Salem AlKetbi: A brand new Saudi Arabia


Today is a whole new ball game in the longstanding alliance between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America. There have been numerous shake-ups and ongoing developments in the trajectory of these relations. All of them serve as proof that Riyadh is boldly and resolutely forging ahead in reconstructing its global network of connections, guided by principles and benchmarks befitting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s desired international standing in the 21st century.

In a diplomatic tussle I observed recently, China and the US locked horns over the remarks made by US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, during his recent visit to the Kingdom. The crux of his statements revolved around the fact that the US does not expect the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to pick sides between forging ties with them or with Beijing.

In retort, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, weighed in, saying China took note of Blinken’s words. He went on to express his desire for America to genuinely embrace the burgeoning relations between other nations and China, urging Washington to cease its global pursuit of Chinese companies, and to put an end to propagating the tale of the “Chinese debt trap.” Mr. Wang concluded his response by invoking the words of former US President George Washington, who wrote, “Actions, not words, are the true criterion of the attachment of friends.” He emphasized that while they would heed America’s words, their focus would ultimately be on America’s actions.

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This narrative doesn’t cause much concern on the Saudi side, as Riyadh’s official stance remains unwavering and has been declared by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan.

Emphasizing the significance of the prevailing positions in the presence of the American and Saudi ministers, Prince Faisal bin Farhan said, “China is an important partner for the kingdom and most countries in the region [and] that cooperation is likely to grow[.]” Addressing the joint press conference in the capital city of Riyadh alongside his American counterpart, Antony Blinken, Prince Faisal stated, “China is our largest trading partner. So naturally, there is a lot of interaction and intersection with China.” Thus, there is no room for conjecture or hasty conclusions concerning Saudi Arabia’s approach to managing relations with the rival global powers, China and the US. The Kingdom cannot do without either of them, and replacing one with the other is simply out of the question.

A noteworthy aspect of this significant stance, witnessed in the presence of American and Saudi ministers, is the media’s restraint from speculating about how each ally will react to every move taken by the Saudi partner, whether directed towards Beijing or Washington in view of mounting indications of a deepening alignment between Beijing and Riyadh. This becomes especially interesting if the Kingdom becomes a member of the BRICS bloc in the foreseeable future.

Such a move would carry profound implications, considering what this organization and its founding members (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and later South Africa) represent in terms of a noticeable political shift. These nations, collectively, aspire to strike a strategic equilibrium between their global political influence and their economic or military might. In essence, they endeavor to bring about structural transformations to the existing global order, taking into account the relative strength of emerging regional and international powers.

Amid Riyadh’s impartial stance in the Ukraine crisis and the concrete impact of this position on the regional scale, particularly in shaping Arab and Islamic policies toward the conflict, and coupled with Saudi Arabia’s inclusion as a dialogue partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, it becomes evident that the Kingdom has now adopted an independent and neutral agenda in navigating the delicate equilibrium in its relations with the world, particularly with influential global powers.

Such organizations are poised to play pivotal roles in delineating the contours of the forthcoming post-COVID-19, post-Ukraine global order, and the broader post-West era as a whole.

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Nonetheless, this by no means suggests a decline of the enduring, time-honored alliance between Riyadh and Washington, particularly after the two allies have successfully weathered the trust crisis that erupted between them in recent years, and things have largely returned to their natural course. By the way, this serves as a testament to the alliance’s deep-rooted nature and the recognition of its importance by both sides. It reflects the maturity that has enabled both parties, especially the American side, to grasp the strategic shifts, comprehend the new reality, and actively seek to redefine the parameters of the alliance relationship in a manner that fulfills the objectives of both parties, all within frameworks that ensure adaptability and the attainment of shared interests and strategic goals.

Published in The Washington Post a few days ago, a report revealed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had issued a threat to the US, warning of potential “major economic consequences” and even the possibility of severing ties between the two nations. This revelation stemmed from a classified US intelligence document and was a response to President Biden’s commitment to impose economic repercussions on the Kingdom in light of its adherence to the OPEC+ decision to curtail oil production.

Regardless of the veracity of this account, which aligns perfectly with Saudi Arabia’s political conduct in recent years, there are indications of substantial shifts in the approach of Saudi foreign policy. This altered approach has compelled Washington to reconsider tolerating the ongoing changes in the rules of the game, realign its stances and policies, and actively seek pragmatic solutions to the predicament it has found itself in by reneging on its obligations towards its Saudi ally.

The New Saudi Arabia stands as a powerhouse and a catalyst for policies in the Middle East and beyond. All of this is the result of the foreign policy pursued by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in recent years, prioritizing its strategic interests and steering in a fresh direction, carving out new trajectories amidst the intense competition and fierce power struggles shaping the current phase of international relations.

Salem AlKetbi is an UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate



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