With reportedly more than 3,500 government and business officials from China and Arab countries participating, and $10 billion in investment agreements signed on its first day, the 10th Arab-China Business Conference was illustrative of the thriving relationship between the two sides.
Hosted by Saudi Arabia, co-organized by the Arab League and China, the event sought to enhance the strategic partnership based around the Belt and Road Initiative, according to Saudi media. Just as the agreements signed in Riyadh indicate, the partnership is reaching far beyond oil as a traditional energy source to such fields as technology, agriculture, renewable energy and tourism.
As an interesting particular of this change, the host country signed a $5.6 billion deal with a Chinese company to manufacture electric vehicles locally.
This will certainly add to the concerns of some outside observers about the geopolitical implications of the rapidly widening and deepening engagement between China, Saudi Arabia and the broader Arab world. It will even spur some parties to make greater efforts to suppress the momentum in the cooperation out of their anxieties that China is exploiting the strategic vacuum the West has left behind in the Middle East.
But while they see the matter through the prism of "major power strategic competition" and "systemic rivalry", the Saudi government has made it crystal clear that it has no interest in the West-led geopolitical game.
As Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman clarified, his country prioritizes business interests. He said the country totally ignores criticism from that perspective. Businesspeople "will go where opportunity comes their way", he noted, and China is where there are opportunities to be seized.
"There is nothing political about it, there is nothing strategic about it," he said, stressing Saudi Arabia doesn't have to be engaged in a zero-sum game.
Unlike some in the West who are keen on making allies and partners take sides between them and China as an alleged strategic rival, the Saudi official does not believe such relationships should be mutually exclusive. Speaking of the thriving trade ties and expanding realms of cooperation with China, he stated, "This doesn't mean we're not going to collaborate with others".
There is nothing unusual about the world's largest crude oil exporting country cooperating with the largest importer. And the two countries are engaging more closely in broader areas because the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative aligns well with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, which in itself is a transformative economic and social reform blueprint.
Most importantly, their cooperation is driven by the opportunities they see in each other.
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