29.Mar .2023 22:00

Saudi Arabia takes step to join China-led security bloc

Saudi Arabia takes step to join China-led security bloc
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Saudi Arabia’s cabinet approved a decision to join a China-led security bloc, strengthening Riyadh’s eastern ties in a further step away from U.S. interests.

The state-owned Saudi Press Agency said that, in a session presided by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi cabinet on Tuesday approved a memorandum awarding Riyadh the status of dialogue partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — a political, security and trade alliance that lists China, Russia, India, Pakistan and four other central Asian nations as full members.

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

Saudi Arabia’s decision to join the SCO, while falling short of full membership, takes Riyadh’s interests further east, at a time when Beijing is testing out its sway in the Middle East in a potential hit to U.S. influence. In early March, China brokered a deal for long-time Mideast rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume diplomatic relations and reopen embassies in each other’s countries.

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

The White House did not immediately respond to a CNBC request to comment on Saudi Arabia’s new dialogue partner status in the SCO.

Saudi interests have long been intertwined with those of leading SCO members China and Russia. Beijing is Riyadh’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade worth $87.3 billion in 2021, according to Reuters.

China is a major consumer of hydrocarbon-reliant Saudi Arabia’s oil exports, with the two countries making significant inroads in each other’s petrochemical sectors — including the recent announcement by Saudi state-controlled oil giant Aramco of a joint venture that will build a refinery and petrochemical complex in Panjin in northeast China, alongside partners Norinco and the Panjin Xincheng Industrial Group.

Separately, Riyadh is a close ally of Russia in the crude oil production policies of the OPEC+ coalition, CNBC reports.