Saudis tilt towards China, amidst doubts about Biden

Karen Elliott House, writing in the The Wall Street Journal, reports that Saudi Arabia is moving away from the United States and towards Red China. “You name it, we are doing it with China,” says one senior Saudi adviser, who labels China “a strategic partner.”

To some extent, this embrace of China, powerhouse that it has become, is to be expected. The Chinese want Saudi oil. In fact, China is now Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner because of its thirst for that oil. For its part, China sells weapons to the Saudis and invests heavily in the Kingdom’s digital infrastructure.

But Joe Biden has also contributed to the movement away from the U.S. According to House, a former managing editor of the Journal, “doubts about the Biden administration’s reliability are ubiquitous and readily expressed.”

These doubts are founded in large part on Biden administration policy. House explains:

While the Biden administration pays lip service to partnership with Saudi Arabia, actions haven’t followed. The U.S. has largely cut sales of offensive weapons to Riyadh, pulled out the defensive Patriot missiles that protect the kingdom from attack, and thus far failed to enunciate any strategy for how to confront a nuclear Iran. Saudis believe an Iranian bomb is imminent.

There also is grumbling here that the U.S. purports to want peace in Yemen but won’t act to interdict the flow of weapons from Iran to the Houthis.

(Emphasis added)

Biden’s negative approach to the Saudis is based in part, I assume, on disgust with the Kingdom’s human rights record, including the killing of the guy who sometimes wrote columns for the Washington Post, a key Biden ally. To some extent, it may also have to do with the administration’s desire to appease Iran, the Saudis’ key enemy in the region (and ours, too).

I don’t doubt that the Kingdom’s human rights record is abysmal. But, as the Trump administration understood, Saudi Arabia remains a huge player in the Middle East and a counterbalance to our sworn enemy with an awful human rights record itself — Iran.

Squandering our alliance with Saudi Arabia and driving it more firmly into China’s embrace over human rights violations is amateurism.

I also suspect that, quite apart from any policy concern, Biden simply fails to inspire confidence in the Saudis. Like any sensible nation, Saudi Arabia wants to be on the good side of the “strong horse.”

It was reasonable to view an America led by Donald Trump as such. It was always difficult to view an America led by Joe Biden that way. After the Afghanistan fiasco, it’s nearly impossible.

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