Saudi Arabia and China: Years in the making
Saudi-Chinese relations today are a clear example of how relationships evolve and change in accordance with changing circumstances and reasons between nations. China, a country that two decades ago did not have any form of political ties with Saudi Arabia, has today become an exceptional economic partner for the Kingdom, and the size of the relationship between the two is gradually increasing.
Saudi openness towards China has become very clear, especially as China today is Saudi Arabia’s most significant oil customer, with the largest potential for growth, and so it was natural that the Chinese Premier’s visit to Saudi Arabia over the last few days attracted great interest. The signing of the Yanbu refinery deal as a joint venture between the giant Saudi oil company Aramco and the massive Chinese oil company Sinopec, with investments of 32 billion Riyals, is conclusive evidence of the importance of this growing relationship.
It is well known that SABIC and Aramco have very large interests and massive investments in China itself, in order to guarantee the smooth flow of oil and its related products to the Chinese market, the largest in relation to Saudi Arabia.
China’s economic presence in Saudi Arabia is growing. Chinese construction companies enjoy a sizeable share in the construction and expansion of cement company factories and some government projects. The same applies to the giant Huawei company that specializes in communications contracts and networks, which has played a major role in effectively providing telecommunications services to all Saudi territories, and the Mecca metro project.
There is also a sizeable Chinese commercial presence in the automobile sector and electronic devices, where brands such as “Chery”, “Geely”, “Haier” and “Hisense” have developed a good reputation amidst strong global competition.
China today is intensifying its presence and power in third world arenas specifically, and this is tied to the increasing numbers of Chinese expatriates in every corner of the world. In Africa for example, China can measure its investment success by the fact that 10 million Chinese were based on the continent in 2010, where they continue to provide financial facilities in order to broaden the base of China’s African investments. The same thing applies to the Asian countries that consider China to be a superpower there.
There is now a Chinese “attack” on the European continent, which has been financially damaged, with China undertaking opportunistic deals because of the deteriorating situations in Greece, Spain and Portugal, and preparing to do the same thing with Italy and France. We also cannot forget the growing Chinese presence in Australia and Latin America of course, where it has a tangible presence in all sectors and activities.
China relies on spreading its presence through millions of Chinese immigrants around the world, who have seen their country transform from the closed communist camp to a new type of capitalism without a colonial “agenda” like the former Soviet Union or the United States. Saudi Arabia for a long time undertook diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which was once commonly known as the Republic of China, but with the growing power of China, the international community prevented Taiwan from using this name. Then there was the “surprise” when Saudi Arabia opened up to China through a major missile deal, and the relationship developed gradually until it reached its current level of great distinction.
China is growing and expanding its ambitions and the size of its influence, and today it is seeking a greater presence outside its borders. Recently, it launched its first Chinese-built aircraft carrier, and it has reached an agreement with the Seychelles in the Pacific Ocean to establish a military base to protect global trade from international piracy. However, at the same time, China is keen to protect its growing investments in the African continent.
In ten years China will become the largest economy in the world and will be increasingly significant. Thus it is not strange or surprising that today we see dozens of Saudi students studying in China and striving to learn the major Chinese languages such as Mandarin and Cantonese. Over twenty exciting years the story of Saudi-Chinese relations has been built upon trust and an appreciation of common interests.