In a recent article, Pakistani writer Saher Liaqat examined the implications of Saudi Arabia's decision to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a multilateral regional forum in which China and Russia are influential. Its members include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and India.
In the article, titled "Saudi Arabia, SCO and Gulf," Liaqat noted that Riyadh joining SCO as a dialogue partner is part of the broader Chinese push to shape a post-American, post-Western world. The writer also observed that Iran's 25-year partnership agreement with China might have left little space for Saudis to remain oblivious to developments in the region.
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh on December 8, 2022. (Image: Xinhua)
Following are excerpts from the article:
"Saudi Arabia Has... Entered A Multilateral Forum Driven By The Eastern Powers Which Is Indicative Of The Country's Inclination To Advance Networking And Collaboration Potential With Countries Non-Aligned With Washington"
"As the U.S.-China tension heighten, the booming economic ties between the Gulf and Beijing are becoming more and more evident. The United States has closely observed that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have made a 'Pivot to Asia' regarding their geo-economic strategy. The eastern multilateralism in the Gulf region, given the region's changing geopolitical dynamics, is notably driven by economic and strategic factors.
"Recently, the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia officially announced joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a 'dialogue partner.' This development has come three weeks after the historic reconciliation of Saudi Arabia with its nemesis, Iran, mediated by the People's Republic of China.
"The mainly Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite majority Iran which had been engaged in a proxy war in the Middle East for nearly a decade, restored their diplomatic ties after seven years. Before this, President Xi [Jinping] had made a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia and attended the historic China-Gulf summit with the leaders of Gulf and Arab states late last year [of 2022] to strengthen the trade and investment ties with the Gulf region.
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"Given Saudi Arabia's ever-expanding political and economic ties with China, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has, for the first time, entered a multilateral forum driven by the Eastern powers, which is indicative of the country's inclination to advance networking and collaboration potential with countries non-aligned with Washington.
"Though the SCO yet looks given to frame and implement policies able to budge global balances, it is undeniable that catering to Saudi ambitions and bilateral relations will be more effective."
"Riyadh's Decision To Join SCO Is Largely Seen As Expanding Beijing's Influence In The Gulf Region"; "Riyadh's Last Year's Refusal To Increase Oil Production To Aid In Cutting Prices Has Further Lubricated The China-Saudi Partnership"
"The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was founded in 2001 to establish itself as a political, economic and security union as opposed to Western institutions. Its membership comprises eight nations, namely China, Russia, India and Pakistan and four Central Asian nations, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Moreover, other Gulf countries such as Qatar, Iran and Egypt will assume the observer or dialogue partner status in the SCO.
"Riyadh's decision to join SCO is largely seen as expanding Beijing's influence in the Gulf region. Xi's proactive role in the Saudi-Iran rapprochement has increased China's standing in the Middle East. The PRC [People's Republic of China] maintains that Beijing is willing to bolster its strategic ties with Saudi Arabia within the framework of the SCO to sustain peace, regional stability, and security and to foster joint development.
"On the other hand, Riyadh's traditionally close partnership with Washington has been strained since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, whose blame was pinned on Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman by Washington. Moreover, Riyadh's last year's refusal to increase oil production to aid in cutting prices has further lubricated the China-Saudi partnership.
"China is the world's largest importer of crude oil and Saudi Arabia is one of its largest trade partners. Since 2018, China's crude oil trade with the kingdom accounts for 77% of its other oil imports. Thus, deepening economic ties with China is crucial for Saudi Arabia's economic growth and diversification.
"In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been increasing its oil exports to China and the two countries have also signed several agreements in areas such as energy, infrastructure, and technology. Moreover, Riyadh's ambitious reform program called Vision 2030, which is a mainstay of Muhammad bin Salman's modernization drive, also facilitates the kingdom's strengthened ties with Beijing."
"It Is Speculated That The Chinese Government Is Working Toward Establishing A Post-American And, More Generally, A Post-Western System In The Region"
"In addition, China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has presented a unique opportunity for Saudi Arabia to enhance connectivity with China and other Asian countries. The kingdom has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China on the BRI and Saudi Arabia is also a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is a key financial institution for the BRI.
In a landmark development, Chinese, Iranian, and Saudi officials met in Beijing on March 10, 2023 (image: tehrantimes.com)
"The two countries have also cooperated in defense, counterterrorism and regional stability. There is prevalent conjecture that China and Iran entering into a 25-year strategic partnership agreement to enhance and extend their bilateral ties has prompted Riyadh to act, as it does not want China's regional relationships to be limited to a mere strategic partnership with Iran.
"Considering this, Saudi Arabia is focused on bolstering the Gulf and Arab nations' influence in China's dealings with the region. It is speculated that the Chinese government is working toward establishing a post-American and, more generally, a post-Western system in the region. This approach is widely viewed as a warning to the U.S. Carter Doctrine, which considers the Gulf region its exclusive area of influence.
"Against this backdrop, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and China has been strengthening over the years in an increasingly multi-polar world. Overall, the growing relationship between Saudi Arabia and China is part of a larger trend of Eastern multilateralism in the Gulf region. As Gulf countries aim to diversify their economies and reduce their reliance on the West, they are increasingly looking toward countries like China to strengthen their economic and strategic partnerships, thereby reducing their reliance on a single partner traditionally."
 Pakistan Observer (Pakistan), April 29, 2023. The original English of the article has been lightly edited for clarity and standardization.