course

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

Major significance

Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit is significant for several reasons. First of all, there were 15 bilateral agreements in several fields mainly related to energy, oil storage, mining and commerce. China has also signed an agreement with the Saudi Ministry of Housing to construct a new city in the al-Asfar District, an agreement to build the Silk Road and a memorandum of understanding between the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.

This was in addition to an MoU in the field of water resources. Economic agreements with the Chinese private sector were also signed. The most significant of them is the agreement between the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Chinese Council for the Promotion of International Trade. All these agreements create an environment in support of Saudi Arabia’s vision.

Secondly, the visit derives its significance from the summits which Prince Mohammed bin Salman held with world leaders to discuss energy-related issues, the Syrian crisis and unrest in the region and how to put out raging fires by forging agreements supported by superpowers.

The prince conveyed Saudi Arabia’s position to world leaders and expressed support for a political solution in Syria by keeping the interests of the Syrians and saving them from the Baathist regime. The meetings also aimed to discuss an international settlement that will protect Syrians’ interests and create for them a future that suits them after the sacrifices they’ve made during the past five years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed the impossibility of a regional agreement without Saudi Arabia’s participation. This is true but Saudi Arabia cannot be dragged into the Russian-Iranian plan that is being devised to set Syria on a predetermined course.

Third, there is the strategic aspect of the visit, which was put into context by Saudi Minister of Trade and Investment, Majed al-Qasabi. “Chinese efforts to revive the Silk Road to connect the East with the West harmonize with Saudi Vision 2030 as the vision will be based on transforming the kingdom’s strategic position among the major global waterways into a global logistical center. China, which is Saudi Arabia’s top commercial partner, will benefit from this partnership with the kingdom in terms of attracting investment opportunities that are promising in terms of services and logistics. It will also benefit from the partnership in different commercial and industrial sectors”, he said.

The next level

Expert in Asian affairs Professor Abdullah al-Madani wrote an important article commenting on the visit. He said Saudi-Chinese relations will move to the next level “as long as the visiting guest, Prince Mohammed, is leading an unprecedented project to diversify the economy of his country and set it firmly on the path taken by rising nations and as long as China has the Silk Road project”.

China launched an initiative ‘One Belt, One Road’ in 2013 for the purpose of enabling its public and private facilities and companies to invest and work in 65 countries in central Asia, Europe and the Middle East - countries which are on the Silk Road. “It’s also for this purpose that China established the Silk Road Fund with a capital of $40 billion in addition to establishing the Asian Bank for Investment with a capital of $500 billion,” the minister said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin described Prince Mohammed bin Salman saying: “He is a person who knows well what he wants to achieve and he knows how to achieve his goals. At the same time, I consider him a reliable partner whom we can agree with and be confident that agreements will be executed.” This is the outcome of the Deputy Crown Prince’s relentless efforts, which will continue until the Saudi vision becomes a tangible reality.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sept. 06, 2016.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.

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