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Aligning Saudi’s Vision 2030 with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative is raising alarm bells in US

China and Gulf countries’ medley shouldn’t come as a surprise, as many nations are looking to maximise interests by ‘omni-aligning’ between the US and China.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping has proposed trade in Yuan at the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting. Beijing and Riyadh sign a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement. Who is ‘Teacher Li’? The face behind the recent protests in China. International Monetary Fund Chief Kristalina Georgieva tells China to speed up the restructuring of Sri Lankan debt. Chinascope looks at Xi’s sojourn into the Middle East and the meaning of his trip to the international order.

China over the week

Stepping out of the Air China plane – which was escorted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s four fighter jets – President Xi Jinping walked on a purple carpet. The purple carpet is now a symbol of Saudi Arabia’s new identity under Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan

“By promoting the docking of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a high-level cooperation pattern in the fields of energy, economy, trade, and high technology has been formed between the two countries,” said an op-ed published by China Daily.

Prior to Xi’s visit, US President Joe Biden was accorded the same honour with a purple carpet. It is a sign that Saudi Arabia honours relations with Beijing as much as it does with its traditional ally, the US.

Xi hailed a new era of China-Saudi relations and China’s relations with Gulf countries. 

Prince Salman and President Xi signed a series of agreements ranging from direct investments, judicial assistance, strategic partnership, education, and hydrogen energy. The two signed 34 agreements, including the diplomatically significant comprehensive strategic agreement. 

Prince Salman is pushing to align his Vision 2030 with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, raising alarm bells in Washington. Riyadh appears to be playing high stakes game by welcoming Xi to signal Washington about checking tempering the criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and other policy issues.

“We do not believe in polarisation or in choosing between sides,” said Prince Salman during a press conference.

Experts have assumed that the US has successfully hobbled Chinese technology companies from accessing international markets, but that’s not entirely true. Riyadh signed an agreement with Huawei on cloud computing and developing high-speed internet complexes in Saudi Arabia.

Also read: Situation in China volatile—A fire incident, a strict Covid policy spreading anger on streets

Earlier in November, China Mobile International signed an MOU with Riyadh to advance the digital ecosystem in Saudi Arabia. It was signed between China Mobile International, Saudi Broadcasting Authority (SBA), Saudi Cloud Computing Company (SCCC), and Whale Cloud.

“Under the MoU, the parties will collaborate to provide smart digital media solutions, including digital media, data centre and cloud services,” reported Xinhua citing SBA.

Xi was in Riyadh with a broader strategic vision in mind. He attended the first China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting, which was attended by Arab leaders and foreign ministers. 

“First, setting up a new paradigm of all-dimensional energy cooperation. China will continue to import large quantities of crude oil long-term from GCC countries and purchase more LNG. We will strengthen our cooperation in the upstream sector, engineering services, storage, transportation and refinery of oil and gas. The Shanghai Petroleum and Natural Gas Exchange platform will be fully utilised for RMB settlement in oil and gas trade,” said Xi Jinping in his address to the GCC. 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Tunisian President Kais Saied, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Sudan’s de facto leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan were present at the summit. Foreign ministers of Kuwait and Bahrain also attended the summit

China and Gulf countries’ medley shouldn’t come as a surprise, as many nation-states are looking to maximise interests by ‘omni-aligning’ between the US and China in the age of intense geostrategic competition.

“Omni-alignment also serves as a hedge against the unpredictability of great-power behaviour. This hedging is most clearly seen in the Middle East, where the future of both the US and Chinese engagement in the region remains unclear, and where even the closest US partners find their relationships with Washington increasingly unsettled by the domestic politics,” writes Michael Singh in Foreign Affairs

The omni-alignment will likely remain the feature of new power relations as the US and China seek to expand their sphere of influence.

While Beijing was busy in the Middle East, Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s senior leader, Koichi Hagiuda, was in Taipei to deepen trade and security relations with Taiwan. “We do not want to work with those trading partners that we cannot put our trust in,” said Hagiuda during his visit to Taipei.

Relations between Tokyo and Taipei have improved since Taiwan lifted the decade-long ban on food contaminated by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Beijing knows that Taiwan’s food imports to the mainland can be used as a tool of coercion and a bargaining chip.

The Chinese mainland has suspended the import of beer, liquor, and some beverages from Taiwan. 

“According to the website of China’s General Administration of Customs, 11 out of 28 beer and distillery items registered by Taiwanese exporters face shipment suspension starting Friday, with the affected suppliers, including Taihu Brewing, Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor Inc., King Car Food Industrial Co., Legend Brewery Co., Win Shan International Co., and state-owned Taiwan Tobacco & Liquor Corp. (TTL),” reported Focus Taiwan.

When the protest movement in China hit the headlines, a Twitter account caught the attention of many China watchers. A Twitter handle named ‘Mr Li isn’t your teacher’ became one of the primary sources of protest videos leaking out of China. 

We have now learned the identity of ‘Teacher Li’ as someone who played a pivotal role in the protest movement while tweeting videos from outside China. Though Twitter is banned in China, the social media app can be accessed through a special VPN service. 

Teacher Li, a 30-year-old Chinese painter, based in Italy, was receiving videos of the protest from students, citizens and others who participated in the protest inside the Chinese mainland.

“As soon as I started to update Twitter, they called my parents to tell me to stop posting. And then they went to our house at midnight to harass my parents,” ‘Teacher Li’ told CNN in an interview.  “They wanted to know if there were any foreign forces behind me, whether I received any money, or paid people money for their submissions,” ‘Teacher Li’ added in the interview.

A rare sign of the return to pre-pandemic normal in China was the visit of IMF Chief Kristalina Georgieva, President of the World Bank David Malpass, Director General of World Trade Organisation Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of International Labor Organization Gilbert F. Houngbo, Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Mathias Cormann, and Chairman of Financial Stability Board Klaas Knot in Huangshan City, Anhui Province for the seventh “1+6” Roundtable.

The roundtable is an annual dialogue between the Chinese premier and the heads of six major international organisations. This year’s roundtable was the first in-person gathering since 2019, when Premier Li Keqiang chaired the meeting. Premier Li will soon step down. 

While in China, IMF Chief Georgieva said Beijing should speed up the restructuring of Sri Lanka’s debt. Beijing has maintained that Sri Lanka’s debt makes up only 10 per cent of the total debt owed while denying the claims of the ‘debt trap’. But other independent assessments suggest that Sri Lanka owes close to 19.6 per cent of its public debt to Beijing, according to a new report by China Africa Research Initiative.

“China will have to play a major role in Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring process, with US$ 7.4 billion or 19.6 per cent of outstanding public debt owed to China at the end of 2021 (out of a total of US$ 37.6 billion in total public external debt excluding central bank debt), and it will be the first time a major Asian Belt and Road Initiative borrower is going through the process,” wrote Umesh Moramudali and Thilina Panduwawala in their report for China Africa Research Initiative.

Also read: Taiwan learnt to deal with China’s cyberattacks. India can take tips

China in world news

As the Indian parliament is in session, we get to hear the government’s official thoughts about relations with China. 

Union Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said the negotiations are underway as the military commanders of both countries are still talking.

“Diplomatically, we have been clear with the Chinese that we will not tolerate any attempt to unilaterally change the LAC… So long as they continue to seek to do that, if they have built up forces, in our minds, it constitutes a serious issue, then our relation is not normal and the abnormality of that has been witnessed in the past two years. The military commanders of the two countries are talking and it should be left to them. The House should be understanding of the national sensitivity of such a delicate matter,” said Minister S. Jaishankar in response to queries by members of the parliament. 

The Chinese side hasn’t confirmed the date for the 17th round of talks, which were supposed to take place last week, according to officials. 

“The Chinese side has not yet confirmed the final dates for the proposed talks. It seems they want to keep us waiting and guessing,” an official source told The Telegraph

There are many unanswered questions about the India-China trade relationship. The India-China trade was discussed in the Parliament as well. 

“The trade deficit with China in 2004-05 was $1.48 billion, which increased to $36.21 billion in 2013-14, an increase of 2,346 per cent. Against this massive increase, the trade deficit with China has since increased by only 100 per cent to $73.31 billion in 2021-22,” said Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal.

Must read this week

The New China Shock: How Beijing’s Party-State Capitalism Is Changing the Global Economy — Margaret M. Pearson, Meg Rithmire, and Kellee S. Tsai

Xi’s Saudi Visit Shows Riyadh’s Monogamous Marriage to Washington Is Over — Aaron David Miller 

For China’s Gen-Z, Entrepreneurship Represents a Ticket to Freedom — Fan Yiying and Chang Minxiao

The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.

(Edited by Tarannum Khan)

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