The first paper in this series examined some of the reasons for China’s interest in developing its relationships with countries in the Middle East. The primary reason is energy products. Wishing to remain the manufacturing centre of the world, China realises that it must keep importing energy products to fuel its factories. That realization has seen it import energy products from various parts of the world, including the Middle East.

As important as they may be, however, energy products are not the sole motivator of China’s interest in the region. Beijing realises the need to have a stable Middle East in order to: securitise its manufactured exports that are shipped to and through the region; mitigate any fall-out its strenuous and unrelenting repression of its Muslim Uighur and Hui minorities, which has led to seething undercurrents of resentment in the Muslim world, could exact on its economic growth and domestic security; and to ensure that its Belt and Road Initiative, some stages of which pass through the Middle East, is not jeopardised. As a major power, furthermore, China appears to wish to play a greater role in international geostrategy by acting as a peace-maker in the region.

Given these motivations, China has reached out to several countries in the Middle East. Not surprisingly, one of the first to which it turned was Saudi Arabia.

Key points:

  • Despite the Chinese leadership being distinctly non-religious and Saudi Arabia devoutly Muslim, the two countries have a lot in common.
  • They are both authoritarian and their top leaders have purged the ranks of their potential political competitors.
  • That authoritarianism has assisted both countries to forge a strong relationship built on the sale of Saudi oil to China but has expanded to other trade and commercial sectors.
  • They have also established a strategic relationship in which China offers Saudi Arabia political support.
  • As US interest in the Middle East decreases, it is likely that the Sino-Saudi relationship will grow stronger.
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