Riyadh and Beijing are cozying closer to each other this holiday season, as the Gulf Cooperation Council announced this week it has been in talks with China with the purpose of “bolstering friendship and cooperation ties” with the nation.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is on a tour of the Middle East which includes a meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council, a group consisting of the countries on the Arab peninsula, and several neighboring countries. According to the AFP, Gulf Cooperation Council chief Abdullatif al-Zayani expressed interest in “bolstering friendship and cooperation ties” with China, while Wang agreed that they were specifically looking to expand economic opportunities together.
The AFP report notes that the Gulf countries appear to be edging closer to China because of their wariness about American foreign policy in the region, particularly the reluctance to back Syrian rebel coalitions over President Bashar al-Assad and the more moderate approach the Obama administration has taken to Iran and their nuclear weapons program.
The AFP noted that Saudi media was optimistic that a “strategic partnership” would form between the two countries. Meanwhile, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that their nation was “keen” on increasing relations with the regional powers. Claiming that China has become Saudi Arabia’s “largest commercial partner… with a total of 73 U.S. billion dollars worth of trade in 2012,” Xinhua noted that increased ties between the country were necessary for the progress of both.
What this means for the United States’ relationships with the oil-rich countries is still up in the air, as there are no concrete details for any permanent economic bonds between Saudi Arabia and China, and optimists would be quick to hope that such discussion is a sign that China is opening up further economically. The expansion of the Chinese’s economic freedoms has become something of a delicate point for the government of President Xi Jinping, who recently lifted the country’s oppressive one-child policy and is expected to enact many more business-friendly reforms. Regardless of what it means in relation to China, the United States is also evolving within the orbits of the oil-rich world.
The International Energy Agency estimated this week that the United States could potentially be the world’s largest source of crude oil, above Russia and Saudi Arabia, by 2015. But America’s interests in the region are not just energy-based. There is the perennial need to defend the greatest American ally in the region, Israel, from potential attack from rogue states. There is the seemingly interminable instability in Iraq, sharing a border with the looming threat of Iraq. There are pockets of wannabe terrorists in Yemen, of anti-American hate in Lebanon and Jordan. And now, the spectre of China to haunt the region as the Saudis appear to flirt with another geopolitical heavyweight and tilt the scales to attract American attention once more.