More than 3,000 participants from 23 nations will attend the two-day conference starting on Sunday in Riyadh.
With US interest in the area reportedly waning, China’s interest in the Middle East has increased on many fronts, from commerce and oil to defense.
In a forthcoming business event in Saudi Arabia, Chinese companies are looking to expand their commercial prospects from Beijing’s expanding links with the Middle East, but observers say there are still questions about how much can be accomplished given the complex economic and political relationship.
More than 3,000 corporate and governmental leaders from 23 nations and regions, including Hong Kong and mainland China, will attend the two-day Arab-China corporate Conference, which gets underway on Sunday in Riyadh.
China’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chen Weiqing said on his official Twitter account that the conference’s 10th iteration, which originally took place in 2005, is anticipated to be the biggest ever conducted.
Two delegations of corporate executives will attend the conference under the leadership of Hong Kong Stock Exchange Chairwoman Laura Cha Shih May-lung, Hang Lung Group Chairman Ronnie Chan Chi-chung, and Bank of China International Chief Executive Li Tong.
“The first China-Arab States Summit’s success at the end of last year has injected fresh impetus into the development of the China-Arab relations and practical cooperation across the board,” said Wang Wenbin, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Monday.
According to Wang, Beijing anticipates “in-depth exchange” and “fruitful outcomes” from the summit.
There has been a boom in economic opportunities for both China and the Middle East countries, according to James M. Dorsey, adjunct senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies under Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. However, the question is to what extent China can and wants to “capitalise politically.”
“That is more complex,” Dorsey said. “China cannot and does not want to engage in the same level of Middle Eastern involvement as the US.
It neither wants nor is able to serve as a security guarantee. Security is another pillar for the Saudis, along with economy.
President Xi Jinping’s visit in December, during which he participated in summits with the Gulf Cooperation Council and Arab countries, served as a sign of China’s rising interest in the area.
Both occasions were regarded as historic firsts for China and the Middle East.
While US influence in the area has typically been perceived by geopolitical observers as declining, cooperation between China and the Middle East has increased on many fronts, from commerce and energy to defense.
China has been Saudi Arabia’s main trade partner for five years, and since 2018, it has replaced India as both the top export market and the top import market.
Saudi Arabia, one of the major oil producers, is expected to send 87.5 million metric tonnes (641 million barrels) of oil in 2022.
The biggest oil exporter in the world, Saudi Aramco, announced in March plans for a $10 billion integrated refinery and petrochemical project in Liaoning province, northern China.
China also partnered with the United Arab Emirates to send a mission to the moon, and it negotiated a US$60 billion deal to purchase liquefied natural gas from Qatar.
As both nations experience increasing conflict with the United States, Xi said at the opening ceremony of the China-Arab States Summit in December that China and Saudi Arabia in particular have seen “solidarity” in their bilateral relationships reinforced.
The expectation for the Arab-China Business Conference, according to a Middle East scholar stationed in Beijing who requested not to be named because they were not authorized to talk to the media, was “overhyped.”
“Just because Chinese businesses are becoming more interested in the area does not always mean that business prospects will increase tremendously. Ultimately, it leads to excessive competitiveness and resource waste on both sides, they said.
“China’s money is not necessary for Saudi Arabia. However, Chinese businesses need that chance for investment.
The Arab-China Business Conference will feature panels on cooperation ranging from food security, global trade and supply chains, to financing and China’s iconic Belt and Road Initiative. It is jointly organized by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Investment, the Secretary General of the Arab League, the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, and the Union of Arab Chambers.
A number of Saudi Arabian politicians, including the energy minister Abdulaziz bin Salman and the foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan, as well as Arab League secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit are anticipated to speak at the conference.
Editor-in-chief of the Post Tammy Tam will moderate a panel discussion with Saudi Arabian Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Alibrahim and Royal Court advisor Fahad Toonsi.
After Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu led a group to the Middle East in February, Hong Kong is strengthening its ties to the area on its own. This week, a team of corporate leaders is scheduled to go to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
The delegation is led by Executive Council member Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung of the city government and includes the chairman of Tsangs Group Patrick Tsang, co-founders of GogoX Steven Lam Hoi-yuen and Rice Robotics Victor Lee, as well as several executives from firms working in the fields of artificial intelligence, family offices, and renewable energy.
A group of 30 officials from 16 Arab nations, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the general secretariat of the Arab League, recently undertook a four-day official visit to the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
It followed a high-level strategic political debate between top officials at the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, a forum for communication between China and the Arab League established in 2004.
As the two sides have refrained from attacking each other’s purported anti-terrorism efforts, Dorsey said that the trip seemed to be “throwing China a bone” and that it has been “mutually beneficial” and “mutually reinforcing” for the largely Muslim Arabic-speaking nations.
“The US meets all these requirements, including human rights, the environment, and anything else you have to… China has circumstances, but they are just fundamentally unique,” said Dorsey. This contains the statement, “If you do criticize us, there are financial repercussions.
In essence, [certain Arab] nations would argue that legitimizing specific Chinese programs is in their national interest.