At a time when the world order is being reorganized, the Saudi crown prince also wants more power on the international stage for his Stone Age monarchy. Muhammad bin Salman will welcome China’s ruler Xi Jinping as a state guest this week and host a Sino-Arab summit in Riyadh on December 9, which is expected to be attended by at least 14 heads of state.
The visit from China is intended to signal to Washington that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is looking for new alliances. The intimate rendezvous of the potentates and dictators in the immediate vicinity of the holy places of Islam shows once again how solid the alliance of totalitarian states is.
The host is ‘unwelcome’ to the US
Bin Salman had become persona non grata over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, United States. The journalist, who was already living in the United States at the time, criticized the royal family, including in his columns for the Washington Post.
During the election campaign, presidential candidate Biden announced that he would take a harder line against Saudi Arabia in the event of victory. From now on, human rights will be at the center of the relationship between the two countries. A US security agency report released by the White House earlier this year identified MBS, as the Crown Prince is also known, as responsible for the murder.
However, the name Muhammad bin Salman does not appear on the list of people sanctioned for the murder of Khashoggi. The Biden administration had also originally announced that it no longer wanted to support the war that the royal family is waging in Yemen with arms sales. This promise has also been forgotten, although the US emphasizes that the sales to the oil monarchy are only defensive weapons.
Putin ensures rapprochement
The truth is that the US needs Saudi Arabia in part because of the energy war that Kremlin dictator Putin has launched against the free world. Any partner who can help the West with oil and gas supplies through the cold winter is fine.
However, Saudi Arabia’s largest crude oil buyer is the People’s Republic of China. And just courting another buyer should make it clear to the United States that the country has other options for finding partners.
MBS appears self-confident here. You can, the ruler says in an interview with the US magazine TheAtlantic quoted, reducing investments in the USA or, as Beijing wishes, carrying out parts of the oil trade in the Chinese currency in the future. The People’s Republic would like to replace the dollar as the global reserve currency in order to be able to exert political pressure and at the same time no longer be able to be hit by US sanctions.
Common enemy Iran
Despite Beijing’s courtship, however, the fact remains that Riyadh and Washington share a common enemy: the mullahs’ regime in Tehran. At this point, at the latest, things get dissonant in the concert of potentates and dictators: the People’s Republic supports Russia, and Russia and Iran support each other.
Ruler Putin visited Tehran in the summer. China’s Xi Jinping also met the Iranian president during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in September.
At the moment it is probably only the US security guarantees that are preventing Riyadh from breaking completely with its partner USA. The People’s Republic is already offering itself to dictators around the world as an alternative “security partner”. From the Solomon Islands to Zimbabwe, Beijing is positioning itself and even exporting its surveillance technologies, which it has first tested on its own people.
distance to China
The rise of China, which critics in the People’s Republic now only call “West Korea” due to the extreme surveillance in an allusion to Kim Jong-un’s dark empire of North Korea, does not lead to a somehow balanced, neutral new arithmetic on the globe, to a kind of fair distribution of power .
The exact opposite is the case. Under the leadership of China, totalitarian states are working together to further oppress their populations and to keep the democratic world with its promises of freedom and human rights at bay with all sorts of threats.
It is therefore absolutely right to prevent China from realizing its ambitions wherever possible. Against this background, the US sanctions against the semiconductor industry in the People’s Republic are coherent. At the same time, the US should decouple itself from rogue states like Saudi Arabia as quickly as possible. In the new world order there is no longer any room for strategic ambiguity.
Alexander Görlach is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and a Research Associate at the Internet Institute at the University of Oxford. After stays in Taiwan and Hong Kong, this region of the world, especially the rise of China and what it means for the free world, became his core subject. He has held various positions at Harvard University and Cambridge University.