Political Implications of Sino-Saudi Relations to the US and Regional Affairs
As the largest and most influential nations in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has been considered a valuable asset to any country wishing to have influence in the tightly-knitted Middle East. Many nations throughout the years have tried to sway the Saudi government and monarchy into entering diplomatic and economic partnerships with them in order to gain access to the region’s oil reserves and establish their partnership but only a few have been successful. One of these successful nations is the People’s Republic of China, which has strong diplomatic, economic and social partnerships with Saudi. China has been making headlines in recent years for its staggering political and economic development that many nations welcomed and a few questioned given the possible changes it would have in the international arena. In its partnership with Saudi Arabia, their strong partnership raises many questions as to the political implications of such partnership to the United States, the Middle East and even in Asia. This study would discuss the political implications of the strong Sino-Saudi relations to the United States, Middle East and Asia.
List of Figures
Figure 1. GCC- China Trade .. 16
Figure 2. China’s Crude Oil Imports by Source, 2008-2009 . 20
List of Tables
For the past couple of years, the People’s Republic of China has been making headlines due to its rapid development and political partnerships that often earns conflicting remarks from the international community. For some, China’s active participation in the political arena should be seen as a welcome sign that it is now willing to become involved with the global affairs and reach out to new partnerships. Prior to their sudden political and economic development, China has been passive when it comes to foreign affairs and prefers to remain behind the scenes for the sake of their national interest. However, for other countries, like the United States, China’s sudden political movement is questionable because of its political implications to the current status quo. Given that China is now considered a rival to the United States after the fall ofthe Soviet Union in the Cold War, these concerns have some basis. With China now making its presence known in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia,there is a question as to the political implications of this partnership not just to US interest but also to the regions that will be affected.
This paper will discuss the nature of the growing Sino-Saudi relations and the implications of such relationship to the current status quo in the Middle East and Asia; as well as to the US. This paper also argues that while the current Sino-Saudi relations is more on economic partnership rather than a strategic-political partnership, its political implications showcases that it may threaten America’s power in the Middle East and allow either country to have political influence in either Middle Eastern or Asian affairs.The growing Saudi independence from the US and movement to the East and China’s increasing presence in the Middle East can give them enough political leverage necessary to shift the balance of power within the region and the globe either through political and economic means.
Development of the Sino-Saudi Relations
Early history to the 1990s
Countries often have extended diplomatic relations with several around the globe and Saudi Arabia, and the People’s Republic of China is no exception to these long diplomatic relations. Danna (2009) indicated that Sino-Saudi Relations can trace its roots 1,400 years ago in the seventh century. Saudi Arabia, then known as the Arabian Peninsula, had been in trading with Ancient China despite their cultural and language differences. However, both countries did not allow these differences to disrupt their partnership as both civilizations had managed to share their cultures to one another while trading. As the Roman Era came in, Chinese goods have already deeply enmeshed itself in the Arabian market and were traded along the Euphrates River. In their end, Arab traders have regularly been docking in Chinese ports since the seventh century and records within the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) cites that almost two thousand Arab and Persian merchants have traded in Guangzhou. As a result of their deep trade relationship, both China and the Arabian Peninsula have exchanged Chinese and Arabic poetry and art which showcases the broad relations both shared and the achievements they have managed to create throughout the years .
However, experts cite that Sino-Saudi diplomatic relations can trace its roots in the 1930s when Saudi Arabia had been the first Arab country to reach out to China to establish political and diplomatic relations. According to Al-Tamimi (2013), Saudi had been one of the first countries to support China’s struggle against the Japanese invasion, and it was reported that Saudi King Abdul Aziz had met with Chinese Muslim delegates in 1937 to discuss how the Japanese threat can be augmented. With this open partnership, the relationship between Riyadh and Beijing had flourished, leading to the signing of the Treaty of Amity in Jeddah on November 15, 1946. Under the Treaty, both countries express the desire to establish “bonds of friendship” and good understanding between their respective countries. Article II of the Treaty of Amity highlights that both countries would adhere to the principles of Public International Law.
However, by the time the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took over China in 1949, the treaty between the two countries had been broken off as China entered a period of isolation under the CCP rule. Nonetheless, unofficial meetings and discussions still remained between China and Saudi Arabia throughout the 1950s under the ‘Hajj diplomacy.' Under this diplomacy, Chinese Muslims were permitted to go to Saudi Arabia for their pilgrimage to Mecca. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai met with Saudi Crown Prince Faisal to discuss the terms of Hajj for Muslim Chinese in the 1955 Bandung International Conference of Non-Aligned Countries in Indonesia. Once the agreements were done, China sent its first 20-member team to make their pilgrimage in the same year. From 1955 to 1964, the Chinese Islamic Association handled ten major Hajj trips for Chinese Muslims. These trips were suspended in light of the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s, which later on added to the estrangement of China with the rest of the Arab nations which had formerly taken the initiative to reach out to China after Saudi’s success in the 1930s. Throughout the Cultural Revolution, Southern Yemen was the only country that had diplomatic ties with China.
After the Revolution, both China and Saudi had conflicting political goals as Saudi aligned itself with the United States against the onset of communism. China, on the other hand, utilized revolutionary forces to generate anti-colonialism around the region throughout the 1950s to the 1960s. As a result of this action, China had gotten the support of other Arab countries fighting against imperialism and colonialism the West represents. China was also working alongside with Moscow to ensure the growth of communism throughout the 1970s to the 1980s. With communism firmly in its ideology, China in the early years of the Cold War tried to advocate the same revolutionary communism they were following in the Middle East.However, Saudi did not accept communism and made contact with Taipei, which had recently broken away from the mainland. Riyadh had even joined the World Anti-Communist League (WACL) headed by Chiang Kai-shek according to Gresh (2010). The WACL included the French fascist movement, Ordre Nouveau, the US Heritage Foundation and supporters of Argentinean dictator Jorge Videla. Whilst a member of the WACL, Saudi nationals with Chinese ethnicity would often rebel against the People’s Republic of China. After fourteen years of no stable formal relations, China had reopened its doors to the world and slowly picked up its relations with the rest of the world. Hajj visits resumed on October 19. 1979 when President Zhang Jie went to Mecca for his pilgrimage. A month after the resumption of trips to Mecca, dignitaries from Beijing flew to Saudi on November 1979 to discuss further arrangements for the Hajj trips. For China, revival of Sino-Saudi relations is important to show that China is not against the religion and become closer to Saudi Arabia. The first meeting was held in Cancun, Mexico in 1981 between King Fahad and Chinese dignitaries and while the hajj was reopened, the number of pilgrims permitted were only small until 1985 .
In addition to the improved access of Chinese Muslims to Mecca, Al-Tamimi (2013) stated that the renewed discussions also ensured an increase of interaction between Riyadh and Beijing when it comes to cultural exchanges and high-level meetings. The annual Chinese Hajj, for example, included prominent Chinese officials from the Ningxia Hui and Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous regions, and political missions were also done between the leaders of both sides. King Fahd himself reached out to Ilyas Shen Xiaxi of the China Islamic Association in 1984 to improve Chinese Hajj trips in order to allow larger groups of pilgrims to visit Mecca. China responded positively as thousands were brought to Saudi Arabia in 1985 for their pilgrimage. China and Saudi Arabia had also established the reduction of travel restrictions to Chinese Muslims, especially businessmen and students in order to allow business and education exchanges between the two regions. Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations have even aided the construction of mosques and the financing of scholarships and the Holy Qur’an for the Chinese. In 1987, the Saudi-sponsored Muslim World Association and the China Islamic Association even joined forces to create the give-day conference between 300 Muslim leaders in Beijing to showcase China’s growing involvement in the Muslim community. It is said that this is showcasing China’s tolerance for Islam and also helped sustain its partnership with Saudi Arabia.
In the 1980s, economic relations improved with the increase of Chinese goods within the Saudi market. According to Al-Sudairi (2012), Saudi and China had maintained low-key commercial relations after the dawn of the Gaige Kaifeng (Change, Reform, Open up) reforms. In the data recorded from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency 2011 Annual Report, China had imported as much as $183 million even if Saudi Arabia only exported $6.4 million in 1984.Average trading hand only resumed in 1987 when China offered arms sales to Saudi Arabia. By November 1988, a Memorandum of Understanding had been signed by China and Saudi Arabia to create the Trade Representative Offices to reorganize trade relations between the two countries. The establishment of the TRO had enabled their bilateral trading relations to amount to $290 million .
With trade relations slowly being established, diplomatic relations had been rekindled by the 1990s upon Saudi’s secured missile purchase from China in the 1980s. According to Al-Tamimi (2013), the formal resumption of Sino-Saudi relations was marked with the Communique Concerning the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia signed on July 21, 1990 which stressed that:
The Government of the People’s Republic of China supports the policy of the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in pursuit of achieving its security, stability and national interests. The Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recognizesthat the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government that represents the entire Chinese people. The two Governments have agreed to develop cooperation and friendly relations between the two countries on the basis of the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference ineachother’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.
With the reestablishment of relations established by both countries, a rapid shift on exchanges and cooperation had occurred throughout Saudi
Arabia and Chinafrom the 1990s. Al-Tamimi (2012) stated that the two countries took time to re-establish mutual trust by engaging in high-level visits between 1991 and 1998. Throughout these years, sixteen notable high-level exchanges were done with the intent to improve cooperation in political, economic, cultural, educational, religious and social aspects. Within 1991 to 1998, several important agreements have been signed by both China and Saudi Arabia that cemented their partnership. In order to show their stronger relations, King Abdullah – who was then crown prince – visited China for the first time in 1998. His visit not only was the first visit of any highest-level Saudi official to visit China since the Cultural Revolution, it was also the sign of Sino-Saudi unity. The Crown Prince met with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji in his visit to discuss political and economic affairs and the talks had led to the Prince to declare that both Saudi and China does not have significant differences in either political or economic fronts. He had also implied that both countries would indeed flourish and later on, the sentiment was shared by President Jiang Zemin in 1999 when he visited Saudi Arabia .Pham (2011) stated that President Jiang Zemin brought along a businessmen delegation in his first visit to Saudi in November 1999 to discuss further agreements to the creation of a “strategic oil partnership.” The high level discussions had helped paved agreements to open Saudi’s oil markets to Chinese investment and permit Saudi’s national oil company Saudi Aramco to have a position in China’s refining sector. The agreements signed by both China and Saudi had permitted Saudi to be China’s largest oil supplier and China gaining high level exchanges for their development .
Currently, both China and Saudi Arabia maintained their strong ties through high-profile level exchanges. Studies on energy relations and cooperation mostly dominated Sino-Saudi relations at the beginning of the 21st century according to Liangxiang (2004). On December 30, 2003, Wu Chunhua, Chinese ambassador in Riyadh met Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Naimi to discuss energy cooperation. The studies were followed by the March 2004 discussions between Director of the Energy Bureau of the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission XuDingming with Prince Saud Bin Thunayan Al Saud of the Saudi Basic Industrial Corporation to discuss further energy cooperation .
The high-level exchanges between China and Saudi Arabia had raised a level when the studies now directed it to political and foreign affairs interests between the two countries. According to Honglin (2010), King Abdullah – after being crowned king- had returned to China in 2006 to meet up with Chinese leaders and sectors to strengthen current Sino-Saudi relations. In turn, President Hu Jintao had also visited Saudi in two different instances – 2006 and 2009 – to ensure continuous discussions between the two countries over political and economic issues. They had also discussed economic cooperation and energy agreement that finally solidified Saudi’s role as China’s major supplier of oil and permitted interdependencies between the two countries. Other Chinese officials such as Vice President Xi Jingping, Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi and Minister of Commerce Chen Deming had also visited Saudi Arabia from 2008 to 2010. Phat (2011) also added that in President Hu’s second visit to Saudi in February 2009, China had been there to discuss “strategic friendly relations.” Both countries had highlighted the signing of a major public works agreement to construct the $1.8 billion China Railway Construction Corporation that would connect Mecca and Medina to China by 2013. Additional agreements were also signed to improve oil related relations, healthcare and importation and exportation standards. The construction of the King Abdul Aziz Public Library in Beijing was also agreed upon by the two countries as part of President Hu’s visit to Saudi .
Prince Saud Al-Faisal, who serves as Saudi’s Foreign Minister, also took part in the May 2010 Fourth Ministerial Meeting of the China-Arab
Cooperation Forum. His visit had also coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Sino-Saudi diplomatic relations . In the report by Xinhua News (2010) both Chinese President Hu Jintao and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had expressed their congratulatory messages to one another due to the strong partnership both countries enjoy. President Hu has expressed that the relationship of both parties is a comprehensive development and adds that it is seen by the Chinese government as a strategic perspective. He also stressed that:
"As the international community is undergoing complex and profound transformations, it is in the fundamental interests of both Chinese and Saudi people and a benefit to world peace, stability and development to strengthen and consolidate Sino-Saudi relations, properly deal with issues in hot spots, and meet various common challenges"
In his end, King Abdullah had commended the development of their strategic friendship and cooperation as it has provided both countries a stronger partnership. He had also expressed that he and his people desire to have more advanced bilateral relations to reap more rewards for both countries . Pham (2011) also added that both countries had signed five accords for Sino-Saudi economic cooperation – including aspects on oil, gas, and mineral sectors – to ensure that development would persist. Several studies highlight that it is likely it would ensure that Riyadh would now become China’s top supplier and create interdependences between the two countries not just in a political notion, but also on economic and social affairs . The high level exchanges were of focus to some critics as they believe that these high level exchanges are happening regularly between the two countries. However, according to Al-Tamimi (2012), both Saudi and China see their regular high-level exchanges as a proof of their growing diplomatic relations. In January 2012, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited Saudi and established the agreement between Saudi state-run oil company Aramco with China’s Sinopec to create a refinery in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia which would be operational by 2014 .
Intentions of both China and Saudi Arabia
China’s Intentions for Partnership
The stable Sino-Saudi relations has many implications to China, and its implications are benefits for China in the long run. In a political extent, China’s desire to become partners with Saudi Arabia stems to its desire to have a powerful Middle Eastern ally. Mousa and Huwaidin (2003) stressed that China, upon the end of the Cultural Revolution, found itself strategically vulnerable in the Middle East with the lack of allies and influence. Calabrese (1993) added that China was alarmed with the augmented Soviet naval presence in the Indian Ocean, which was crucial in ensuring Chinese strategic security in the region for its intended economic linkages they set on rebuilding with the Gulf region . In addition to these concerns, in the 1980s, Saudi was the one of the three countries that shared strong political relations with Taiwan and remained as the only Arab state that did not have diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic. Mousa and Huwaidin (2003) stated that China wanted Saudi to recognize the country as the only Chinese nation and worked on establishing diplomatic relations with Saudi to remove Taiwan’s influence. Around the same period, China feared the growing Soviet influence in the region and knew that Saudi is a crucial country to sway to its side while it fought against Soviet penetration in the region. Saudi was also a crucial country for China to have in its political allies because Saudi can provide China with the needed foreign exchange income to improve the mainland’s modernization programme.
In order to sway Saudi to its side, China stepped into the region as a ready ally for Saudi when it comes to its policies against Israel and Iran by providing a missile system that would deter possible attacks to the Kingdom. The United States had turned down Saudi’s requests for forty-eight US F-15 fighters to counter the threat of Israel, Iran and Iraq, so China had to pay attention to Saudi’s policies and adjust their policies accordingly to match it. China had also made sure their policies were neutral and supportive of Saudi and Gulf positions to improve their image to the reluctant Saudi public. China had also worked on commercial agreements rather than vocally express their political interests in the region. China’s attempts in being supportive with Saudi’s interests had ensured that Saudi would be swayed to become political allies with Saudi and permitted the establishment of formal relations . Furthermore, Wu (2012) indicates that China is also concerned with the stability of the Middle East. Given that China is dependent on MENA countries when it comes to oil, any possible upheaval can be dangerous as it could spread to other countries and may threaten its national interests. Saudi Arabia, seen today as one of the world’s largest oil producer, is seen as the force behind the world’s oil supply and any possible demonstrations in the country may bring serious damages to the world economy and international politics. A possible upheaval in Saudi can trigger war and sustainability would be challenged significantly by these threats .
Zhu (2009) also added that China wanted to get an ally in the Middle East to aid them in combatting terrorism and separatism that is growing within
China’s northwest border. Since the onset of the War on Terror by the United States, China has been concerned when it comes to ensuring that the radical separatists and terrorists near its border. After the 2009 ethnic riots in Xinjiang and the pronouncement of the Al Qaeda for restitution for the deaths of Uyghur Muslims due to the unrest, China found itself faced with the future of staving off terrorist attacks, separatism and extremist movements in the future. Xinjiang also remains vulnerable and restricted to the Chinese military due to the increasing ethnic riots in the region. With the threat of extremism, separatism and terrorism in China’s own territory, China wants its growing partnership with the Middle East – especially Saudi Arabia- to help in cutting off any financial, political and military support these groups have that allows them to continue their operations. The Taliban and the Al Qaeda had aided the Eastern Turkistan forces located in China’s northwestern territories where most of its Muslim population are located.
Another reason for concern in China is its shared 20-mile border with Afghanistan. With this border close to the known terrorist mainland, separatists from Xinjiang had been getting aid from their Afghan counterparts and triggered riots, assassinations and attacks since the 1990s. It had also triggered the creation of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement which aims to create the Islamic Republic of East Turkestan in the northwestern part of China. The Chinese government had reported close to 200 attacks in Xinjiang alone done by this faction and the US Department of State has labeled the group a terrorist organization since 2002. The US had expressed concerns that China would enforce stricter policies in the Xinjiang region because of this grouping for the sake of stopping terrorism and separatism to spread in the region. Nonetheless, it had only enabled China to aid in the US’ attempts to stop the growth of terrorism and find allies in the Middle East like Saudi to help in the campaign .
Economically, having a stronger partnership with Saudi Arabia is beneficial for China as Saudi is currently the country’s largest trading partner in West Asia and Africa for the past nine years. Honglin (2010) indicated that the bilateral trade volume from Saudi Arabia hadreached $32.6 billion in 2009 and $16.32 billion fromthe first half of 2010, higher than the 2009 by up to 59% . Sager (2010) reconfirmed this number and stated that Saudi’s bilateral trade with China has now amounted to $41.8 billion in comparison to the 2002 tally of $2 billion each year. This made Saudi not only China’s largest trading partner but also its largest trading partner within the Gulf Cooperation Council (see figure 1).
Figure 1: GCC-China Trade in 2008
Saudi also has one of the largest imports from China with 9.3% since their diplomatic relations have been restored in the 1990s (see table 1).
According to Bhat and Srinivas (2009), the strong partnership has allowed China to succeed in reaching the $40 million target volume set by President Hu Jintao in 2006. Saudi’s exports to China in 2008 had already reached $31 billion and the imports have reached up to $10.7 billion. Further trade partnership is improved between China and Saudi because of their active interactions to understand the market .
Saudi has also heavily invested in China for the past five years, reaching up to SR1.8 billion, making it one of China’s largest investors at the present time. While these numbers may seem lower than the deals and partnerships both countries venture into, both Saudi Arabian and Chinese businesses enter into concessions in order to share revenues for their projects. In one instance, Saudi has permitted China Petroleum and Chemical Corp. (Sinopec) an SR1.1 billion concession to explore and produce natural gas in a 38,000 km concession area which they share with Saudi Aramco. While Sinopec does not have the experience in natural gas explorations, the concession agreement is symbolic as this showcase reciprocal hydrocarbon relationship between the two countries. In addition to this, both countries have conducted joint commercial committees to manage their business and activities in order to ensure that trade is done properly . China also recognized that unlike the rest of the world that had been badly affected by the global economic crisis, Saudi Arabia was relatively unaffected. It is likely that the massive foreign reserves both countries have had enabled both China and Saudi Arabia to escape the problems caused by the foreign crisis, as well the fact they hold most of the US’ government paper
The partnership between the two countries also allows China to have an advantage when it comes to building businesses in Saudi. Arab News (2009) reported that at least 70 Chinese companies are based in Saudi, and at least 62 of these companies are construction firms. There have been several instances wherein these Chinese companies managed to secure high profile contracts in Saudi. One company won an SR2.2 billion contract to expand the facilities of King Khalid University. Another Chinese company, the Aluminum Corporation of China Ltd. (Chalco), is now working on a joint venture to create the Sino-Saudi Jazan aluminum plant. A Chinese contractor had also managed to win an SR860 million contract to build a container port at the Jeddah Islamic Port and industrial port at Ras Al-Zour. Another Chinese company had also teamed up with a Saudi company to gain the SR6.7 billion contract for the Makkah-Madinah high-speed railway for the Saudi Railroad Organization.
In terms of oil, China is very interested with their partnership with Saudi considering that China imports at least 41.95 million tons of crude oil from Saudi as of 2009 and is likely to increase to 50 million tons in 2010 . China’s rapidly growing economy according to Lai (2007) has driven its necessity to find other sources of oil due to its now dwindling supply. From a low 88 million tons per year in 1980, it has now amounted to 293 million tons in 2004. Given these increased consumptions, it is now the second largest oil consumer and still continues to increase each year. Prior to this change, China was able to sustain its oil demand as of 1997 but the poor oil production of the country and the high rate of consumption has made it difficult for the country (see table 2)
Luft and Korin (2004) stressed that most of Chinese oil imports come from Kazakhstan, Venezuela, Sudan, Russia and Indonesia aside from the Middle Eastern oil exporters. However, considering that it is just a newcomer in Middle Eastern affairs, China needs strong relations to countries like Saudi to protect its oil supply by deploying manpower to the oil resources of their new allies as seen in their position in Sudan. They also wish to gain the attention of the Middle Eastern oil suppliers like Saudi to ensure that it would always have a supply . Calabrese (2005) also adds that China’s search for oil reserves or supply security has always been China’s top priority when it comes to statecraft and commercial activity which is why its position in Saudi Arabia showcases their intent on security its position in the oil market. It is also stressed that China’s desire to reach out to Saudi also indicates that China sees oil as a vital part of the regime’s survival and prevent the deterioration of relations of China to other countries like India, Japan and the United States given their now higher leverage in Saudi’s oil reserves . Arab News (2009) also stressed that Saudi Arabia is the strongest global oil producer in the globe and its strength can increase given the quality of its oil as compared to non-OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) produced oil (see figure 2)
Figure 2: China’s Crude Oil Imports by Source 2008-2009
Furthermore, Al-Tamimi (2012) highlighted that having a strong diplomatic relation with Saudi would allow China to prepare for the possible issues on oil prices and supply. Ensuring that Saudi’s oil supply is continuously stable is much better for China rather than ensuring the stocks in the OPEC and non-OPEC countries are stable. Their clear relationship would also permit China to ensure that their partnerships with other countries would not be affected. It is also China’s way of ensuring that they can still have vital oil resources should America sees China as a threat or if there would be an onset of political turmoil in the Middle East like the Libyan Crisis in 2011 and the Iran oil sanctions in 2012. Saudi has been able to boost their production capacity to replace the oil supply China can get from Libya and Iran, making it a perfect reason for China to maintain close and friendly affairs .
In addition to safeguarding oil-producing allies, Sager (2010) stated that China is also after information exchanges between the country and Saudi Arabia in order to improve its oil producing capabilities. When Saudi opened its market to Chinese investment, China was now able to undergo oilfield activities in the Kingdom, which allowed them to understand the art of refining. With Saudi Arabia being a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council – a regional organization comprised of the Middle East’s largest oil producers – Beijing would benefit greatly when it comes to refining its oil production system. With GCC finances, China can get the funds necessary to purchase crucial equipment and acquire training necessary for oil producing. China, as noted above, values oil resources as its top priority before capital and technology and getting its facilities would certainly help in improving China’s economy. China has been slowly courting Saudi investors for years to open oil refinery expansions for local oil producers and at the same time, ensure that the country would still have stable crude supply. China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation or Sinopec is consistently discussing means of helping Chinese oil industries with Saudi Aramco, and foster the creation of refineries in China. Several ventures have already taken occurred between Sinopec and Aramco, alongside the company Exxon to secure an additional 160,000 barrels per day for China’s oil supply . Marshall (2002) added that Saudi Aramco has also gotten the largest shares in China’s Thalin and Maoming refineries to aid in the improvement of these facilities. China has also ensured the 50 year deal with Saudi for 10 million tons of Saudi oil to be exported to China while being handled by Chinese company SINOCHEM to process the oil in Qingdao and Dalian. There have also been reports that Saudi, to honor their deal with China, would move some of its oil exports to China to aid in Chinese refinery improvement and are willing to step in to aid in its development .
Finally, China also benefits from the collaboration in a social context given the high-level exchanges both countries have conducted to improve each country’s awareness of the other’s culture and shared religion. In terms of shared religion, the open Sino-Saudi relations enables Chinese Muslims to make their Mecca pilgrimage without having to undergo strict screening processes and expensive costs. Chen and Jing (2006) reported that pilgrims often find it difficult to fulfill their obligations to their faith – especially the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca – due to the expensive cost of visa applications, air travel and accommodations. Some families, like the Ma family from North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, had to pool in 30,000 yuan or $3,800 to cover the trip for the entire family despite living in 800 yuan or $100 per month from the family’s pension. They would also spend extra to purchase food to bring in Saudi Arabia to reduce travel expenses. However, they would no longer have to pay for the flight and other related expenses as local Islamic associations are given 24,170 yuan or $2,980 to pay for the charter flight, passport and visa applications and other pilgrimage expenses. Additional fees even included train tickets to transport pilgrims to Beijing.More open cooperation allows high quotas for pilgrims to enter Saudi Arabia, organizing the trips alongside the China Islamic Association. Their partnership allows easier visa approval, and the organized trips permit more pilgrims to come to Mecca without having to undergo other channels .
Xinhua News (2013) reported that at least 11,800 Chinese pilgrims have successfully done their Mecca pilgrimage in 2013, returning to the country through chartered flights organized by the State Administration for Religious Affairs. Despite having difficulties over the 2013 pilgrimage over the onset of the Middle East respiratory system coronavirus, China had been able to ensure the safety of all Chinese pilgrims. The country, with the help of the Islamic Association of China, even provided 100 guides, medical workers, chefs and volunteers to make sure the Chinese pilgrims are well-taken care of while in their pilgrimage. As of 2013, an estimated number of 20 million Muslims live in China: most of them living in Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan and the Ningxia Hui and the Xinjiang Uygur regions .
According to Poston, Alnuaimi and Zhang (2010) the population of Chinese Muslims is likely to increase 31,495,359 people by 2030 (see table 3) .
In addition to these easy access to Saudi for Chinese Muslims for pilgrimage, Gladney (1994) added that China also benefits with the growth of Muslim visitors in China coming from Saudi. There had been a rise of private and state-sponsored foreign Muslim tourists and businessmen now utilizing the four-star “Muslim Hotel” located in Wangfujing Avenue since the rekindled ties between the two countries. Wangfujing Avenue is a known shopping district for many Muslims and they have gone to even declare Oxen Street China’s Muslim neighborhood for all Muslim tourists .
Aside religion, several engagements between China and Saudi Arabia had also opened up forums and conventions to open up new understanding of the other’s culture and traditions. Honglin (2010) reports that China conducts a Cultural Week of Saudi Arabia to feature Saudi culture and Saudi also features China Week to showcase Chinese culture . In terms of the youth sector, Saudi and Chinese delegations meet regularly for interaction in the Saudi-Chinese Youth Forum (SCYF) . Khan (2010) stated that the SCYF is organized in China and utilizes the framework created under the intercultural dialogue initiative launched in 2008 by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. The SCYF is the first of its kind, hosting 40 young leaders of both genders to promote friendship and mutual understanding between the two countries. According to Deputy Minister of Economy and Cultural Affairs Yousef Al-Sadoun, the youth forum is the result of King Abdullah’s global dialogue initiative and these participants should be given the chance to learn from others. The 10 day forum organized by the Council of Saudi Chambers (CSC) and the Committee for International Trade (CIT) would allow participants to visit Chinese institutions and landmarks, as well as interact with Chinese students and experts. The forum would also tackle cooperation on science, technology, economy and culture; highlighting as to where both Saudi and China can change ideas and improve the possibility of wider relations . Looking at these benefits, it is visible that China is indeed happy of partnering itself with Saudi Arabia for the sake of development and progress.
Saudi’s Intentions for Partnership
In the case of Saudi Arabia, they also have several benefits with their growing partnership with China from a political, economic to social standpoint. Saudi, according to Arab News (2009), has been creating many partnerships to ensure that they can have an alternative to the US-Saudi relationship which Saudi wishes to fight against given the many implications the US brought to the region due to its influence. In addition to this growing resentment to the US, Saudi Arabia also sees China as a friendly ally as compared to the distrustful Americans and they would benefit from their partnership with China in terms of strengthening its political stance. The Economist (2010) stated that Saudi does not have the political conditions that China or any other country attaches to their economic decision-making. While America is a good partner for political and economic movements, Saudi finds America’s biased media coverages and lobbies to be critical to their beliefs. Saudi also finds it difficult to maintain its current partnership with the US to sustain because of America’s bias in the region, especially towards Israel. The situation between the two countries had also grown worst when America started denying visas to Arabs, including Saudi nationals. Although China is still behind America in its political and economic capacity, Saudi prefers China as a partner because they are no longer reassured by America’s presence in the region and China can protect the mainland and their allies with their own weaponry.
Saudi’s distrust to the US can also be allotted to the events in 9/11 where investigations cite the involvement of several Saudi nationals towards the attacks in key American installations. Cordon (2008) and Blanchard (2010) stated that Americans were blaming the Saudi Arabian government for the 9/11 attacks and financing the terrorist group. The US and its allies had accused the Saudi Arabian government of turning a blind eye over the growth of terrorist groups in the country, and a Congressional Report detailed other areas where Saudi had been blamed for the growth of terrorism. Luft and Korin (2004) added that American media had regaled tales of Saudi laxity and stressed that they have been the ones who devised the attack in the first place. Saudi officials, according to US reports, were suspected of providing crucial information and funding to high terrorist officials. Almost after the release of the 9/11 Congressional Report, 600 victims had sued the three Saudi princes for their suspected involvement to the charities and financial institutions accused of supporting the terrorist agenda – Sudairi al-Bayumi, Turki al-Faisal and Muhammad al-Faisal. Saudi citizens took offense to the accusations of the United States and threatened to withdraw $800 billion worth of investments from the US to express their disappointment to the US. Immigration guidelines of the US had also been frowned upon by the Saudi nationals because of 9/11 and would have to go special scrutiny to make sure they are not terrorists. Although it was proven by the US that Saudi was not an ally of the terrorist after the 2003 attacks in Riyadh by the Al Qaeda, there was already distrust from the Saudi nationals towards Westerners and as feared, it triggered several attacks in the region because of US presence. For Saudi, it was crucial they had another ally to protect itself from possible attacks.
In order to aid in its intentions to move away from American dependence, Saudi also intends to bolster its affairs with China to gain military arms to protect its national security. According to Woodrow (2002) and Kemp (2012), China had sold thirty-six CSS-2 IRBMs to Saudi in the 1980s for Saudi’s bases in Riyadh. The CSS-2 can reach its target 3,000 kilometers away, allowing Saudi to target all countries in the Middle East and even several parts of India. However, the CSS-2 was very complicated to use and sustain in Saudi regarding the fuel system and the nuclear component of these missiles. China had also offered Saudi the 600-km range CSS-6, 1800-km range CSS-5 solid-fuel missiles to Saudi and the then-prototype 5,500 km CSS-3 intercontinental ballistic missile, which was accepted by Prince Sultan, the Saudi minister of defense along with his sons, Prince Bandar and Prince Khalid. Prince Sultan, who was then the Saudi ambassador to the United States, visited China in several instances to see the CSS-2 missile development and finalized the delivery of the CSS-2 missiles in 1988 to Riyadh. According to estimates, the CSS-2 deal was worth US $3-3.5 billion which experts claim to be a hoax deal regarding the instability of Chinese missiles. Nonetheless, Chinese sold missiles are perceived to be dangerous as it has been modified for Chinese warfare and further modification. These missiles can disrupt the peace in the region .
Saudi is also ensuring that China would turn its attention away from its other customers in the region. According to Marshall, (2002) Saudi wanted to break Chinese and Iranian affairs, especially on a military or strategic extent because Saudi and Iran are staunch rivals. China is currently one of Iran’s major suppliers and get more diplomatic leverage in the process. Saudi wishes to pressure China from taking its contracts and diplomatic pressure to Saudi rather than in Iran. According to a former assistant director in the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate, Saudi is willing to give China enough incentives to get China to stop supplying the Iranians with their missiles. Zambelis (2010) added that Saudi has been keen in ensuring that China would remain active in the Middle East given its now growing reach through military partnerships. Saudi also understand that the growing shift within the political, economic and social sphere is no longer concentrated on the West but towards Asia, which is why it is trying its best to improve its strategic capability. China can help their development through their constant high-level exchanges and summits, as well as joint programs for improvement.
Much like their political intentions in fostering partnership, Saudi Arabia also wishes to have an ally, a friend and partner that would be supportive of Islamic ideals. Gladney (1994) stated that China has one of the largest Muslim populations outside the Middle East and Muslim presence in the region is felt in China’s border countries in the northwest. Although there has been unrest in these northwest Chinese regions where these Muslims reside, China sees these