The Saudi cabinet on 29 March approved a decision to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a “dialogue partner.” The SCO is a Eurasian cooperation bloc created in 2001 by Russia, China, and several former Soviet states in Central Asia.
The regional bloc today includes India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan, with Iran set to join soon as a permanent member. Afghanistan, Belarus, and Mongolia are observer countries, while the organization has six dialogue partners: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey.
Saudi King Salman approved the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to join the SCO. During the cabinet session, he also authorized the launch of technical and vocational training between the kingdom and China, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
Sources who spoke with Reuters revealed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) discussed joining the SCO with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the latter’s visit to Riyadh in December.
Dialogue partner status will be a first step within the organization before Saudi Arabia is granted full membership in the mid-term.
Over the past few weeks, Saudi Arabia has significantly bolstered ties with China, pushing further away from its historic partnership with the US.
Hours before joining the SCO, MbS thanked China for its role in mediating a rapprochement deal with Tehran and facilitating “good neighborly relations” in the region.
China and Saudi Arabia this week also deepened energy cooperation, with state-owned oil giant Aramco agreeing to acquire 10 percent of Rongsheng Petrochemical Co. for $3.6 billion in a deal that will see the kingdom supply 480,000 barrels of crude a day to China’s largest integrated refining and chemicals facility in Zhejiang province.
Over the weekend, Aramco announced a joint venture with two other Chinese companies to build 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) refinery and petrochemicals complex in China’s northeast.
The combined deals will see Aramco’s supply contracts with China increase by up to 690,000 bpd.
Riyadh’s growing partnership with China has raised alarms in the US, with the White House issuing warnings about Beijing’s “attempts to exert influence around the world.”