China and the Middle East

Over the past week, a Chinese delegation headed by President Xi Jinping concluded a multi-day visit to Riyadh in which a number of main forums were convened, namely a China-GCC Summit, and a China-Arab Summit, in addition to key cooperation and coordination engagements with the host country, Saudi Arabia. Outcomes of this visit included the signing of a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement and 34 investment agreements between China and Saudi Arabia, as well as pledges to align Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Other notable developments as part of the GCC Summit included calls for cooperation between China and GCC countries for the establishment of a forum on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and of a nuclear security demonstration center. The Arab Summit, which included the high-level participation of all the countries of the League of Arab States, emphasized the need to strengthen cooperation in areas including food security, energy security, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

While these developments do not signal any major changes in policy for either China or the participating Arab countries given the existing relationships and ties, they are nonetheless significant in their scope and potential impact. The nature of much of this cooperation is underpinned by both implicit and direct cooperation on security matters, which has traditionally been the realm of the Unites States, especially for Gulf countries. While Arab nations are often quick to reject claims of choosing sides, they will continue to pursue partnerships in their national interest, which may in certain instances align with Chinese ones. The cooperation on nuclear energy is also of particular importance in this respect, given that a number of the countries that have announced plans to establish nuclear power programs have not yet selected suppliers for their future programs, signaling the potential for China to play a prominent role in this regard.

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