Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Riyadh in December 2022 to participate in a China-Arab States Summit, a China-Gulf Cooperation Council Summit, and a state visit to Saudi Arabia. The multifaceted, high-profile trip refocused global attention on Chinese interests in the broader Middle East. Xi wrote that the visit would “usher in a new era in China’s relations with the Arab world, with Arab states of the Gulf and with Saudi Arabia.” Indeed, the Saudi Arabian government appears increasingly eager to position the country as China’s preferred economic partner in the broader Middle East region.
This paper addresses the following primary research question: What are the key dimensions of Chinese-Saudi economic relations, and how have the parameters of economic engagement changed over the decade between 2012-2022? This partnership possesses an established energy-based foundation, but trade and investment figures also reveal growing economic ties in the non-oil economy – albeit of an uneven nature. A clearer, up-to-date understanding of the economic partnership between China and Saudi Arabia will elucidate the secondary research question: What is the hierarchy of China’s economic partnerships in the Middle East? The paper argues that Saudi Arabia is poised to emerge as China’s primary economic partner in the Middle East, given the strong foundation of multifaceted economic ties and Saudi Arabia’s ambitious economic development plans.
The international political economy focus of this work entails an approach that is inherently interdisciplinary, combining insights from economics and international relations. The paper draws heavily on quantitative sources – primarily trade- and investment-related data from economic platforms, international institutions, government agencies, and statistics centers. The author intends to utilize additional sources and findings from a related research initiative at their institute and a graduate-level seminar course that they teach on China-Middle East Relations. This paper adds a new scholarly dimension to two related fields: i) China-Middle East relations and ii) international political economy of Gulf Arab states. Future researchers can use this paper presentation and the associated publication to better understand Chinese-Saudi ties and the associated implications for the broader Middle East.