The 10th Arab-China Business Conference was recently held in Riyadh, hosted by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Investment and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The event took place from June 11-12 and is reported to be the most extensive conference of its kind, attracting a remarkable attendance of more than 4,500 influential participants from 26 countries.
The 10th Arab-China Business Conference provided a unique platform for fostering bilateral economic ties and exploring new investment opportunities between Arab countries and China.
It served as a vital forum for government officials, business leaders, investors, and industry experts to exchange insights and discuss collaborative strategies in panel discussions.
The conference themed “Collaborating for prosperity”, with its record-breaking attendance, highlighted the growing importance of Arab-China relations and underscored Saudi Arabia’s commitment to enhancing economic cooperation with China. The conference not only served as an ideal setting to showcase Saudi Arabia’s investment potential, economic reforms but also its role as a strategic hub for regional trade and investment.
The conference proved to be highly fruitful, resulting in the signing of over 30 investment deals worth a staggering sum exceeding $10 billion. These agreements, which encompassed diverse sectors, were aimed at fostering economic cooperation and advancing bilateral investment between the participating nations. The official Saudi Press Agency has released a compilation of some of the notable deals forged during the conference.
Repositioning of powers: China’s Role in the Middle East and power
Dynamics Geopolitical Influence and Trade: The significance of China’s evolving role in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, is exemplified by the trade growth highlighted at the 10th Arab China Business Conference.
China’s expanding trade relations with Saudi Arabia not only reflect economic prosperity but also underline its growing geopolitical influence in the region.
At present, China stands as Saudi Arabia’s largest trade partner, accounting for a substantial 21% of the total trade volume. In comparison, the European Union represents 13% of the trade, while the United States holds a 6% share. This substantial trade partnership has paved the way for China to exert its influence, through economic complex interdependence, as demonstrated by China’s role in mediating a historic reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, on March 10.
Challenge to America’s Dominance: The conference is, therefore, a challenge to America’s dominant geopolitical clout and relevance across the Middle East. Most notably, it will reduce the region’s traditional reliance on the United States and the Middle East will at least breathe after years of proxy and civil wars.
The more significant point is that Saudi Arabia leaders are making determined efforts to diversify their foreign relations and move away from being overly dependent on the US.
China cementing its influence in critical sectors: On the other hand, in this conference, The Saudi Investment Ministry and the Hong Kong Android developer Hibobi signed a $266 million deal to develop mobile applications related to tourism and other unspecified sectors. China’s determination to actively contribute to Saudi Arabia’s technological advancement is another way of cementing its influence in critical sectors of the Saudi Arabian economy.
Future is of Dollar or Yuan?
The trend of de-dollarization is gaining momentum, and it is expected that the upcoming Saudi-Iran business conference has further promoted the use of their respective currencies in trade, especially the yuan, and moved away from reliance on the US dollar. China is pushing the use of its own currency in regional energy deals. Recently this year in March, the UAE China signed a natural gas agreement using the yuan as the settlement currency.
Iran is also exploring alternatives to the US dollar for its trade, with an intention to utilize non-dollar currencies.
The ex-president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, commended the use of local currencies, stating that it would foster a more equitable and diverse financial landscape, mitigate vulnerabilities to market fluctuations, and extend the influence of domestic currencies. Furthermore, she expressed her belief that China and Saudi Arabia possess the capability to redefine the established norms governing the global energy market. Their potential collaboration and innovative approaches have the power to reshape and rewrite the rules that have traditionally governed energy trade and investment worldwide.
BRICS, another card for Multi-polarity?
It would be unjustifiable to overlook the significance of BRICS following the business agreement between Saudi Arabia and China. Saudi Arabia has expressed its interest in becoming a member of the renowned BRICS alliance, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Notably, representatives from Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates attended the recent BRICS meeting held in South Africa. Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil and current president of the New Development Bank, concluded the Arab-China Business Conference with a keynote address. During the conference’s closing remarks, emphasis was placed on the advantageous outcomes that can arise from ongoing economic cooperation between the Arab World and China.
The Arab-China Business Conference has played a pivotal role in further accelerating the development of relations between both countries. China is developing a new norm to bring peace and stability and China’s increasing economic ties and corresponding influence in Saudi Arabia are a testament to its strategic vision in the Middle East. By solidifying its position as Saudi Arabia’s top trade partner, China has gained a significant foothold in the region.
The economic collaboration between the two nations not only fosters mutual benefits but also grants China the ability to shape geopolitical dynamics.
As China continues to forge stronger bonds with Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, it is clear that China is strategically positioning itself as a key player in the region, expanding its sphere of influence beyond its borders.
Tayyaba Razzaq is a writer and educator with academic background in International Relations and Peace and Conflict Studies. Currently, she serves as a Research Associate at the NUST Institute of Policy Studies (NIPS), where is involved in conducting policy research and analysis on a range of issues related to peace and conflict in South Asia. She also holds a visiting faculty position at the School of Social Sciences and Humanities (S3H) at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org