Saudi Arabia rolled out the proverbial red carpet for Chinese President Xi Jinping for a series of summits that could have lasting repercussions for the United States and other Western nations.
In addition, the Arab states that attended the talks last week are hoping to participate in China’s Silk Road Initiative, linking Asia to Africa via the Arab world. Ultimately, it will also tie into Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative linking China to Europe.
Xi told Arab leaders that the gathering had “worked to strengthen mutual efforts to confront the food, energy and climate crises, and is committed to finding political solutions to thorny issues while maintaining peace and security in the region.”
Arab states, including Algeria, which was one of the co-hosts of the China-Arab Summit, appeared to be seeking a financial lifeline from Beijing amid the turbulent economic fallout of the Covid-19 crisis – and the resulting global food shortages and price increases.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi told Xi and Arab leaders that the gathering came at a “critical point” in international affairs, given the “multiple crises facing the world,” and that a “solid understanding with China” would do much to “help the situation.”
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who hosted the event in Riyadh, as well as an earlier bilateral summit and a joint Sino-Gulf meeting, appeared to be interested in increasing economic and technological cooperation with China.
Political support over tense issues, including Iran and Yemen, was also reportedly discussed.
Arab states look at China with a great deal of interest due to its achievements in development and technology, making it a world leader in those areas. Their aim is to strengthen ties with Beijing.
Egyptian political sociologist Said Sadek told Voice of America that the Sino-Arab summit mirrored the “security and development” gathering between the US and Arab nations that Saudi Arabia hosted for visiting US President Joe Biden in July.
The “three summits with China,” he said, “are an effort to diversify relations on the world stage” at a time of “major upheaval” as “Russia challenges the previous world order.”
“The Chinese emphasized the strategic importance of defending the Gulf, so it is not only the Americans and the West that are in charge of defending the Gulf States,” Sadek added.
He argued that the “Gulf States are not trying to replace the US with China but want to be able to turn to another strategic partner in the event of human rights issues or other strategic factors that prevent the sale of American arms at critical moments.”
That happened when Washington “blocked the sale of drones to the UAE over concerns that they would be used in Yemen.”
Theodore Karasik, a Washington-based Gulf States analyst, pointed out that “the agreements signed” in Riyadh “still need to be executed.” As for using China’s currency, the yuan, to buy oil, “the process is” just “beginning.”
“The Gulf States [will] continue the process of diversification that they have been practicing for several decades [and the Covid-19 crisis has] spurred them to act more quickly for recovery, as the geoeconomic center of commerce is moving more to the East,” he said.
Paul Sullivan, a Washington-based Middle East analyst with the Atlantic Council, described the China-Arab summit as “lots of PR and propaganda for China.” He told VOA:
China and others are pushing the idea that the US withdrew from the region, but it hasn’t.
Sullivan pointed out that American companies do business in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries, while the US 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain and the Air Force is at Qatar’s Al-Udeid Air Base.
“Chinese investments in the Arab world are just a sliver of China’s overall world investments, most of which are and will remain in Asia. The Arabs should proceed with caution,” he said.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.