At a summit in Saudi Arabia, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday called for closer, security and energy ties with the Arab monarchies of the Gulf, a region rich in hydrocarbons long considered America’s backyard.
On the third and final day of his trip, Xi Jinping participated in a summit with the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and extended to Arab leaders in Riyadh.
The meetings followed bilateral talks with Saudi leaders on Thursday, at the end of which Riyadh and Beijing underscored the “importance of stability” in oil markets, a point of friction with the United States, which has urged the Saudis to increase their output.
“China will continue to resolutely support the GCC countries in maintaining their security (…)”, Xi Jinping said after the summit with the GCC (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman).
He promised to expand this cooperation to other areas such as imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which “will continue to import large quantities of crude oil from GCC countries”.
Xi Jinping added that “China will use a Shanghai-based platform to settle oil and gas trades in the RMB (yuan), weakening the dominance of the US dollar world if the Gulf states agree.”
Asked about this at a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic chief, Faisal bin Farhan, said he had “nothing to add”.
– Competition –
Oil from Saudi Arabia alone will account for 17% of Chinese imports by 2021, and last month Qatar announced a 27-year natural gas deal with China.
China is the world’s largest crude oil importer and GCC leader Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest exporter.
The Chinese president’s visits to Saudi Arabia since 2016 have intervened against the backdrop of the Gulf Arab states’ rivalry with the United States, a strategic military partner.
But historic ties between the US and Saudi Arabia have strained, particularly over human rights abuses and the oil issue.
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Riyadh’s refusal to boost output to curb rising prices has drawn Washington’s ire.
The US responded to Xi Jinping’s visit by warning against “the influence that China wants to gain around the world”.
Saudi officials have repeatedly stressed their commitment to closer ties with the United States, but said they would not hesitate to explore ties elsewhere.
“We seek cooperation with all parties. Competition is a good thing,” Prince Faisal said, adding that his country would continue to maintain strong ties with the United States “in all areas.”
“We will continue to work with all our partners… We do not believe in polarization,” he added.
– Contracts signed –
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, addressed the two summits, pledging that “Sino-Arab cooperation will continue in the service of our common goals and the aspirations of our people.”
Heads of state including Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority attended the Sino-Arab summit.
On Thursday, Xi Jinping signed about 40 agreements with Saudi leaders in fields ranging from hydrogen to housing. Details not disclosed.
The Gulf states, key partners of Washington, have increased their ties with China in recent years with the aim of diversifying their strategic ties and reducing their economies’ dependence on hydrocarbons.
The Asian giant is seeking to relaunch and expand its sphere of influence, particularly its “New Silk Roads” initiative, a vast international investment program.
But Gulf states are less united and “seem more invested in improving bilateral relations” with Beijing, said Robert Mogilnicki of the Washington-based Arab Gulf States Institute think tank.