Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Middle East has certainly been varying and diversified over the years. Historically, the country has maintained tight connections with the US, owing to the dynamics of oil and security. Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest arms importers of the USA, and the United States has been a major consumer of Saudi oil for decades. This economic partnership has not only given Saudi Arabia significant revenues but has also played an important role in influencing its foreign policy.

In terms of security, Saudi Arabia has been a crucial US partner in the region, especially in resisting Iran and China’s influence. The geopolitical, religious, and ideological rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has been a defining characteristic of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has frequently attempted to balance and resist Iran’s expanding influence, particularly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Saudi Arabia has funded numerous factions and fought proxy wars in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon, where it has attempted to oppose Iranian-backed organizations.

However, Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy is now undergoing a significant transformation, with the country moving away from its previous role as a troublemaker and towards a more diplomatic stance. The country is seeking to establish balanced ties with major powers, rather than relying solely on its relationship with the US. One example of this shift is Saudi Arabia’s efforts to establish ties with China, despite its long-standing alignment with the anti-communist bloc. This move represents a significant departure from Saudi Arabia’s previous foreign policy stance and is indicative of the statesmanship of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

This transformation has been prompted by several factors, including the missile attack on Saudi oil infrastructure in 2019, which raised doubts about the reliability of the United States as a partner, especially after the POTUS, Trump, declared that he had not made any commitments to protect KSA and that the attack was on KSA and not on the USA. The attack, attributed to Iran, had a significant impact on Saudi Arabia’s oil supply, leading to a surge in oil prices. Furthermore, the disagreement between the US and KSA on energy policy, particularly after Saudi-led OPEC sharply cut oil production last year, strained the relationship between the two countries. The US even threatened to ban weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and file a lawsuit against the country.

To ensure the best interests of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has pursued a more pragmatic approach, diversifying the kingdom’s international relationships by focusing on partnerships with emerging political and economic powers such as China. Xi Jinping’s visit to KSA in 2022 marked the beginning of a new era in the relationship between China and the Gulf. During the visit, a series of strategic deals were concluded, bolstering political and economic ties.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) can supplement the crown prince’s Vision 2030, which seeks to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from oil.

The BRI aims to enhance economic cooperation, develop infrastructure and roads, encourage trade and investment, connect regions, and support cultural exchange.  Integration of the BRI with Vision 2030, as envisioned in the “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement” signed between China and KSA, can help realize the development goals of both states. Despite concerns from the US, the deal over Huawei Technologies, which focuses on cloud computing, data centers, and building high-tech complexes in Saudi cities, can help the kingdom realize its Vision 2030 while bolstering Xi Jinping’s diplomacy in the region.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has been shifting its focus toward diplomacy and geoeconomics as it strives to achieve its Vision 2030 goals. This is exemplified by the recent China-mediated reconciliation between KSA and Iran, the ceasefire in Yemen, and KSA’s efforts to mediate the crisis in Sudan. The restoration of ties with Iran is a significant development in the Middle East, offering hope for peace and an end to proxies. The reconciliation was made possible with the mediatory efforts of China, which emerged as a key player in the Middle East and assumed the role of a peace mediator. The biggest winner of this China-led rapprochement is Yemen, where the protracted fighting had been ongoing for years, leading to civil war, famine, and the worst humanitarian crisis. After the peace agreement with Iran, KSA announced the ceasefire in Yemen and later held peace talks with Houthi leaders to seek a permanent ceasefire, raising hopes for ending the war. The reconciliation with Iran was followed by the Kingdom’s agreement to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the  China-led security bloc, as a dialogue partner.  KSA’s tilt towards China is not a move towards China’s bloc but rather a balanced and non-aligned approach towards major powers, giving primacy to KSA’s interests without over-reliance on any state.

However, KSA’s collaboration with the USA continues in various areas, including the Sudanese crisis. Sudan’s geostrategic position makes it crucial for KSA to engage with Sudan and deepen its influence. Sudan’s unrest might jeopardize Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program, particularly given the country’s aspirations for NEOM, a zero-carbon smart city project, and tourism attractions on its Red Sea coast. Sudan is also a key investment target for Saudi Arabia, especially in terms of the kingdom’s food security objectives. Therefore, KSA is playing a noteworthy role in pressuring both sides to adopt a diplomatic solution, and, with the help of the USA, KSA has been able to mediate a brief truce.

The diplomatic efforts of KSA as a peacemaking mediator have elevated her status in the diplomatic world and are crucial to ensure the stability and security of the region, which is pivotal for the economic development and security of KSA.

The arrival of Syria’s Assad in KSA to attend the Arab League Summit after 11 years, on the invitation of the Saudi King, is a huge development in the Middle East as it indicates the restoration of ties between Arab states. Syria-Saudi Arabia relations have been tense since al-Assad seized the government in 2000. In 2012, the two countries severed ties after the Syrian government’s brutal handling of its civil war.  However, they decided to reopen their embassies last week, after Syria was readmitted into the Arab League. This suggests that the Middle East is healing. And Saudi Arabia has played a significant role in restoring peace in the region. Besides, in the latest move, Saudi Arabia has reconciled its ties with Canada and agreed to restore full diplomatic ties after almost five years. This is a clear indication suggesting the shift in Saudia’s foreign policy; from geostrategy to geoeconomics and from a troublemaker to a peacemaker.

In conclusion, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, under the visionary leadership of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, is pursuing a transformative agenda to realize its vision of a prosperous and self-reliant Middle East. By shifting its focus from being a troublemaker to a diplomat, KSA is playing a key role in bringing peace and stability to the region. Its efforts to mediate the crisis in Sudan and reconcile with its rival Iran, and end the war in Yemen have further enhanced its status as a peacemaker and a  key player in the region.

The restoration of ties with Syria, as seen by the invitation extended to Assad to attend the Arab League Summit, further reflects Saudi Arabia’s role in restoring peace and rebuilding relationships in the region.

Moreover, KSA’s balanced and non-aligned approach towards major powers, as well as its engagement with all states for the progress of the region, bodes well for its emergence as a power hub in terms of both economy and politics. The transformative role of Saudi Arabia reflects its commitment to diplomacy and geoeconomics. To safeguard its best interests, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is pursuing a more pragmatic approach based on the interests of the Kingdom. With its strategic location and immense potential, KSA is well on its way to realizing its vision of a new Europe in the Middle East.

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