Saudi Arabia is continuing its shift from the West after its cabinet last week approved the move to become a dialogue partner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which was set up to rival the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO.
The Financial Times reported that the SCO has eight full members that include China, Russia, India, and Pakistan. Iran joined the SCO as a permanent member last year. The decision came after Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Saudi King Salman in December to discuss future partnerships.
At about the time Xi was meeting with Salman, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. was souring. President Joe Biden announced that Saudi Arabia will face “consequences” over its decision to cut oil production amid sanctions against Russian crude, but the crisis calmed due to a warmer-than-expected winter and an economic slowdown in the West.
Oil prices never jumped as anticipated as a result of a warmer winter and slowing economic growth. But in a blink of a Saudi eye that has now changed. On Sunday, The Kingdom said they were taking a “precautionary measure” to stop the drop of oil prices. On Monday Brent Crude spiked over 6 percent.
Three weeks ago, China pulled off a major diplomatic score when it announced a truce deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia, regional rivals. The deal restored full diplomatic relations between the countries that ended seven years ago.
Emily Hawthorne, a senior Middle East analyst at the US-based Risk Assistance Network and Exchange, told Al-Monitor it seems that Riyadh is looking to diversify its global partnerships and not rely so much on the U.S., with Saudi Arabia’s move to become a “dialogue partner,” and then become a full member later on.
Hawthorne said the SCO’s main goal is “security and its members will be conducting joint military drills with the goal of being able to fight on the same side in the far future.”
Saudi Arabia’s shift to China continues to show Washington’s waning influence in the Middle East and part of a broader effort in the region to expand diplomatic partnerships, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Indeed, Russia, another major actor in the Middle East, is also trying to mend ties between Syria and Turkey. Last month, Syria’s President Bashar Assad met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wednesday to reportedly discuss military and political cooperation. Both men have criticized the U.S. presence in the country.
Reports indicate that Saudi Arabia is close to a peace deal with Syria that was brokered by Moscow.
All this comes after China and Russia announced an “unlimited partnership.”
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The New York Times noted that top EU officials have made a “beeline” to Beijing as they consider their “strategy toward China just as the United States intensifies pressure to pick sides in the growing acrimony between the two superpowers.”
Indeed, China is a major trading partner with Germany and there seems to be little interest from countries in completely isolating China, the paper noted.
Al-Monitor, citing Bloomberg, reported that the U.S. was Saudi Arabia’s top trading partner in 2012 and in 2021, China, India, and Japan have surpassed the U.S. in trade.
The AFP reported that Xi held a call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, King Salman’s son and the Persian Gulf nation’s de facto ruler, and praised what he sees as easing tensions in the Middle East.
Last week, Aramco, the Saudi-owned oil giant, announced that it agreed to buy 10 percent of Rongsheng Petrochemical Company for $3.6 billion, according to Arab American News.
Part of the deal means the Saudi Kingdom will provide 480,000 barrels of crude oil each day to the largest integrated chemicals and refining facility in Zhejiang province. The deals, when combined, will mean an increase of up to 690,000 barrels per day between Aramco and China.
The Biden administration warned against China’s “attempts to exert influence around the world.”
Indeed, the Saudi-Chinese relationship is built on energy and trade, whereas Riyadh’s ties with the U.S. is built largely on weapons deals and security assurances.
The Saudi Press Agency reported that King Salman authorized the launching of vocational and technical training between the Saudi Kingdom and China.