Chinese President Xi Jinping paid an official visit to Saudi Arabia from 7 to 10 December 2022 and participated in a series of important summit meetings: a China-Saudi Arabia Summit, a China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit and an inaugural China-Arab States Summit. This is Xi Jinping’s third official visit to the Middle East region as head of state, following visits in 2016 (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran) and 2018 (UAE). Many observers have commented on Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia, emphasizing China’s growing influence in the Middle East in contrast to that of the US, which is reducing its presence in the region.
Indeed, it is true that the China-US confrontation is one of the important background factors to Xi’s visit. However, this interpretation alone may misrepresent the overall picture of China’s involvement in the Middle East because China’s relations with the Middle East have their own dynamics that in some respects interact with developments in the China-US confrontation. With that perspective in mind, this article will examine the significance of Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia in three contexts: China-Middle East relations, China’s major power diplomacy and the impact of China-US strategic competition.