Chinese flag fluttered in Riyadh | By Dr Muhammad Akram Zaheer

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    Chinese flag fluttered in Riyadh

    PRESIDENT Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia is aimed at deepening China’s decades-old relationship with the Gulf region, particularly Saudi Arabia.

    The tour is an effort to secure oil, arms sales and technology transfers. According to Gedaliah Afterman, director of the Asia Policy Program at the Abba Eban Institute for Diplomacy and International Relations at Reichman University in Israel “When Gulf countries think about their future, they see China as their partner,”.

    The common economic interests of China and Saudi Arabia are clear: both the countries are largest trading partners.

    Saudi Arabia is one of China’s largest oil suppliers while Chinese companies have deep ties with the KSA to build mega projects, setting up 5G infrastructure and developing military drones.

    Regardless of President Joe Biden’s visit in mid-July to Saudi Arabia to strengthen their mutual relations, President Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia is intended to advance the interests of both Riyadh and Beijing and boost Saudi Arabia’s image as an emerging and important player in regional and global political affairs as well as a beneficiary of global alignment.

    The visit will help stabilize and strengthen its ties with the Saudis and it will also help enhance its “strategic policy” in the Gulf region.

    China is exploring new land routes that can reduce reliance on access to sea lanes by road and rail through the Belt and Road Initiative.

    On the economic front, bilateral trade between China and Saudi Arabia has been expanding rapidly in recent years, currently running at an annual rate of about $70 billion.

    Beyond its traditional exports of telecommunications and other electronics, the Chinese are looking for growth opportunities in other fields, particularly in defence which has traditionally been dominated by the United States and its allies.

    On the other hand, Saudi exports are based almost entirely on oil and oil products. But those volumes for China have declined in recent months as the Chinese have taken advantage of heavy discounts on Russian petroleum, which have made Moscow the biggest supplier to Beijing.

    The Saudis will certainly want to explore opportunities to regain Chinese market share, especially in the face of increasingly gloomy and unfavourable forecasts of the coming global economic downturn.

    Cash-rich Chinese investors are eyeing Saudi Arabia for investment and Saudi Chinese industrialists are seen as future partners for the Gulf states’ aggressive economic diversification program.

    The mega city project is the largest project of the Vision 2030 strategy in the north-west of the country.

    The approximately 26,500 square kilometre city, once completed in 2025, is expected to become the largest city fully managed by artificial intelligence.

    All transportation will be autonomous, and electricity will come from renewable energies. The plan, unveiled in October 2017, reflects Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitions to transform his country and diversify the Saudi economy by promoting new activities.

    The city will become an important hub for the entire Middle East. Under this project, there is also a plan to build a bridge between Egypt and Neom.

    In March 2018, Egypt and Saudi Arabia launched a $10 billion joint fund to finance the Egyptian border region of Neom.

    The project will also benefit Jordan. Mohammed bin Salman has visited China to try to attract Chinese investors to his modern city project and entice Chinese high-tech leaders to develop projects in Neom.

    The project is estimated at 500 billion dollars and it can only be achieved if the international community, including China, supports the project.

    The participation of Chinese companies is very important for the development of Neom so that the new city can attract goods, capital and people.

    As a result, Neom could be an integral part of the BRI. IMF experts have also pointed out that the new city of Neom could be a laboratory for cutting-edge innovations for high-tech companies, especially Chinese companies.

    Despite its economic ties with Saudi Arabia, Chinese officials appear relatively uninterested in adopting the kind of strategic defence role that the United States has played in the region.

    It would be “reasonable” to think that Saudi Arabia could replace the US with China today. China’s role is still growing in the Persian Gulf.

    It is disappointing for Saudi Arabia when it sees America’s strategic power diminishing for political reasons.

    The policy-makers have to think about America’s threats to withdraw from the region or realign relations with the regional states and a post-United States Middle East, or world order, might look like.

    Washington will be watching closely to see if any of them touch on more sensitive areas such as defence or nuclear energy.

    US Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Colin Cahill has stated during a briefing in Bahrain that “across certain lines, if they are deeply engaged with China in terms of military infrastructure and military equipment, it’s more likely to work with us.

    ” Consequently it will be difficult. “The more intertwined their military and intelligence systems are with Beijing, the more direct the challenge is to US forces in the region because the geo-political landscape of the region is changing.

    —The writer is PhD in Political Science from Islamia University Bahawalpur.