Welcome to the ‘New Era’ of Saudi-China relations

Welcome to the ‘New Era’ of Saudi-China relations

Plus: Ghana reaches a deal with the IMF, Iran is booted out of the UN women’s empowerment body, and Erdoğan goes after Turkey’s opposition

Hi there Intriguer. Drum roll, please: with hundreds of votes cast, 64% of you think Argentina will beat France in Sunday’s World Cup final! The most common scoreline prediction was 2-1. Either we’re the most popular newsletter in Buenos Aires, or you all are really buying into a fairytale ending for Lionel Messi. Vamos La Albiceleste / Allez Les Blues [delete as appropriate!]!

Today’s briefing is a ~4.3 min read:

  • 🤝 Unlikely allies: Saudi Arabia and China put a ring on it.
  • ➕ Plus: Ghana strikes a deal with the IMF, Iran booted from UN women’s empowerment body, and Erdoğan goes after Turkey’s opposition.

🎅 Holiday schedule: we’ll be off from 22 December, but will return to your inboxes on 9 January with some exciting new changes. But fret not – we’ll send our “2022 in review” and “2023 prediction” issues over the break to keep you entertained.


Welcome to the ‘New Era’ of Saudi-China relations

In brief:

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping flew to Saudi Arabia last week to meet with the Saudi Crown Prince and several other regional leaders.
  • China is looking to secure its energy imports, while Saudi Arabia is hoping to scale back its reliance on the US.

The Saudis spared no expense for Xi Jinping’s welcome. Credits: Global Times.

Xi went to Saudi Arabia

You might not expect the two to have much in common, but China and Saudi Arabia are here to show us that friendships can cut across the political spectrum.

Xi’s arrival in Riyadh was not a low-key affair. Xi’s “special plane” was escorted by a squadron of Saudi fighter jets, and he was greeted by a purple carpet, a 21-gun salute, and a sizeable welcoming committee.

Compare Xi’s welcome with the substantially less extravagant one Joe Biden received when he arrived in the Kingdom this past summer. It would appear that despite the country’s desert climate, the Saudis still know how to throw shade.

The outcomes

Theatrics were just the start. Xi Jinping described his visit as the beginning of a “new era” in Saudi-Chinese relations.

  • By several measures, they’re already well-established: bilateral trade between the pair reached over $87B last year.

During their meeting, Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and Xi agreed to:

  1. Meet every two years under a strategic partnership agreement (the diplomatic equivalent of a friendship bracelet).
  2. More than 30 investment deals worth $50B in energy, infrastructure, and telecommunications.
  3. Mind their own business regarding “internal affairs” (e.g. human rights issues).

Mutually beneficial

Clearly, China and Saudi Arabia see plenty of benefits in deepening their relationship.

🇨🇳 China wants to secure its energy imports, expand its influence in the region, and foster goodwill with an influential Muslim country, which they hope will continue quietening concerns over Beijing’s treatment of its Muslim Uyghur population.

🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia wants to counterbalance its reliance on the US with another UN Security Council permanent member, especially one that isn’t interested in making the kingdom a “pariah” state (State Department employees are still recovering from Biden’s comments in 2019).

As Middle East expert Jonathan Fulton summed it up:

“The two countries have a wide range of interests in engaging with each other […]. If it were simply a matter of the Saudis signalling their displeasure with the United States, then Washington could eventually get the relationship back on track and Riyadh would drop Beijing. That’s not going to happen.”


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Africa & the Middle East

🇬🇭 Ghana

The Ghanaian government has reached a preliminary agreement with the IMF for a $3B loan.

  • The loan is intended to stabilise Ghana’s troubled economy as inflation reaches a 21-year high of ~50%.

🇮🇷 Iran

On Wednesday, Iran was kicked out of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, a body tasked with promoting gender equality and female empowerment.

  • Iran’s expulsion is unsurprising: it’s been taking an increasingly-violent approach to cracking down on its women-led protests.

🇳🇬 Nigeria

The World Bank has downgraded its 2022 growth forecast for Nigeria from 3.8% to 3.1%.

  • Weak performances from the oil sector, high inflation, and a poor security environment have contributed to lower growth expectations.

🇸🇴 Somalia

The UN believes a famine scenario has been averted in Somalia, but cautions that the situation remains “catastrophic”.

  • According to the new report released on Tuesday, five consecutive, failed rainy seasons have left up to eight million people in severe need.

🇹🇳 Tunisia

Tensions are running high in Tunisia ahead of tomorrow’s parliamentary elections, the first under a new constitution passed by President Kais Saied.

  • Major opposition parties have announced a boycott of the vote, and accused Saied of effectively staging a coup to concentrate power into his own hands.

🚨 Dropping this weekend: our final Diplomatic Club newsletter for the year, which features an in-depth interview with Eurasia Group’s Neil Thomas. If you’re not a Diplomatic Club member, all you need to do is refer five people using your unique code at the bottom of the newsletter!


Erdoğan rival arrested

Things not to say in Turkey, apparently… Via: Giphy.

The news: Turkish officials have sentenced Istanbul’s Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu to more than two years in prison for insulting a public official.

  • Imamoglu would be unable to hold public office for the duration of his 30-month sentence.

Backtrack: The charges against Imamoglu date back to 2019, when he protested the national election administration’s decision to annul his victory and order a re-run.

  • When Turkey’s interior minister called him a “fool”, Imamoglu responded by also calling the interior minister a “fool”. This was an apparent violation of Turkish libel law.

Here’s the catch: Imamoglu is considered a top rival to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In 2019, he wrested control of Istanbul from Erdoğan’s party for the first time since 1994.

  • Turkey’s upcoming presidential election next summer is expected to be Erdoğan’s toughest electoral test since taking office in 2014.

To critics, Imamoglu’s sentence is the latest example of Erdoğan’s anti-democratic instincts. But this time, it may backfire, according to Turkey expert Henri Barkey:

“Imamoglu is likely to be propelled to front of the line. The pressure on Erdogan will increase. [H]is party and press will be delegitimized. Istanbul is not only the largest city but every nook and cranny of Turkey is connected to it. The shockwaves will reach every corner.”

And, polling suggests Barkey might be right.


Here are some of the terms that trended on Google Search throughout 2022. Can you guess them all? You can also play online here.

Answers: Across – 1. World Cup 3. NFT 5. Abortion 6. Elizabeth 7. Depp 8. Olympics Down – 1. Wordle 2. Ukraine 3. NATO 4. Monkeypox

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