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Opinion: China and the Future Alliance with Saudi Arabia | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz (L) after a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China, 13 March 2014. (EPA)

Difficult years lie ahead, perhaps five or even as many as ten. This future requires a new regional and international approach. The US may no longer play the prominent role it acquired after World War II, and Europe will become more concerned with its southern neighbors in North Africa. Other countries, such as those in the Gulf, may have to create small blocs to defend themselves. They may also have to establish additional alliances based on larger, shared interests.

Saudi Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz’s visit to China is of special importance. Saudi Arabia is important to China as it is a prominent partner. On a daily basis, China buys more than one million barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia. And the Kingdom has an important spiritual role for the Chinese Muslim minority.

I was present on this visit to China. Previously, I witnessed Saudi political openness towards China when King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz decided that China would be the first country he visited as King. King Abdulaziz thus ended a long era of ruptured relations between the two states.

The problem is that the Chinese don’t like politics much. So, the important question is: How can one seeking to protect his interests depend on this sleeping giant? Countries that will confront new challenges over the next few years will have to protect their interests. Prominent countries such as those in Europe and China know that relations with stable countries are better than relations with erratic countries or with countries such as Iran. There are several signs which indicate China’s desire to expand the scope of its strategic interests and not just the scope of its purchases. Oil and large-scale investments are the foundations of a long-term relationship between China and Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi delegation, which ended its visit on Sunday, wanted to expand relations with China. This may balance out Saudi Arabia’s oil exports at a time when the US says it is no longer interested in buying much oil from the Gulf as it has enough domestic shale oil.

China itself is in a state of transition similar to countries like Saudi Arabia—it is undergoing a gradual transition, one that may appear slow.

Although it has been 20 years since my first visit to China, the country continues to be mysterious and interesting. Almost everything has changed in Beijing. When I first visited, Beijing’s wide streets were packed with bicycles. There were tens of thousands of them and very few cars. A dark cloud from the coal used in heating systems covered the city. However, China, its people and its ideology have now changed. Despite this, the regime, which staged a counter-revolution, hasn’t, and it is trying to make a gradual transition while avoiding chaos. This is how China managed to become one of the richest and strongest economies in the world. It is now at a point where it wants access to new markets and wants to cement new alliances.

This does not necessarily mean that China will replace America, but it will be an important player on the world stage. Also, its philosophy and practices are different to Russia’s, which has exposed its ugly side wherever it has intervened.