Foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain and the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council will all visit China this week for talks on boosting trade and security cooperation.
Why it matters: The wave of visits from Gulf officials is part of China’s drive for greater involvement in the Middle East. For Beijing, in particular, the Gulf is crucial for its energy supply and increasingly for its geopolitical influence.
With Washington focus in the Indo-Pacific, and with US-Saudi Arabia strained, there is a perception among Gulf leaders that the US is slowly but surely withdrawing from the region. Some US officials are concerned about the extent to which China appears to be intervening.
- A $23 billion deal for the US to sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE has stalled in part over US concerns that China could gain access to sensitive US military technology.
- Last December, CNN reported that US intelligence agencies had determined that Saudi Arabia is actively producing ballistic missiles with the help of China.
- And last November, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Biden administration was concerned that China was secretly building a military facility in a port in the UAE.
Send the news: On Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in eastern China’s Wuxi city.
- They discussed the bilateral relationship and regional issues such as Iran, Yemen and Afghanistan, according to the official readings.
- Both parties described the relationship as strategic and indicated that they were prepared to strengthen it. They also announced that a high-level joint committee would be established to improve cooperation.
What they say: Wang said both countries are against “unilateralism and bullying”, while Prince Faisal said his country is against “interference in China’s internal affairs” and supports China’s stance on Taiwan, the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and human rights, according to the Chinese readout.
The other side: A senior US State Department official tried to downplay the importance of the Gulf officials’ visits, stressing that every country has the sovereign right to make decisions based on its own interests and that the US remains committed to its partnerships. in the Gulf.
- “We recognize that our allies and partners in the region have complex relationships with China that will not always align with ours,” the official told Axios.
- “Our focus has been on closing the gaps in areas such as technology and infrastructure, which we have seen China exploit for coercion. We will rely on innovation and competition in these areas.”
What’s next: Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is expected to travel to China in the coming days. Iran’s foreign ministry said the parties would discuss the 25-year cooperation agreement they signed last year.