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Don’t let China seduce the Saudis

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and President Xi Jinping in 2016. Rolex/Pool/Getty

Joe Biden has “badly damaged” relations between America and Saudi Arabia, says Karen Elliott House in The Wall Street Journal. It’s no small matter, given the combination of Saudi oil and American muscle “underpins global economic security”. In the first year of his administration, Biden refused to speak with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. So when Russian oil became taboo in March, and Biden wanted Saudi Arabia to increase production, MBS refused his call. The Saudis say they won’t act without the rest of the OPEC+ oil cartel, which includes Russia. “There is no rational commercial or financial argument for increasing production,” one Saudi official says, “only a political one.”

Saudi pique is dangerous. China’s Xi Jinping visited the country in 2016, and he’s been promised a big welcome in Riyadh for his first post-pandemic foreign trip. China buys 1.8 million barrels of oil a day from Saudi Arabia and is now its largest trading partner. Meanwhile, the Americans can’t give the kingdom a straight answer on anything, from protecting Saudi oilfields from Houthi rocket attacks to the growing threat of Iran. “We are used to the US having a clear sense of direction,” an official says, “but this administration has been erratic.” Biden needs to buck his ideas up. The price of “standing aloof”, as Saudi Arabia moves ever deeper into China’s pocket, is too high.