Saudi Arabia views China as a key partner in a multipolar world — with the two countries expected to grow closer as their shared interests grow, Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih told CNBC.

“This is kind of a multipolar global order that has emerged — it’s not emerging. China is a major player in it,” Al-Falih told CNBC’s Dan Murphy during an Arab-China business conference in Riyadh. 10th grade.

A multipolar world in this context means a global system that is not dominated by the West or defined as a struggle between two major powers, as was the case during the Cold War.

“We like to believe, and I think it’s proven, that the kingdom is a significant part of this multipolar world that has emerged. And we will play our part not only in developing our own economy, but also in developing ours and spreading what we have, in terms of development opportunities, also to Africa, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent,” he said. “And we believe that economic cooperation between China and Saudi Arabia and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and the entire Arab region will be a significant part of that .”

In the post-Cold War era, the United States existed as the world’s preeminent power, the strongest power on the planet in terms of economic, military, and geopolitical power. The rise of China and the BRICS (other emerging markets that include Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa), as well as anger in many parts of the world over US-led wars and sanctions campaigns, have led to growing calls for world order. in which power was more distributed among different countries.

China and Saudi Arabia are major players in multipolar global order, says Saudi minister

Balancing its friendships with China and the US, Saudi Arabia sees itself as part of it. The kingdom has also become a much more active global player, using its oil-fueled financial power to boost its international trade and investment and gain influence around the world.

“I think we see significant opportunities for Chinese companies and Saudi companies to also invest internationally in third countries… ways that will bring development to other developing countries. I think this summit signifies a growing trend towards South-South cooperation and partnership .” ” he said referring to the Global South, “because the South now has many centers of excellence in technology and capital, we are no longer dependent on the developed North, [as] in the previous world order.”

The more than 80-year-old relationship between Riyadh and Washington is often summarized in broad terms as an oil-for-security relationship. The US has military installments in Saudi Arabia, selling it advanced weapons and providing training and joint operations with the Saudi military.

However, relations between the US and Saudi Arabia have come under strain in recent years as the Biden administration has tried to draw the kingdom’s attention to human rights abuses and influence oil production, but to no avail.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) is welcomed by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (R) at the Yamamah Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 8, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

China, meanwhile, has been making inroads for years – especially economically – as Saudi Arabia’s main trading partner and largest customer of its oil. However, Riyadh’s relationship with Beijing is more functional and economic than strategic, meaning it is unlikely to replace the US role in the kingdom anytime soon.

However, Saudi Arabia has been buying more Chinese weapons in recent years, especially those that Washington has been less than willing to sell its Gulf ally, such as lethal drones. Technology transfers and Chinese infrastructure projects are also growing in the kingdom as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seeks to diversify his country’s alliances and make it more independent.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Saudi Arabia in Decemberand the two countries signed a strategic partnership agreement, which the then Chinese Foreign Ministry described as “an epochal milestone in the history of Sino-Arab relations”.

Balancing Washington and Beijing

“I see this as a significant shift from a trade to a major investment relationship,” Al-Falih said of his country’s ties with Beijing.

“We are already investing significantly in China, mostly in oil refining and petrochemicals. But there has been further investment in technology from the PIF (Saudi Arabian Sovereign Investment Fund) and other private sector companies. But going forward we would see more global champions from Saudi Arabia going to China to tap into a growing market of 1.4 billion people with high consumption.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan (R) accompanies US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as he arrives for a meeting with GCC ministers at the GCC Secretariat in Riyadh on June 7, 2023.

Fayez Nureldine | AFP | Getty Images

The Arab-Chinese conference was held just days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Riyadh. Al-Falih shrugged off the idea that his growing ties to China were a threat to the US

“Saudi Arabia will be a partner of all the major economies around the world. And China is certainly prominent in that area,” he said.

“We have a fantastic relationship with the US, it’s been part of our global relationship since the inception of modern Saudi Arabia, that’s well known and I believe it’s very strong, as demonstrated during President Biden’s visit last year. And I think the fact that Minister Blinken was here last week just reinforces that strong relationship.”

Noting that the US remains the kingdom’s biggest foreign investor, he said: “I don’t see our relationship with the US and China as mutually exclusive. I think they’re actually complementary.”

“We do not see any disruption and these relations,” the minister added. “But certainly what drives our strategy is our own interests, and those with China are strong and growing.”

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