In Riyadh, Xi Jinping promises stronger ties with the Gulf

Chinese President Xi Jinping assured, in Riyadh, that his country wanted to strengthen its security and energy ties with the Gulf countries, a region rich in hydrocarbons long perceived as the backyard of the United States.

On the last day of his visit, which began on Wednesday, Xi Jinping was welcomed by the powerful Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, at the Ritz Carlton, for a summit with the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), before another to bring together all Arab leaders, according to state media images.

“China will continue to firmly support the GCC countries in maintaining their security […] and building a collective security framework for the Gulf,” Xi Jinping said at the inauguration of the first summit.

“China will continue to continuously import large quantities of crude oil from GCC countries,” he said, while promising to extend this cooperation to other areas, such as imports of liquefied natural gas ( LNG).

China is the largest importer of crude oil in the world, and the Gulf has major exporters, starting with Saudi Arabia, which is the first.

The statements of the Chinese president come in a context of rivalry with the United States, strategic military partner of the Arab countries of the Gulf but which have tense relations with Riyadh in recent years.

On Wednesday, Washington reacted to Xi Jinping’s visit to the monarchy, warning against “the influence that China wants to gain around the world”, believing that it is not likely to “preserve the international order”.

Diversify strategic relationships

The leader of the world’s second largest economy met with King Salman and his son, Prince Mohammed, with whom he signed around 40 agreements on Thursday in different areas, ranging from hydrogen to housing, but the details of which have not yet been announced. not been disclosed.

According to a joint statement issued on Friday, the two sides stressed “the importance of stability” in the oil market, one of the issues fueling tensions between Riyadh and its American partner, alongside accusations of human rights violations. nobody in the ultraconservative realm.

This is Xi Jinping’s first visit to the kingdom since 2016, and his third trip abroad since the start of the pandemic.

It comes a few months after that of US President Joe Biden, who failed in July to convince Riyadh to pump more crude to calm the markets, on which prices soared in the context of the war in Ukraine.

The Gulf countries, Washington’s key partners, have increased their ties with China in recent years as part of efforts to diversify their strategic relations and reduce their economies’ dependence on hydrocarbons.

Stronger ties with the Gulf 

The Asian giant is seeking to relaunch and expand its sphere of influence, in particular through its “New Silk Roads” initiative, a vast international investment project wanted by Xi Jinping.

But the Gulf countries are not so united and “seem more invested in advancing bilateral ties” with Beijing, engaged in “regional economic competition”, points out Robert Mogielnicki, of the think tank Arab Gulf States Institute, based in Washington.

Strengthening economic ties with China could help Saudi Arabia diversify its economy as part of the reform program led by its crown prince.

According to Saudi state media, Xi Jinping’s visit should result in the signing of agreements with Riyadh worth a total of more than 110 billion Saudi riyals (27.8 billion euros).

But Robert Mogielnicki warns against announcement effects: “As regards China’s bilateral relations with the Gulf and the Middle East in general, it must be remembered that it is much easier to sign protocols agreements and investment promises than to actually commit capital”.