A Saudi-China Business Conference Underscores Strengthening Ties

The message at the Arab-China Business Forum hosted by Saudi Arabia this week was not particularly sensitive. Hundreds of Chinese officials and officials gathered under a giant chandelier to smile, take selfies and snack on organic dates.

“If you want a reliable partner in the world, one of the best in the world, it’s the People’s Republic of China,” Mohamed Abnayan, chairman of a Saudi renewable energy company, proclaimed from the stage to thunderous applause. “China is a reliable partner,” he said on Sunday, the first day of the two-day meeting.

The event, which was attended by more than 3,000 people, came just days after US Secretary of State Anthony J. Brinken’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Blinken reaffirmed US-Saudi ties after a period of strained relations, including last year’s bombings. oil production. But at the end of Mr Blinken’s visit on Thursday, the Saudi foreign minister said that while the kingdom values ​​its close ties with the United States, it has no plans to distance itself from its biggest trading partner, China.

Saudi officials often complain that they feel they cannot rely on the United States, which has historically guaranteed their security, and that they are seeking a more independent foreign policy.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, energy minister and brother of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said: “We are reaching out to everyone and investing together. Anyone who wants to is welcome,” he said on the forum. on sunday.

Asked how he handled criticism from some of Saudi Arabia’s growing ties with China, Prince Abdulaziz said he “totally ignores it”.

“There is no so-called grand design between us and China,” he said. “But I have to be very clear and frank. We are working with them on so many things.”

This was the 10th Arab-China business conference, but the first to be hosted by Saudi Arabia, making it the largest event to date. Agreements announced during the forum include a deal for Chinese companies to invest in Saudi copper mining and renewable energy, and a joint venture between the Saudi Ministry of Investment and a Chinese electric vehicle company to research, manufacture and sell electric vehicles. It included a $5.6 billion pact to establish. sale.

Among the invited Chinese companies, some were blacklisted by the US government for their activities contributing to the surveillance of ethnic minorities in China, and their ability to do business with US companies was restricted. .

These included SenseTime, an artificial intelligence company specializing in facial recognition, and BGI Group, a genomics company. Last year, the Pentagon classified a unit of the BGI group as a “Chinese military enterprise operating in the United States,” even though BGI says its technology was developed for civilian purposes.

Both companies have denied the allegations behind their blacklisting and spoke warmly on the forum about their business ties with the Saudi government. For BGI Group, the relationship includes: laboratory In the kingdom during the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite official claims to the contrary, many Saudis are compelled to frame their growing ties with China in contrast to the declining US influence in the country.

During the 2019 election campaign, President Biden called Saudi Arabia “a” over human rights violations, including the 2018 killing of Saudi exile Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Washington Post columnist and Prince Mohammed, by Saudi agents. promised to make it a ‘outcast’ nation. This year, Mr. Biden visited the crown prince and did a fist pump with him.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping received an even more rousing reception when he visited Saudi Arabia in December. Hu Chunhua, vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and one of the keynote speakers at this week’s business forum, said his visit ushered in a “new era of cooperation” between Arab countries and China. rice field.

Saudi Arabia is quick to point out that China cannot replace the United States as guarantor of security, despite the growing economic ties between Saudi Arabia and China. Cultural ties between the two countries are still in their infancy. Few Saudis speak Chinese as well as English.

But authorities are planning to teach Chinese in schools, hoping to change that. At Riyadh Airport’s newest terminal, directional signs are in Chinese as well as Arabic and English.

In China, Prince Mohammed sees allies willing to share technology, which is crucial to his efforts to diversify Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy and boost manufacturing in the country. . Several speakers at the conference compared the economic changes Saudi Arabia is undergoing under Crown Prince Mohammed to the changes China experienced decades ago.

“Every 20 or 30 years in human history something big happens. The last big economic event was probably the opening of China,” said Hong Kong property developer Ronnie Chan. rice field. “Today in the Kingdom I am witnessing something that reminds me of what happened in China 30 or 40 years ago.”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button