Chinese president Xi Jinping visits Saudi Arabia on a three-day trip today.
The Riyadh trip includes a China-GCC conference, a China-Saudi summit and a China-Arab summit attended by 14 Arab leaders. These meetings highlight China’s growing role as an economic partner in the region, specializing in technology, construction and the oil trade.
Saudi Arabia is progressively looking eastwards for economic and diplomatic support, a trend accelerated by worsening Saudi-US relations and high oil revenues brought by the Ukrainian war.
China is likely to invest further in regional energy and infrastructure, advancing the Belt and Road Initiative. Saudi Arabian projects such as NEOM are also likely to receive Chinese funding, as Gulf countries seek to lessen their dependence on oil exports.
China’s rising influence in the Middle East is unlikely to be detrimental to American interests in the medium-term, as Chinese regional diplomacy remains much weaker than that of Russia or the US. Furthermore, Chinese investment in local economies and infrastructure relies on long-term stability, a gamble given the region’s high volatility. Lastly, the continued reliance of GCC countries on American arms deals and military presence to pursue their diplomatic ventures in the region make any severing of ties highly unlikely.