Saudi Arabia is rolling out the red carpet for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has arrived in the country for a four-day visit. Xi's plane was escorted by Saudi fighter jets on the way into Riyadh, while he was greeted at the airport by the capital's governor and the Saudi foreign minister. It's a stark contrast to when President Biden visited the country in July after previously pledging to make a "pariah" out of the Kingdom over the killing of U.S.-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi (and considered a return to the JCPOA with archrival Iran).
Bigger picture: After much debate within the administration, Biden eventually decided to visit the Saudis amid an energy crisis at home and a need to reassert American leadership in the region. Beijing is viewing the trip through much of the same lens as it expands its sphere of influence. For Saudi Arabia, China has heavily outpaced the U.S. as its largest trading partner since 2016, and while the Kingdom has historically relied on American military aid under "oil for security" policies, the times may be changing. The U.S. shale industry has eliminated the need for a lot of Middle East oil, while China has subsequently become the Saudi's top crude customer.
"We are mindful of the influence that China is trying to grow around the world," noted John Kirby, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council. "The Middle East is certainly one of those regions where they want to deepen their level of influence."
Economically speaking: Some $30B worth of agreements are expected to be signed, including energy and infrastructure deals, and sectors that could benefit from U.S.-blacklisted firms like telecoms equipment giant Huawei Technologies. The two sides are also expected to coordinate China's Belt and Road Initiative with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 development plan, while talks on a free trade agreement between China and the Gulf Cooperation Council are entering their final stage.
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