Saudi Arabia stands to reap many benefits following President Xi Jinping’s latest state visit to the kingdom, Middle East observers said, with experts from a think tank on global energy economics in Riyadh noting that the Chinese leader’s previous visit in 2016 had put bilateral cooperation on the fast track.
“The cooperation has been there for a while … but since then, we’ve actually seen more and more,” said Fahad Alajlan, president of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, or KAPSARC, an advisory think tank on global energy economics and sustainability.
Noting the synergy between the Saudi Vision 2030, a national strategy to promote Saudi economic transformation, and China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Fahad said energy is the bedrock of bilateral cooperation and that a number of investment tie-ups have been formed or been discussed, from building refineries in China to developing renewable energy in Saudi Arabia, as well as jointly addressing climate change.
During a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan 16, 2020, Xi joined Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in attending the inauguration ceremony of the 70,000-square-meter KAPSARC research complex. They also remotely witnessed the launch of the Yanbu Aramco Sinopec Refining Company, which was China’s largest investment project in the Middle East.
“We were very proud that not only our king, His Majesty King Salman, inaugurated the building, but it was also in the presence of the Chinese president,” said Fahad.
Joining KAPSARC only a few days after Xi’s visit to the center, research fellow Chen Dongmei said she remembers how her colleagues were excited about the two leaders’ presence.
Chen is now one of the only two Chinese researchers at KAPSARC.
Noting that the Saudi government announced Vision 2030 just a few months after Xi’s 2016 visit, Chen said both countries were beginning a new journey as cooperation further deepened.
Fahad also noted that the whole idea of establishing KAPSARC can be dated back to 2007 when there was an energy crisis, adding that almost all energy think tanks had been located in the West.
But now, the Saudi center, with a focus on global issues, aims to provide a different point of view — not just of Saudi Arabia but also of the emerging economies in the Global South, he said.
“Having this building being inaugurated by the head of the largest oil-producing nation … and the president of the largest (oil) consuming nation, it shows that the balance of power is changing,” said Fahad.
Fahad said Xi’s latest trip from Dec 8-10 will give another push to the already strong relations between the two countries.
With the changes in the region between 2016 and 2022, Fahad said the timing of Xi’s visit is very critical and that it will help enhance collaboration in trade and investment.
For Gulf Cooperation Council countries, there is a need to continue collaboration with China, especially in technology improvement and in learning from the Chinese experience, he said.
As some Arab countries suffer from lack of investment, building collaboration with China would help ensure more investment from China for those nations, Fahad said.
Sustainability is a pillar of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, as well as the kingdom’s pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2060. Fahad said this “will present a lot of opportunities for Chinese companies”, including in the areas of petrochemicals, renewable energy and hydrogen, as well as tourism and hospitality.
Fahad said his center looks forward to establishing more cooperation with Chinese institutions to deepen knowledge exchange in the energy sector, and further promote research on how to align the BRI and the Saudi Vision 2030.
Comparing his first visit to China in 2004 and his last trip in 2019, Fahad said he had noticed massive transformation in the country. He said he was surprised to see a lot of electric bikes and more vehicles on the roads, with completely transformed infrastructure.
In a report in May 2021, researcher Chen wrote that China’s BRI and Saudi Vision 2030 have natural synergies as BRI’s strategic goal is to improve infrastructural and logistical links and stimulate trade and investment activities, while Saudi Vision 2030 aims to build a diversified economy that does not rely on petroleum.
“The implementation of the BRI in Saudi Arabia adds imperatives for infrastructure improvement and new industrial development,” she wrote, noting that the two countries can cooperate not just bilaterally to promote a circular carbon economy, but also on a multilateral level to promote the development framework to regions along the BRI.
As one of the latest cooperation initiatives, KAPSARC signed on Dec 6 a memorandum of understanding with the China National Petroleum Corporation’s Economics and Technology Research Institute to promote cross-regional cooperation in energy research.
This article appeared on China daily HK