Saudi Arabia

Free will trumps determinism in Gulf politics

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China’s mediation to normalise Saudi-Iranian diplomatic ties has been widely welcomed internationally, especially in the West Asian region. A clutch of unhappy states that do not want to see China stealing a march on any front, even if it advances the cause of world peace, mutely watched. 

The US led this pack of dead souls. But the US is also on the horns of a dilemma. Can it afford to be a spoiler? Saudi Arabia is not only the fountainhead of petrodollar recycling — and, therefore, a pillar of the western banking system — but also America’s number one market for arms exports. Europe is facing energy crisis and the stability of the oil market is an overriding concern. 

Saudi Arabia has shown remarkable maturity to maintain that its “Look East” policy and the strategic partnership with China do not mean it is dumping the Americans. Saudis are treading softly.  

After all, Jamal Khashoggi was a strategic asset of the US security establishment; the US is a stakeholder in the Saudi succession and it has a consistent record of sponsoring regime changes to create pliable regimes.      

Yet, the fact remains that the Saudi-Iranian deal drives a knife into the heart of the US’ West Asian strategy. The deal leaves the US and Israel badly isolated. The Jewish lobby may show its unhappiness during President Biden’s bid for another term. China has stolen a march on the US with far-reaching consequences, which signifies a foreign policy disaster for Biden. 

Washington has not spoken the last word and may be plotting to push back the peace process from becoming mainstream politics of the West Asian region. The American commentators are visualising that the Saudi-Iranian normalisation will be a long haul and the odds are heavily stacked against it.

However, the regional protagonists are already creating firewalls locally to preserve and foster the new spirit of recnciliation. Of course, China (and Russia) too lend a helping hand. China has mooted the idea of a regional summit between Iran and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council by the end of this year. 

An unnamed Saudi official told the establishment daily Asharq Al-Awsat that Chinese President Xi Jinping approached Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister, last year about Beijing serving as a ‘bridge’ between the Kingdom and Iran and the latter welcomed it, as Riyadh sees Beijing being in a ‘unique’ position to wield unmatched ‘leverage’ in the Gulf. 

“For Iran in particular, China is either No 1 or No 2 in terms of its international partners. And so the leverage is important in that regard, and you cannot have an alternative that is equal in importance,” the Saudi official added.

The Saudi official said China’s role makes it more likely that the terms of the deal will hold. “It (China) is a major stakeholder in the security and stability of the Gulf,” he noted. The official also revealed that the talks in Beijing involved “five very extensive” sessions on thorny issues. The most difficult topics were related to Yemen, the media, and China’s role, the official said.

Meanwhile, there are positive tidings in the air too — the likelihood of  a foreign minister level meeting between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the near future and, more importantly, the reported letter of invitation from King Salman of Saudi Arabia to Iranian President Ebrahim Raeisi to visit Riyadh. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian remarked on Sunday with reference to the Yemeni crisis that “We [Iran] are working with Saudi Arabia on ensuring the stability of the region. We will not accept any threat against us from neighbouring countries.” 

To be sure, the regional environment is improving. Signs of an overall easing of tensions have appeared. For the first visit of its kind in over a decade, the Turkish Foreign Minister was in Cairo and the Egyptian FM has been to Turkey and Syria. Last week, on return from Beijing, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council headed for the UAE where President Sheikh Mohammed received him.

Soon after that, on Sunday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in the UAE on an official visit. “Syria has been absent from its brothers for too long, and the time has come for it to return to them and to its Arab surroundings,” Sheikh Mohamed told Assad during their historic meeting at the presidential palace.

In an interview with NourNews, Shamkhani described his 5 days’ talks in Beijing leading to the deal with Saudi Arabia as “frank, transparent, comprehensive and constructive.” He said, “Clearing misunderstandings and looking to the future in Tehran-Riyadh relations will definitely lead to the development of regional stability and security and the increase of cooperation between the countries of the Persian Gulf and the Islamic world to manage the existing challenges.” 

Evidently, the regional states are tapping the “feel-good” generated by the Saudi-Iranian understanding. Contrary to the western propaganda of an estrangement lately between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed is identifying closely with the positive trends in the regional environment. 

This is where China’s overarching role fostering dialogue and amity becomes decisive. The regional countries regard China as a benign interlocutor and the concerted attempts by the US and its junior partners to run down China make no impact on the regional states. 

China has immense economic interests in the region — especially, expansion of the Silk Road in West Asia. The region’s political stability and security, therefore, is of vital interest to Beijing and prompts it to become the sponsor and guarantor of the Saudi-Iranian agreement. Clearly, the durability of the Saudi-Iranian deal should not be underestimated. The Saudi-Iranian agreement will remain West Asia’s most important development for a long time. 

Fundamentally, both Saudi Arabia and Iran have compulsions to shift the locus of their national strategies to development and economic growth. This has received scant attention. The Western media has deliberately ignored this and instead demonised the Saudi Crown Prince and created a doomsday scenario for Iran’s Islamic regime. 

That said, the known unknown is the tension building up over Iran’s nuclear programme. The issue is among the most prominent points of contention between Tehran and the Kingdom. Also, Israeli threats of attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities are escalating. Significantly, Iran’s FM Amirabdollahian is expected to visit Moscow this week. 

A Russian-Chinese coordinated effort is needed to forestall the US from raking up the nuclear issue in tandem with Israel and ratchet up tensions, including military tensions, in such a way that a pretext becomes available to destabilise the region and marginalise the Saudi-Iran agreement as the leitmotif of regional politics. 

All parties understand only too well that “If the Beijing agreement materialises, the violent and fanatical right-wing Israeli government will be the first to lose out, as respecting the agreement would give rise to a stable and prosperous regional system that sets the course for further normalisations and all the achievements that ensue from them,” as a Lebanese columnist wrote today in Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

On balance, the regional states are acting on free will, increasingly and eschewing their determinism that was wedded to decisions and actions that were thought to be causally inevitable. The realisation has dawned now that it is within the capacity of sovereign states to make decisions or perform actions independently of any prior event or state of the universe.

Yemen’s Conflict in the Wake of the Beijing-Brokered Tehran-Riyadh Diplomacy: A Forecast

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Iran and Saudi Arabia, after years of enmity, agreed last week to restore diplomatic ties after talks facilitated by China, a significant development widely welcomed worldwide.

Experts have said that the Beijing-brokered detente has raised hopes for a much-needed reduction in tensions in the Middle East, with a particular focus on the ongoing war in Yemen.

They told Xinhua that China’s economic and diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran are highly significant, allowing Beijing to play a constructive role in de-escalating conflicts in war-torn Yemen and beyond.

Abdullah Dubalah, a Yemeni political observer, told Xinhua, “China’s participation in facilitating the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia serves the region’s stability, as it maintains good relations with both countries, thereby promoting a more peaceful and prosperous Gulf region.”

He noted China plays a role in facilitating dialogue and cooperation in the region, which is entirely different from the divide-and-rule approach of the United States.

Adel Dashela, a Yemeni writer and academic researcher, said China had demonstrated its diplomatic prowess by successfully resolving international disputes through political dialogue.

He said the two sides must adhere to the agreed-upon terms to overcome obstacles, reduce regional tensions and benefit all parties involved.

The expert pointed out that Iran and Saudi Arabia also play a significant role in resolving Yemen’s civil conflicts, adding that the two regional powers should put the interests of Yemen on par with the regional security issues because Yemen has become a hotbed for regional conflicts and unrest.

Still, some Yemeni observers told Xinhua that the recent Saudi-Iran deal alone cannot resolve Yemen’s plight, calling for more efforts to end the crisis.

“Although the China-brokered agreement can create a positive momentum in Yemen, it does not fix all problems in the war-torn country,” said Maysaa Shuja Al-Deen, a Yemeni political researcher.

She said “the underlying issues that have fueled the conflict in Yemen, such as political divisions, economic instability, and regional power struggles, are complex and difficult to resolve.”

Al-Deen said she believes that a comprehensive political solution for Yemen issues requires the involvement of key regional players, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, and sustained international efforts.

Adil Al-Shuja’a, a politics professor from Sanaa university, said “the crisis in the region has been ongoing for decades, and the agreement is a step towards a potential resolution. “

The expert’s view was echoed by Yasin Al-Tamimi, a political analyst and writer, who said “the agreement, which marks a new chapter in the relationship between the two countries, is expected to have an impact on the conflict in Yemen and could give Riyadh the impetus it needs to end Yemen’s war.”

Al-Tamimi said “to achieve this goal, it is believed that a negotiated settlement will be necessary. Such an agreement would enable Saudi Arabia to maintain its influence over the political landscape of Yemen while at the same time providing a pathway towards peace and stability in the region.”

The civil war erupted in Yemen in late 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthi militia seized control of some northern cities and forced the Saudi-backed Yemeni government out of the capital Sanaa.

The war has killed tens of thousands of Yemenis, displaced 4 million people, and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

In a statement released by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Yemeni government welcomed the recent agreement as a potential opportunity to improve relations and serve the region’s stability.

Meanwhile, Houthi group spokesperson Mohammad Abdul-Salam wrote on Twitter that the group’s leaders welcome the resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, believing it would promote stability in the region.

Bridge over Troubled Gulf Waters – An American Viewpoint

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The restoration of diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia has garnered curious allusions of doom and gloom, if not outright shock and awe, over Israel’s back channel security dialogue with the Kingdom,  not to mention damage to U.S. interests in the region. The New York Times captured it as “the topsiest and turviest of developments anyone could have imagined, a shift that left heads spinning in capitals around the globe.” And in a separate piece, it quoted  Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the arguably hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies that “Renewed Iran-Saudi ties as a result of Chinese mediation is a lose, lose, lose for American interests.”

But the Times wasn’t alone. Twitter was replete with nightmarish scenarios for U.S. influence and prestige in the Middle East and concern in Tel Aviv even as the Biden administration outwardly welcomed the development. John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, expressed skepticism that Iran would honor its commitments to abstain from violence or interference in the Kingdom’s internal affairs, but acknowledged how the development could serve in defusing regional tensions and possibly ending the war in Yemen. Friction between Iran and its neighbors across the Gulf  account for Yemen’s horrendous humanitarian crisis, energy-market rattling missile strikes against the Kingdom and United Arab Emirates, and Tehran’s meddling among Saudi’s Arabia’s disenfranchised Shia community. Reducing that is in Washington and Tel Aviv’s interest, regardless who gets the credit.  

The reality is that Iran and Saudi Arabia have been walking back their mutual escalation of provocative words and deeds for quite some time.

Representatives, generally from the nation’s respective intelligence services, have conducted meetings brokered respectively by the Iraqis and Omanis for at least the last two years. And while the Saudis certainly don’t tell the U.S. everything, my direct experience in this dialogue is consistent with Washington’s assertion that it was kept in the loop and Israel was likewise hardly taken by surprise.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began his de facto rule of the Kingdom flexing his military muscles in Yemen while making saber-rattling boasts concerning Iran. He even boldly suggested Riyadh would pursue its own nuclear program should the Iranians weaponize theirs. But reality set in after Saudi military failings in Yemen and Houthi attacks inside the Kingdom undermined Prince Mohammed’s superpower narrative.

The crown prince’s confidence in U.S. security guarantees wavered further following the September 2019 missile and drone attacks on Saudi Aramco facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, which the U.S. acknowledged to have been Iranian facilitated. And Prince Mohammad did not take kindly to incoming President-elect Biden referring to him and the Kingdom as pariahs owing to persistent evidence of human rights violations and an intelligence community assessment the White House released holding him personally responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

Ropes of Sand

Prince Mohammad’s political fortunes are largely dependent on whether Vision 2030 can deliver on the promise to diversify the country’s petrochemical-dependent economy and bring greater employment and increased housing. Neom, the high tech, futuristic $500 billion dollar city under construction in Saudi Arabia’s northwest is the centerpiece on which much else depends. Despite the influx of petrodollars owing to the war in Ukraine, Neom has struggled to meet its projected 2024 opening which, along with other setbacks, have shaped Prince Mohammad’s greater pragmatism. The opening to Iran, Yemen ceasefire and reversal of the Qatari boycott reflect such necessary pragmatism.

Nevertheless, the crown prince is demonstrating independence from what he sees as America’s unreliable protective blanket and looking for alternative security partners. Making the Biden White House look bad is just an added benefit-but that does not make for an existential threat to U.S. interests. Despite the Times’  hyperbole (and the Wall Street Journal’s earlier claim that “the relationship had hit the breaking point.”, there’s no evidence Prince Mohammad is prepared to sustain the enormous costs of converting the Kingdom’s well integrated and U.S.-dependent military infrastructure to Chinese or Russian weapons systems.

Moreover, in the most catastrophic scenario, China will not threaten to boycott Iranian oil on which it depends or project force in the Kingdom’s defense were Tehran to attack. But the Crown Prince is betting the U.S. wouldn’t stand by under such circumstances regardless of Riyadh’s friction with Washington, thereby providing him freedom to play the international field to serve his own political narrative.

The Saudi ruler also likes the prestige associated with American technology and its advanced battlefield-tested systems like those the Ukrainians are using to great effect against Russia-as does Prince Mohammed’s one-time ally and increasingly rival UAE’s President Mohamed Bin Zayed, who likewise endeavors to chart his own course. Were Prince Mohammed ever to petulantly jump off that ledge, as he’s certainly capable of impulsive, poorly calculated decisions, doing so could not possibly occur overnight and would leave the Kingdom’s American-centric infrastructure vulnerable.

The fact is that Riyadh has in recent years been scaling back defense spending to finance the crown prince’s grand economic programs. His aim appears to achieve a social contract of sorts cribbed from China to offset his people’s aspirations for political freedom in exchange for social reforms and comfortable lives. 

That’s not to totally dismiss the China card. Prince Mohammed has for some time been looking to China for support in developing Saudi Arabia’s own ballistic missile capability, as well as a pilot nuclear program, and Beijing is only too happy to help. The Intercept reported that part of DCIA Burns’ April 2022 travel to the Kingdom was to dissuade the Crown Prince from procuring fully assembled Chinese ballistic missiles as a deterrent against, or response to, Iran. 

Mind the Gap

But beyond the smiles and handshakes recently choreographed in Beijing, the Crown Prince appears interested in addressing defense gaps relative to Iran whose threat is not going away. China is likely to accommodate capabilities the U.S. would rather withhold making it likely Prince Mohammed will pursue a broad range of military and economic opportunities with Beijing, but avoid an either-or choice with the U.S. 

China, for its part, will eagerly work to erode and replace U.S. regional influence in a region which accounts for much of its energy supplies. As reflected by news that Beijing is working to host a summit among Iran and its Gulf Cooperation Council neighbors, Chinese leaders hope to reap the lucrative economic opportunities and likewise solidify its image as the preeminent and most reliable world power. Money talks, and face is critical in this region where rulers all strive to appear strong and independent of foreign influence, but no Gulf ruler is going to stake their Kingdoms on Chinese security guarantees-or weapons.

Spy Ties

As for Israel, the development similarly falls short of a doomsday event. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would surely value the political gains at home and abroad of securing normalization with Saudi Arabia, coming as it would at both Iran’s and the Palestinians’ expense. But the truth is that Israel’s security back channel with Saudi Arabia has been ongoing for years and across far more challenging political climates. Benny Gantz, while the Israeli army’s chief of staff, then Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, and former directors of the National Security Council Yossi Cohen and Meir Ben-Shabbat have all travelled to the Kingdom in recent years. 

Moreover, a November 2020 Washington Post story quoting Israeli media and claiming confirmation from an anonymous Israeli intelligence official reported that Netanyahu himself, traveling with then Mossad Chief Cohen, met Prince Mohammed personally. The gathering occurred in Neom, the same Saudi futuristic city under development, along with then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Israeli-Saudi cooperation concerning Iran is not going to end, but rather remain in the shadows, for the time being. After all, Iran remains a far more likely military threat. Tehran’s hardline leaders will not order the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to abandon the Kingdom’s Shi’a, whose unrest could undermine Prince Mohammed’s veneer of strength, and threaten the nation’s Northeastern oil epicenter.

It has been vintage Prince Mohammed to quickly follow-up any acts of defiance with the White House, as was the case with last year’s oil production cut, with messaging and appeals to the American public. This appears the case with the Kingdom’s sudden revelation of its willingness to establish ties with Israel. Riyadh went on an info spree in the U.S. following the October cuts to justify the measure, during which it issued statements and used proxies to  highlight its good deeds and philanthropic efforts, including gifts to American universities. 

More practically, however, Prince Mohammed is unlikely to normalize relations with Israel absent the creation of a Palestinian state while his father lives. Palestinian statehood is dear to King Salman’s heart, assuming health has not incapacitated him, the King having played a major role in developing the thrice Arab League endorsed 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. The plan offers Arab states’ recognition and normalization of ties with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from occupied territories, a just settlement, and a Palestinian state. A frail King Salman reassured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his own public while still seen conducting meetings in May 2021, as he had after the U.S. pushed Riyadh throughout 2020 to join the Abraham Peace Accords, that Saudi Arabia remained committed to the 2002 framework and would not forsake the Palestinians.

Source: Spytalk  

Bangladesh welcomes Iranian-Saudi diplomatic ties

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Bangladesh has warmly hailed the normalization of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran in a major breakthrough announced in an agreement brokered by China.

Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told journalists here Sunday night that Dhaka lauds China, Iraq and Oman for facilitating the negotiation, leading to the successful breakthrough which reflects the power of constructive engagement and meaningful dialogue.

He also lauded the leadership of Saudi Arabia and Iran for this very positive development.

Bangladesh believes that this would contribute to reducing tension and conflict in the Gulf region, foster stability, and create the path for “durable and sustainable long-term peace for the betterment of the brotherly peoples in the Middle East region,” he said.

Tehran and Riyadh announced an agreement in Beijing last Friday to restore their diplomatic ties.

Historic significance of Xi’s Saudi visit

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The report that Chinese President Xi Jinping is planning his first overseas trip after the Party Congress and it may be to Saudi Arabia drips with enormous symbolism. According to the Wall Street Journal, the visit is likely to take place early December and hectic preparations are under way. 

The daily cited people familiar with the preparations that the Chinese leader’s “welcome is more likely to resemble” the 2017 visit by Donald Trump in its pomp and pageantry. 

Predictably, the focal point will be the future trajectory of Chinese-Saudi oil “alliance” — rather, the making of an oil alliance comparable to the Russian-Saudi framework of OPEC Plus. That said, there is a great deal more to the forthcoming visit by Xi in geopolitics in the dramatically shifting alignments in the West Asian region and indeed its impact on the world order can be far-reaching.

The point is, both China and Saudi Arabia are major regional powers and any matrix involving them bilaterally will be highly consequential to international politics. The Wall Street Journal said “Beijing and Riyadh seek to deepen ties and advance a vision of a multipolar world where the US no longer dominates the global order.” 

No doubt, the war in Ukraine provides an immediate backdrop. It is going to be extremely difficult for the United States to extricate itself in a near term from the war without suffering a huge loss of face tarnishing its credibility as a superpower, undermining its transatlantic leadership and even risking the future of the western alliance system as such. 

Both China and Saudi Arabia will have drawn the conclusion that the “bipartisan consensus” over the war in Ukraine may not survive the fierce tribal war among the American political elite that is certain to break out very soon once the midterm elections today get over. If the Republicans gain control over the House of Representatives, they will proceed to initiate proceedings for the impeachment of President Biden. 

Guardian survey of expert opinion on Sunday was entitled These are conditions ripe for political violence: how close is the US to civil war? At its core, therefore, both China and Saudi Arabia see the US retrenchment gathering momentum in the West Asian region.

One major item of discussion during Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia will be the latter’s “Look East” foreign-policy strategy that anticipated the US retrenchment at least by the middle of the last decade. Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia in 2016 was a landmark event.

No doubt, Beijing has been closely watching the deterioration of US-Saudi relations since then. And it cannot be lost on Beijing that lately, Saudis have been plotting energy cooperation with China amid Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s tensions with Biden. 

The surest signal was the virtual meeting on October 21 between Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Minister of Energy and Zhang Jianhua, China’s National Energy Administrator, a senior politician (who was a member of the 19th Central Discipline Commission of the Chinese Communist Party.) The meeting took place amidst a deep crisis in the US-Saudi relations with the US elite threatening to impose sanctions against Riyadh.  

Unsurprisingly, one of the key issues discussed between the Chinese and Saudi ministers was the oil market. According to the Saudi statement, the ministers “confirmed their willingness to work together to support the stability of the international oil market” and stressed the need for “long-term and reliable oil supply to stabilise global market that endures various uncertainties due to complex and changeable international situations.” Isn’t this more or less what the OPEC Plus (Russian-Saudi oil alliance) keeps saying? 

Meanwhile, the two ministers also discussed cooperation and joint investments in countries that China sees as part of its strategic Belt and Road vision and stated their intention to continue to implement an agreement about peaceful uses of nuclear energy (which Washington has opposed.) 

Without doubt, the meeting of the ministers was a clear rebuke aimed at Washington, designed to remind the Biden administration that Saudi Arabia has other important energy relationships and that Saudi oil policy does not come from Washington. Most important, the calculus here is that Riyadh is seeking a balance between Beijing and Washington. Biden’s vacuous talk about a “battle between autocracy and democracy” would bother Saudi Arabia, but China has no ideological agenda. 

Notably, the Saudi and Chinese ministers agreed to deepen cooperation in the energy supply chain through establishing a “regional hub” for Chinese manufacturers in the kingdom to take advantage of Saudi Arabia’s access to three continents. 

The bottom line is that Saudi political and business elites increasingly perceive China as a superpower and expect a global engagement that is transactional, similar to how both China and Russia generally engage in the world. The Saudis are convinced that their “comprehensive strategic partnership” (2016) with China would enhance the kingdom’s growing geopolitical importance amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, and that it underscores that Riyadh has more choices now and will further seek balance.

Saudi Arabia has increasingly close ties with Russia, too. With one leg inside the SCO tent (having gained observer status), it is now seeking BRICS membership. These are complementary moves but BRICS format is also working on an alternate currency system, which attracts Riyadh. 

Coincidence or not, Algeria and Iran, two other leading oil producing countries which keep close ties with Russia, have also sought BRICS membership for the same reason. The very fact that Saudi Arabia is joining them and is willing to bypass Western institutions and reduce the risk of interaction with them, and is instead exploring parallel ways of conducting financial, economic, and trade relations without relying on US or EU-controlled instruments does convey a big message to the international system.

The paradox is, the Saudi drive to strengthen strategic autonomy will remain fragile so long as the petrodollar ties it down to the western banking system. Therefore, Saudi Arabia has a big decision to make in regard of the continued relevance of its 1971 commitment enshrining the American dollar as the “world currency” (replacing gold) and its resolve to use only dollar for trading in oil — all of which has enabled successive US administrations through the past half century to print paper currency as they pleased, live it up by laundering the money — and eventually to weaponise dollar as its most potent instrument to impose American hegemony globally.  

While reporting on Xi’s forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia, The Wall Street Journal added that the “strategic recalibration of Saudi foreign policy is bigger than the recent blowup with the Biden administration over oil production… More recently, their (China-Saudi) courtship has intensified with discussions on selling a stake in Saudi Aramco, including yuan-denominated futures contracts in Aramco’s pricing model, and possibly pricing some Saudi oil sales to China in yuan.” 

Traditionally, things used to move at a glacial pace indicative of Saudi policy shifts. But Crown Prince Salman is in a hurry to rest the Saudi compass and can take difficult decisions, as the creation of OPEC Plus in alliance with Russia testifies. Therefore, the likelihood of Saudi Arabia changing course to do part of its pricing in oil sales in yuan currency is stronger than ever today.

If things indeed move in such a direction, to be sure, a tectonic shift may be taking place — a major geo-strategic recalibration — and Xi’s visit gets elevated as an event of historic importance.