Dubai: Gulf Arab leaders and others in the Mideast met Friday in Saudi Arabia as part of a state visit by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, seeking to firm up their relations with Beijing as decades of US attention on the region wanes.
Before a joint meeting with Xi, representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council met in a summit helmed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, further signalling his control of a kingdom still overseen by his father, the 86-year-old King Salman.
Among them was Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, whose country now hosts the FIFA World Cup and has largely restored ties to its Arab neighbours after a yearslong boycott. Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, whose island nation still has strained relations with Qatar, also attended.
Prince Mohammed made a point in his opening remarks, aired on state television, to applaud Qatar for its hosting of the World Cup. He also could be seen warmly greeting Sheikh Tamim before the meeting, something unthinkable only two years earlier amid the boycott.
The GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The leader of the Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, did not attend, instead sending the ruler of the emirate of Fujairah, Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi. Kuwait’s crown prince and a representative of Oman’s sultan also attended.
Xi’s visit comes as China relies on the Gulf Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, for billions of dollars in crude oil imports to power his country’s economy. While the US still maintains bases across the region and stations tens of thousands of troops, Gulf Arab nations feel Washington’s attention has shifted elsewhere after the end of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
They also want to maintain relations with China even as US officials believe they face a growing threat from China in Asia and Russia as Moscow wages its monthslong war on Ukraine.
During Xi’s visit, Saudi officials have said deals had been signed between Riyadh and Beijing, including some involving Chinese technology company Huawei on cloud-computing, data centres and other high-tech ventures.
The US has already has warned its Gulf Arab allies about working with Huawei over spying concerns.
Xi and King Salman also agreed to hold meetings between the two countries’ leaders every two years, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The agency reported that Xi met Thursday with Sudanese military leader Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan after a deal Monday to establish a civilian-led transitional government following the military takeover there last year. However, no timeline has been set and the deal sparked renewed protests Thursday in the country.
Xi separately met Thursday with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as well in Riyadh.
On Friday, Xi held one-on-one meeting with Tunisian President Kais Saied, as well as Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and Sheikh Tamim of Qatar.