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Arab-China Business Conference: the Shift Toward China Intensifies

June 13, 2023, 2022 (EIRNS)—The 10th Arab-China Business Conference, held June 11-12 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, drew more than 2,000 participants, and signified the shift of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries towards business and economic growth with China—as U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken impotently flails his arms. Hosted in Saudi Arabia for the first time and organized by the Ministry of Investment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the conference was held in partnership with the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States, the Chinese Council for the Promotion of International Trade, and the Union of Arab Chambers.

It followed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s epoch-making meetings March 6-10 in Beijing with Saudi and Iranian representatives, resulting in the normalization of Saudi and Iranian relations, bridging the Sunni-Shi’a divide. Then on March 28, Saudi Arabia’s cabinet approved a memorandum on granting the Kingdom the status of a dialogue partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on the Sept. 22, 2022.

On May 28, the New Development Bank, founded in 2014 at the BRICS summit in Fortaleza, Brazil, announced that it was in talks with Saudi Arabia to become the bank’s ninth member, stating: “In the Middle East, we attach great importance to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and are currently engaged in a qualified dialogue with them.”

Notably, in 2022, trade between Arab countries and China surged to a substantial $430 billion, a 31% jump over the level in 2021. Of that, Saudi-China trade represented $106 billion. Earlier this year, China agreed to build a steel plant in Saudi Arabia, which neither the United States and Britain has ever deigned to do. In the last two days, 30 trade deals worth $10 billion have signed at the Riyadh conference, but that is just the beginning. The highlights include a $5.6 billion agreement between the Saudi Investment Ministry and Human Horizons, a Chinese developer of autonomous-car driving technologies and manufacturer of electric cars, to establish a joint venture for automotive research, development, manufacturing, and sales; and a $250 million deal between Saudi railway company SABATCO and CRRC, China’s state-owned manufacturer of rail transit equipment, to manufacture rail cars and wheels in Saudi Arabia. CRRC is world’s largest supplier of rail transit equipment with the most complete product lines and leading technologies, including for high-speed and maglev.

The two U.S. visits to the Riyadh, on May 7 by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (May 7) and on June 9 by Secretary of State Antony Blinken (June 9), during which they advised Saudi Arabia to decrease its connection with China, seem to have fallen on deaf ears. While Saudi Arabia will firmly maintain ties with the United States, it appears that the tide is shifting. No longer will Saudi Arabia be the West’s watchdog in the Arab world. On June 11, when asked about U.S. criticism of Saudi Arabia’s ties with China, Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman replied, “I totally ignore it.”

The Arab-China Business conference was capped by Dilma Rousseff, new president of the New Development Bank, who delivered the closing keynote speech on June 13, saying: “China and Saudi Arabia have the potential to re-write the rules of the global energy market leading the way in diversifying currencies and embracing new models of economic collaboration. This partnership can also inspire the Global South to expand the intra and extra regional trade, offering greater possibilities for countries that are marginalized by the traditional international financial system.”

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