US-Saudi feud over oil prices could send Riyadh barrelling towards China: experts
- US President Joe Biden said this week he would ‘re-evaluate’ ties with the kingdom over its refusal to lower oil prices
- Analysts say Riyadh and its Gulf Arab allies are likely to push back against any US punishment, a move which could benefit Washington’s rivals like China and Russia
“But there are dangers for China as well,” she said. “The basic security architecture of the region can shake, but if it falls completely this will certainly end up harming China’s energy security and that of its Asian neighbours as well.”
Adopting neutrality, the Gulf states have upheld their Opec+ agreement with Russia, and Riyadh reiterated on Tuesday that its backing to cut 2 million barrels per day in the Opec+ production quota was driven by the aim of “achieving balance and stability in the global oil markets”.
Analysts said Riyadh and its Gulf Arab allies are likely to push back against US vows to punish it for last week’s decision by the Opec+ group of oil exporters to cut production.
“This sort of review, which is of an issue that the Gulf states regard as strictly economic rather than political and which they view as critical to their internal development, will be highly resented and may lead to some pushback,” said Dave DesRoches, associate professor at the Near East South Asia Centre for Strategic Studies of the US National Defence University in Washington.
“Congress will go into recess shortly so we will see if anything advances materially beyond expressions of disapproval,” she said.
But by vowing “there will be consequences” for Saudi Arabia, Biden will probably prompt Riyadh to demonstrate the strength of its relationships with the US’ great rivals, a senior House Democrat cautioned.
“And how does that play out in terms of meeting our [America’s] interests? So it’s a lot more complicated than just saying, you know, we don’t like Saudi Arabia, and therefore we’re cutting it off, and everything will be fine from there because of their very fraught, complicated relationship.”
Washington-based analysts expected Saudi Arabia to retaliate against any suspension of US arms supplies by awarding lucrative military contracts to China, especially for niche armaments like drones and ballistic missiles which the US and its Western allies have refused to sell to it.
“If the Biden administration gets tough, the Gulf states can be expected to have high-level talks with China and perhaps publicly announce the purchase of some weapons, such as Norinco 155mm howitzer ammunition,” DesRoches of the US National Defence University said.
But the Gulf states are deeply invested in military compatibility with the US and “will not risk that over a small matter”, he said.
“My prediction is that, if there is a significant rupture, in six months if you interview any US military official about the rupture they will say the military-to-military relationship is strong,” DesRoches said.