China and Saudi Arabia expressed aligned policies on a range of areas from security to oil in a joint statement Friday, adding they will support each other while not interfering in each other’s internal affairs.
The agreement comes during the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the kingdom, and amid frayed ties between the United States and both countries over oil production, human rights abuses and other issues.
The nearly 4,000-word joint statement was published by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), and expressed agreement on a swathe of wide-ranging global issues, including energy, security, Iran’s nuclear program, the crisis in Yemen and Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Riyadh and Beijing were keen to stress “the importance of stability in the world oil markets,” noting that Saudi Arabia is a reliable exporter of crude oil to its Chinese partner. They also expressed determination to “develop cooperation and coordination in defense fields,” as well as continue cooperating on “combating terrorism and its financing.”
The statement affirmed that the countries will “continue to firmly support each other’s core interests, support each other in maintaining their sovereignty and territorial integrity, and exert joint efforts to defend the principle of non- interference in the internal affairs of states, rules of international law and basic principles of international relations.”
This would include not criticizing each other’s internal policies, presumably including on issues of human rights and domestic rule.
China also affirmed its “opposition to any actions that would interfere in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” without adding more details.
Both countries have been heavily criticized for their human rights records and Washington has previously clamped down on what it saw as a number of human rights violations and abuses committed by both China and Saudi Arabia.
In June, the US banned all goods produced in China’s western Xinjiang region, where the State Department estimates that since 2017, up to two million Uyghurs and members of other ethnic groups have been imprisoned in a shadowy network of internment camps where they are reportedly “subjected to torture, cruel and inhumane treatment such as physical and sexual abuse, forced labor, and death.” Chinese officials have consistently denied all allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
And in 2021, a US intelligence community report maintained that Saudi crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) was directly involved in an operation that led to the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. MBS denied the allegations.
Xi landed in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Wednesday for a multiple-day visit to the oil-rich kingdom and received a lavish welcome from MBS and other Saudi dignitaries on Thursday. Saudi military jets accompanied the Chinese president’s aircraft, a purple carpet was rolled out upon his arrival and canons were fired. On Friday, Xi invited Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud to visit China, according to Saudi state TV.
Xi’s visit includes his attendance at a “Saudi-Chinese summit,” a China-Arab and a China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit, SPA reported.
On Thursday, China and Saudi Arabia signed a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement that includes a number of deals and memoranda of understanding, including on hydrogen energy, on coordination between the kingdom’s Vision 2030 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and with regards to direct investment, SPA reported, without providing details.
Xi’s warm welcome stood in stark contrast to the frigid atmosphere surrounding US President Joe Biden’s visit to the kingdom earlier in the year.
Biden, who previously vowed to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah” after the murder of Khashoggi, in October said the US needs to “rethink” its relationship with the kingdom after the Saudi-led oil cartel OPEC+ slashed oil production.
Washington has also been at odds with China over Taiwan, a democratically governed island of 24 million people that Beijing claims as its territory despite never having controlled it, and China’s expanded influence in the Middle East.
In response to Xi’s visit to Riyadh, Washington said it was “not surprised” and that it was “mindful of the influence that China is trying to grow around the world.”
Saudi Arabia has been on a quest in recent years to diversify its alliances, especially amid growing criticism of the kingdom’s policies by the US, as well as what Gulf monarchies have perceived as waning US security presence in the Middle East.
“At a time when Saudi Arabia is seeking to advance its economic diversification plans, China is a strong partner to have and much less critical compared to other western states,” wrote Amena Bakr, chief OPEC correspondent at Energy Intelligence, on Twitter.
Saudi author and analyst Ali Shihabi wrote that, from the Saudi perspective, there has been frustration as “US politicians keep defining the Kingdom” by the Khashoggi murder, the Yemen war and human rights.
“Even the US with all its capabilities spent two decades and trillions, and lost countless lives, trying to reform Iraq and Afghanistan, only to fail miserably,” he wrote.
Saudi Arabia “is pursuing a multipolar strategy of strong strategic ties,” added Shihabi.
It coordinates with China, India, Russia on oil, and with the United Kingdom and France as alternatives to the US on arms sales, he said, “while maintaining a hopefully solid but inevitably bumpy relationship with its old friend the US.”