A new era of strategic partnership among China, Arab States and Pakistan
ON 7 December 2022, China’s President Xi Jinping arrived in Riyadh to pay a state visit to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and attend the first China-Arab States Summit and the China-GCC Summit.
In Riyadh, Xi received an exceptionally warm welcome. During the visit, President Xi met King Salman and the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and also attended the aforementioned summits and met with other Arab leaders.
During their speeches and meetings with Mr.Xi, the heads of the GCC and Arab states showed their keen interest in building a long term strategic partnership with China and aligning their economic policies with China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”.
During the visit, Saudi Arabia and China signed a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement”.
The officials also signed a memorandum of understanding on hydrogen energy, an “alignment plan” between China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Saudi Arabia’s economic diversification plan, a petrochemical project, housing development and the teaching of the Chinese language.
President Xi has also stated that Saudi Arabia has a right to join/strengthen the BRICS forum to help create a multi-polar world.
The Joint Statement issued says, “Both countries will continue to firmly back each other’s core interests, support each other in safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and jointly defend the principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs and the basic norms governing international law and international relations.
The New York Times says, “Saudi Arabia has long been a close ally of the United States, but its ties to China have been strengthened rapidly, turning from mainly oil-based relationship to arms sales, technology transfers and infrastructural projects.
Prince Mohammed has accelerated efforts to diversify Saudi Arabia’s alliances, trying to move beyond its reliance on the United States as its main security guarantor and weapons supplier to forge a more independent path”.
This change in Saudi policy is also because of recent tension in the US-Saudi relations due to Saudi led OPEC’s oil production policy and other policies, which President Biden thought went in Russia’s favour, although, the Crown Prince has vowed to also maintain his country’s existing defence relations with the US.
As stated by France 24 dated 9 December 2022, the Saudi Crown Prince sees China as a critical partner in his sweeping Vision 2030 agenda, seeking the involvement of Chinese firms in ambitious mega-projects meant to diversify the economy away from fossil fuels.
The visit has not escaped the attention of the White House which warned of “the influence that China is trying to grow around the world”, calling its objectives “not conducive to preserving the international rules based order”.
The above-discussed scenario of the deepening strategic partnership between China and the Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, including aligning their economic development plans with China’s BRI looks to be also largely beneficial for Pakistan.
As China-Arab countries’ trade and investment drive are likely to be routed through the CPEC, it will bring many economic/strategic advantages to Pakistan.
Arab countries will be more poised to keep better relations with Pakistan than India, as previously the GCC countries had shown a tilt towards India, both sides being closes tallies of the US.
Now, due to Arab countries’ flourishing strategic relations with China and India’s tension ridden relations with China, Arab countries would prefer to have deeper CPEC-related economic/investment relations with Pakistan than India.
As the US is not happy with India over its policy of not voting for the resolutions against Russia at the UNSC/UNGA forums regarding Russia-Ukraine war, despite that the US has allowed India to maintain it relations with Russia, in lieu of India’s so-called commitment to remain a US ally in its Indo-Pacific policy against China, the US now does not fully trust India.
Because, it has possibly realized that India is supporting its Indo-Pacific policy mainly to get US military technology/economic support to become a major world power.
Therefore, the US would like to keep good relations with Pakistan also to get Pakistan’s assistance in fighting terrorism in this region and a land route for its trade relations with Afghanistan and Central Asia, as the US understands that while maintaining its strategic partnership with China, Pakistan also wants to have good relations with it.
Hence, now the US is not likely to oppose the construction of the CPEC as it was doing earlier to please India.
The US is also likely to resume its economic/military assistance to Pakistan and adopt a balanced policy to help resolve the Kashmir dispute through negotiations.
Moreover, in its bid to isolate Russia, as the US is trying to improve its tense relations with China, it will also not pressure Pakistan on its strategic partnership with China.
Also, as the US has allowed India and some EU member states to import cheaper oil and gas from Russia, the US may not now constrain Pakistan from getting cheaper gas from Russia.
In view of the above-discussed evolving strategic scenario, Pakistan will be able to get maximum strategic and economic advantages out of it to stabilize its economy and resolve the Kashmir dispute, if it quickly achieves domestic political stability through reconciliation or holding early general election, prepares a viable long-term economic revival plan based on political consensus on its implementation and practices a balanced foreign policy to maintain its strategic relations with China and good relations with the US and other major powers, Saudi Arabia and GCC countries, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Indonesia and Malaysia.
—The writer is also a former Research Fellow of IPRI and Senior Research Fellow of SVI Islamabad.