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Biden's vacuum-filling trip may come back to bite him at home

Source: China Daily | 2022-07-18
Biden's vacuum-filling trip may come back to bite him at home

US President Joe Biden (5th left) poses for a group picture with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council member states, as well as leaders from Jordan, Egypt and Iraq during the Jeddah Security and Development Summit (GCC+3) in the Saudi city of Jeddah on July 16, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

This is an editorial from China Daily.

Even back at home, Joe Biden's Middle East trip has been unusually unpopular.

Indeed, how could the US president, who has placed such weight on human rights in US foreign policy, reach out to a government he himself had vowed to make a "pariah" for its alleged involvement in the high-profile murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Despite speculation that the Biden entourage had pre-set a "no handshake" rule for the trip, his fist bump on Friday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman instead amplified the voices of disgust.

Such perceptions of backsliding on his administration's claims to be acting from the moral high ground will stay to haunt Biden, perhaps even his party, later on. But the US president made the unwelcome decision anyway, because something else was weighing on his mind.

At his news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday, the US president declared that the US is vying for international influence and his visit to the Middle East was meant to reaffirm US influence there, so as to not leave a "vacuum" for China, Russia, or Iran to fill.

Most importantly, the US and Saudi governments agreed to consult on global energy market stability, the importance of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and preserving the smooth flow of commerce through the strategic international waterways in the region.

The US president repeated his "vacuum" rhetoric at the "security and development" summit with a number of leaders of Middle East countries in the Saudi capital on Saturday, inspiring some observers to suspect he is trying to materialize the long-in-the-works "Middle East edition of NATO" with China and Russia as its targets.

But to the countries there, it is one thing to increase cooperation with the US, it is another to take sides in the geopolitical wrangling between and among competing powers from outside the region.

Biden's Saudi Arabia visit may succeed in draining some of the rancor from the bilateral relationship. But it is unlikely to alter Saudi Arabia's willingness to deepen ties with China.

As Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, told CNBC on Friday, Saudi Arabia's policy is to build bridges of communication and deal with all countries. The US is its No 1 partner in multiple areas, while China is also an important trading partner, energy market and investor. Saudi Arabia doesn't believe one is exclusive to the other.

Indeed, China has long engaged in cooperation with countries in the Middle East, and it is willing to work constructively with other parties, including the US, to promote the region's development and stability. If the US is trying to establish a collective security agreement in the Middle East based on the NATO model, it will only exacerbate the lack of trust and divergent goals of Middle Eastern states, further destabilizing the region.