China’s alliance with Saudi Arabia signals a potential shift in the global order

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, attended an important meeting on Friday, signaling ever-closer ties between the nations as U.S. relations with both nations turn increasingly colder.

A significant outcome of the summit, which focused on trade deals involving oil, technology, infrastructure and security, was an agreement that the two nations would not interfere in each other’s internal affairs. Alleged human rights violations have been a serious pressure point in the US-Saudi alliance, while criticism of China’s treatment of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region has angered the economic superpower .

The China-Saudi Arabia relationship is not new, but Friday’s summit outlined the terms of cooperation between the two countries and heralds a shift in the global geopolitical order away from the United States.

The US-Saudi alliance, which has endured through seven Saudi monarchs and 15 presidents, has taken a major blow under US President Joe Biden, who promised during his campaign in 2019 to make the Gulf nation rich in oil a”equal tofor directing the assassination of Saudi dissident journalist Jamaal Khashoggi in 2018 and for the kingdom’s role in the punitive Yemeni civil war. Tension continued, particularly over Saudi oil production, as sanctions on Russian energy help drive up fuel prices around the world.

What do Saudi Arabia and China get from a stronger alliance?

The Crown Prince, commonly known by his acronym MBS, has met Xi before, most recently at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. While it may seem like an odd pairing, the two nations actually have a lot in common, including autocratic leadership, a serious crackdown on dissent, a clear need to diversify to maintain economic growth, and ambitious infrastructure projects.

China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, with Chinese exports to the kingdom reaching $30.3 billion in 2021 and Saudi exports totaling $57 billion in the same year. according to Reuters. Saudi oil makes up 18 percent of Beijing’s total crude imports, worth about $55.5 billion between January and October this year.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has big ambitions to diversify its economy, which has relied on crude oil production for decades. But to do that he needs money, oil money. This is at least partly why Saudi Arabia limited production in the midst of a global oil crisis and crude oil prices remain high.

Both nations also promote ambitious infrastructure projects. The Belt and Road initiative, China’s effort to create a 21st-century international Silk Road trade route by providing funding to develop a variety of ports, pipelines, railways, bridges and other trade infrastructure to nations in Asia and Africa is a key effort to Xi. It has also received major criticism for potentially exploiting poor nations by essentially lending them money they cannot repay, in some cases granting China control over these critical hubs.

Xi’s presence in Saudi Arabia, both with MBS and as part of a bigger top with Arab countries and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).gift multiple opportunities to strengthen ties with a range of nations in the region – and to make sure that in the global competition between great powers, those nations are not, at least, aligned with the United States, as Shannon Tiezzi wrote in The diplomat Wednesday.

Crucially, Saudi Arabia knows it cannot depend on largesse US arms sales under Biden so China is an increasingly viable alternative. Indeed, Reuters reportedRiyadh is thought to have signed $30 billion defense contracts during this summit with China.

In forging their alliance, both nations gain a strong trading partner who won’t question their policies; Saudi Arabia gets a more predictable relationship with Xi than it has seen in the switch from former President Donald Trump to Biden.

How does this affect the US and its global position as a superpower?

The US-Saudi relationship is long-standing; officially started towards the end of second World War; the vital oil-for-security trade that has been going on for decades and has been increasingly important to the kingdom, between Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the 1990s and the growing influence of regional rival Iran. Despite Saudi repression and alleged human rights violations, Riyadh could count on US weapons, and the US could almost always count on cheap Saudi oil.

Sure, there have been tensions in the relationship before; the 1973 oil embargo in retaliation for the US decision to supply the Israeli military during the Arab-Israeli war, as well as Saudi involvement in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, tested the alliance, but the US leadership argued that the kingdom it was nonetheless a key regional partner.

Under Trump, the relationship between the two nations was somewhere in between transactional And definitely friend – Reportedly, Trump too he boasted that he defended MBS from congressional criticism of Khashoggi’s death.

But the relationship has become the most strained in recent memory due to abuse from MBS and criticism from Biden. In March, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine resulted in a fuel shortage, MBS declined to return calls from Biden to negotiate an increase in oil production and help lower prices. When they they finally met in JulyBiden was extremely uncomfortable and walked away nearly empty handed.

The growing relationship between Saudi Arabia and China could indicate a threat to the historic position of the United States as an international leader, highlighted in Saudi Arabia’s failure to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine for their economic needs. This fall, after Biden called for increased oil production to help reduce inflation in the United States, Saudi Arabia and other OPEC+ countries, including Russia, chose to continue on a limited production scale. a move that Washington interpreted as tacit support for Russia.

MBS has done a lot, at least superficially, to bring Saudi Arabia into the 21st century; women are now allowed to drive, and after decades of conservative Wahabist culture, entertainment such as cinema, concerts and sporting events are available. But it is too committed egregious and violent acts how to fuel a war that is killed about 15,000 Yemeni civilians and further devastated the impoverished country, as well as ordering the killing of Khashoggi, a US resident writing for the Washington Post.

However, the deepening of China-Saudi relations has implications that go beyond just geopolitical ones. If, as China has repeatedly called for, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations start allowing China will pay for oil in its own currency, the yuan, as opposed to the dollar, could have further economic consequences for the United States. Such a move, the Wall Street Journal unfolded in March, would devalue the dollar and erode its position in the international financial system

“The oil market, and by extension the entire global commodity market, is the insurance policy of the dollar’s status as a reserve currency,” said economist Gal Luft, co-director of the Institute for Global Security Analysis based in Washington. the newspaper of the time. “If that block is taken off the wall, the wall will start collapsing.”

A single alliance does not necessarily indicate that US primacy and hegemony are gone forever, but it certainly consolidates a major repositioning of the global order. How this will play out and the US role in this order remains unclear.


Yue Yuewei/Xinhua via Getty Images