By Dr Sreshtha Chakraborty
The changing dynamics of the world’s geopolitics transformed significantly over the last decades. And it is not wrong to predict that its evolution will lead to a very different world order in the next two decades. The Asianization process has encouraged the east-east camaraderie to take a new shape. China’s Look-West policy complements the GCC’s Look East policy, and there has been a shift in the Gulf’s economic centre of gravity. China has made strong inroads into the gulf region using its investment and payments and has deployed a strong presence of its soft power tools. This also has created a security vacuum that has created an alternative collective security architecture. So long before the U.S. announced its strategic rebalancing policy, the Gulf States had taken a view and recognized Asia as an ally of the future. Even though they were primarily rooted in transactional economic activities, they are now taking shape as strategic partners capable of creating a more significant impact on geopolitics.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s lavish welcome in Saudi Arabia for a three-day visit heralded a “new era” in ties and clearly showcase Riyadh’s intention to expand its allies beyond its partnership with the West. This three days trip by President Xi to Saudi Arabia is only his third trip abroad since the coronavirus pandemic began and the first trip to the world’s largest crude oil exporter since 2016. Both countries signed a series of agreements reportedly worth around $ 30 billion in green energy, information technology, cloud services, transport, construction, and other sectors. The deal over Huawei Technologies with the Tech giant related to data centres and high-tech complexes in Saudi cities has strong US security concerns. It has a strong connotation of growing strains in its Saudi ties with the US and other Western nations.
The announcement of the comprehensive strategic partnership agreement followed a lavish welcome for the Chinese president, which stands in absolute contrast to the muted welcome given in July to President Joe Biden. Following the murder of the Journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 and a strain on US-Saudi relations related to the de facto role of Saudi in OPEC+ and cut oil production continue to deteriorate the extended partnership.
It indicates changing geopolitics when many op-eds are published in both Saudi and Chinese media about the “pioneering trip” and “open a new era” of China-Arab World relations. And this is strongly noted by a U.S. National Security Council spokesman: “We are mindful of the influence that China is trying to grow around the world. The Middle East is certainly one of those regions where they want to deepen their level of influence,”
Saudi Arabia is seeking a newer partner in the new world order and seeks to build a strategic partnership that supports its trade and investments. China stretches its hand to be the first strong strategic partner in the region. Amid growing global power competition China also wants to ensure that the Arabs are at least neutral towards them, if not on their side. Undoubtedly Saudi will keep balancing its strategic relations with the US while engaging with China. Chinese efforts to boost ties with Saudi have to be balanced with Beijing’s relationship with its bitter rival Iran.
India-Saudi relations and the implication of this visit on its relations.
It might not have any strong bearing on India, but keeping the long-term significance of such visits in mind is better. India’s relationship with Saudi will likely grow further in the near future regarding defence and military cooperation and other trade relations. India and Saudi relations have gained new momentum in recent times, but India should be careful of growing Chinese influence over the Gulf region.
Author holds a PhD in International Relations from the Centre for West Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University and is currently working as an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Manav Rachna International Institute of Research and Studies.
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