Biden visits Saudi Arabia to woo oil and geopolitical support, but may bring back lower approval rate
Published: Jul 15, 2022 10:35 PM
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 24, 2022, after a gunman shot dead 18 young children at an elementary school in Texas. Photo: AFP

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 24, 2022. Photo: AFP

US President Joe Biden landed in Saudi Arabia on Friday and started the "most embarrassing" stop of his Mideast tour, as the US is in urgent need of appeasing or just resetting relations with the energy-rich country which Biden called a "pariah" over human rights issues, for boosting oil production, as well as to assert influence in the region in case Russia and China fill the "vacuum" on the geopolitical chess board. 

Despite US media viewing Saudi Arabia's recent decision to open its airspace to all civilian carriers, including those from US ally Israel, as "a sign of warming ties," Chinese experts said Biden's trip to Saudi Arabia will barely achieve its diplomatic goals, but instead may further damage his vulnerable approval ratings ahead of the midterm elections.

Citing the White House, CNN said on Thursday that Biden is expected to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Downplaying the claim that the US is desperate to ease spiking domestic gas prices by urging Saudi Arabia to pump more oil, Biden stressed on Thursday that his visit is trying to avoid creating a "vacuum" in the region that could be filled by China and Russia. 

In an op-ed article posted by The Washington Post, Biden explained that his visit seeks to strengthen the strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, "counter Russia's aggression," and put the US "in the best possible position to outcompete China."  

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded on Friday that "the Middle East is a land of its people, not anyone's backyard. There is no so-called vacuum there." 

Wang said the people in the Middle East want development and security more than anything else. The international community, major countries in particular, should make it a priority and work constructively to help the countries and people in this region realize development and security, not otherwise.

The Biden administration's overall diplomatic strategy has been to draw in other countries, weaken their ties with Russia, and isolate Russia, a Beijing-based international affairs expert told the Global Times on Friday. 

"The US is trying to use Saudi Arabia as a pawn in its pursuit of geopolitical interests," the expert said. 

That will not be easy for Biden. Since the Russia-US conflict escalated in February, the US has been trying to coerce other countries to cut energy deals with Russia, with only limited effect. It is impossible for other countries to fully comply with something that is only in America's national interest, analysts said.  

Citing officials from Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal reported that the country is "closer to Russia than ever," and has no plans to help Washington by pumping more oil.  

Experts said Biden's trip also aims to warm up relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel so they can better counter the US' adversary Iran, which has close ties with Russia.

As a regional power, Saudi Arabia is acting more out of its own interests, the Beijing-based expert said. "An important purpose of Saudi Arabia's engagement with the US this time is to obtain more advanced weapons, as the balance of military power in the Middle East is largely achieved through arms deals with countries outside the region," he added.

But even if the two sides make progress on arms, that doesn't mean Saudi Arabia will defer to the US on oil production, he said. 

"As the US and the West consider price caps on Russian oil and gas imports, the rest of the world could also see their revenues plummet. There's no doubt that Saudi Arabia wants better prices for its oil," the expert said. 

He further noted that the Democrats are very likely to be defeated in Congress in the midterm elections, which means Biden would become a "lame duck" president. "It is almost impossible for a sick man to act forcefully outside if his house is in a mess."

According to US media, Biden, who always dons the veil of "human rights defender," is facing criticism and opposition over the tour, despite US officials saying Biden is likely to bring up journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder during the meeting with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince.

The US has accused the Crown Prince of having approved the killing. Biden described Saudi Arabia as a "pariah" over the incident during his election campaign in 2019.

Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia, a country whose values are starkly different from those of the US and which has been criticized by US media, will make people once again realize the hypocrisy of Biden's rhetoric about democracy, human rights and freedom, experts said.