Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Investment, Khalid Al-Falih, has stated that China is a significant player in the multipolar world order that has emerged. In a recent interview with CNBC, Al-Falih expressed his belief that Saudi Arabia and China will only grow closer as their common interests increase. The Arab-China Business Conference, now in its 10th year, was the forum for Al-Falih’s comments. A multipolar world in this context signifies a global system that isn’t dominated by the West or defined as a struggle between two major powers, as it was during the Cold War.
Saudi Arabia’s global role
Saudi Arabia has become a much more active global player, wielding its oil-fueled financial power to supercharge its international trade and investment and gain influence around the world. In balancing its friendships with both China and the U.S., the kingdom sees itself as a part of a world order in which power is more widely distributed among different countries. The kingdom believes that economic cooperation between China, Saudi Arabia, and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), and the entire Arab region, will be a significant part of that.
Saudi Arabia’s ties to China
China has been making inroads into Saudi Arabia for years, especially economically, as its top trading partner and the largest buyer of its oil. Riyadh’s relationship with Beijing is more functional and economic than strategic, meaning it is not likely to supplant the U.S.’s role in the kingdom anytime soon. However, Saudi Arabia in recent years has been buying more Chinese weapons, in particular the ones that Washington has been less than willing to sell its Gulf ally, like lethal drones. Technology transfers and Chinese infrastructure projects are also growing in the kingdom, as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seeks to diversify his country’s alliances and make it more independent.
During a recent visit to Riyadh, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attempted to call out the kingdom for its human rights abuses and influence its oil production volumes, but to no avail. Al-Falih shrugged off the idea that Saudi Arabia’s growing ties to China were a threat to the U.S. He noted that the U.S. remains the kingdom’s largest foreign investor and that he doesn’t see the relationship with China as being mutually exclusive.
Al-Falih believes that the Saudi Arabia-China relationship will shift from a trade to a core investment relationship. The kingdom already invests significantly in China, mostly in oil refining and petrochemicals. Going forward, Al-Falih sees more global champions from Saudi Arabia going to China to access a growing market of 1.4 billion high-consumption individuals.
Saudi Arabia sees China as a key partner in a multipolar world, and believes that economic cooperation between China, Saudi Arabia, and the entire Arab region will be a significant part of that. While Saudi Arabia’s relationship with China is more functional and economic than strategic, the kingdom has been diversifying its alliances and making itself more independent.