Saudi Arabia brings an initiative to unite China-led security bloc as relations with Beijing strengthen

March 30, 2023: Saudi Arabia’s cabinet allowed a decision to enter a China-led security bloc, which makes Riyadh’s eastern links further away from U.S. interests.

On Tuesday, the state-owned Saudi Press Agency said that in a session by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi cabinet approved a memorandum acknowledging Riyadh’s status as a dialogue partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This political, security and trade alliance lists China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and four central Asian nations as full members.

The organization further tallies four observer states and nine dialogue partners in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. It is the main place in Beijing and served by China’s Zhang Ming as secretary-general.

While falling short of full membership, Saudi Arabia’s decision to join the SCO takes Riyadh’s interests further east when Beijing tests its sway in the Middle East in a potential reach to U.S. influence. In March, China brokered a deal for long-time Mideast rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran to start diplomatic relations and reopen embassies in every other’s country.

Deeper in Europe, Beijing just as ambitiously, if so far less successfully, presented a 12-point plan to achieve peace between Russia and Ukraine.

Saudi interests are intertwined with those leading SCO members, China and Russia. According to Reuters, Beijing is Riyadh’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade valued at $87.3 billion in 2021.

China is a significant consumer of hydrocarbon-reliant Saudi Arabia’s oil exports, with the two countries that make significant inroads in each other’s petrochemical sectors which include the recent announcement by Saudi state-controlled oil company Aramco of a joint venture that will make a refinery and petrochemical complex in Panjin in China, alongside people Norinco and the Panjin Xincheng Industrial Group.

Hence, Riyadh has a close connection with Russia in the crude oil production views of the OPEC+ coalition.

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