The Chinese president Xi Jinping has recently completed a three-nation tour in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran, offering tens of billions in loans and investments. These three countries are strategically located on the routes of the new silk roads that China is trying to revive, also known as “One Belt, One Road.”
According to a Reuters article, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told President Xi Jinping during the visit that “Iranians never trusted the West…. That’s why Tehran seeks cooperation with more independent countries” (like China).
Xi certainly wants to cash in on this distrust. The two countries agreed to increase bilateral trade to $600 billion in the next 10 years. Among many agreements signed are 17 memorandums to kick-start “a maritime Silk Road of the 21st century,” one of the two routes of the “One Belt, One Road” program.
In Egypt, Xi discussed potential investments in sectors like electricity, transportation, and infrastructure, including one to build a new administrative capital in Cairo. China is also expected to lend Egypt’s central bank $1 billion “to help shore up its foreign reserves,” according to Riyadh Vision, a Saudia Arabia online publication.
In Saudi Arabia, President Xi met with King Salman and oversaw the opening of an oil refinery joint-venture in the Yanbu Industrial City on the Red Sea. Saudi Arabia is China’s biggest supplier of crude oil.
On this trip, Xi offered a total of $55 billion in loans and investments to the Middle East, although he told the Arab League that “We are not setting up proxies or building a sphere of influence in the region.”
When the “One Belt, One Road” initiative was first introduced, many thought it was a “pie in the sky.” It involves 65 countries, 4.4 billion people, and about 40 percent of global GDP. Now, however, it looks like it is gaining momentum. Some western observers consider it as China’s equivalent of the Marshal Plan. It will be interesting to see how this plan unfolds.