What's new

CNN Exclusive: US intel and satellite images show Saudi Arabia is now building its own ballistic missiles with help of China

In related news:

The Saudi path to nuclear weapons​

Posted on August 28, 2022 by beyondnuclearinternational


Kingdom’s pursuit of nuclear power development should set off alarm bells

By Henry Sokolski

Iran’s nuclear program, oil, and human rights dominated Biden’s much-anticipated first presidential trip to the Middle East earlier this month. But there is one topic President Biden chose not to showcase during his visit with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud—the Kingdom’s most recent interest in nuclear energy—and the nuclear weapons proliferation concerns that come with it.

Only weeks before Biden’s visit, Riyadh invited South Korea, Russia, and China to bid on the construction of two large power reactors. On that bid, Korea Electric Power Company (KEPCO) is the most likely winner. KEPCO has already built four reactors for Riyadh’s neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, and is the only vendor to bring a power reactor of its own design online in the Middle East. South Korea also is the only government to provide reliable, generous financing, free of political strings—something neither Moscow nor Beijing can credibly claim.

And then, there’s this: Any Korean sale would be covered by a generous 2011 South Korean nuclear cooperative agreement with Riyadh that explicitly authorizes the Saudis to enrich any uranium it might receive from Seoul. Under the agreement, Riyadh could enrich this material by up to 20 percent, without having to secure Seoul’s prior consent.

That should set off alarm bells.

Do the Saudis want a bomb?

In 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman announced that “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.” As if to prove the point, late in 2020, word leaked that the Saudis have been working secretly with the Chinese to mine and process Saudi uranium ore. These are steps toward enriching uranium—and a possible nuclear weapon program.

What is the true nuclear agenda of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman? (Photo: US Department of State/Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike the Emirates, which legally renounced enriching uranium or reprocessing spent fuel to separate plutonium, the Kingdom insists on retaining its “right” to enrich. Also, unlike most members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Saudi Arabia refuses to allow intrusive inspections that might help the IAEA find covert nuclear weapons-related activities, if they exist, under a nuclear inspections addendum known as the Additional Protocol.

Saudi Arabia’s enrichment program and refusal to adopt the Additional Protocol, doubled with a possible permissive South Korean reactor sale, could spell trouble. South Korea currently makes its nuclear fuel assemblies using imported uranium, which mainly comes from Australia. This ore is controlled by Australia’s uranium export policy, which requires that the uranium be monitored by the IAEA and that materials derived from it not be retransferred to a third country without first securing Australia’s consent. Yet, if Seoul decides to pass Australian uranium on to Riyadh, the Saudis are free to enrich it up to 20 percent at any time without having to secure anyone’s approval. In addition, Riyadh could proceed to enrich this material without having to agree to intrusive IAEA inspections under the Additional Protocol, making it easier for Riyadh to enrich beyond 20 percent uranium 235 without anyone knowing.

Can Washington block the reactor export?

In Washington, the US nuclear industry understandably is miffed that Riyadh excluded Westinghouse from bidding on the Saudi reactors. Meanwhile, State Department officials say that KEPCO can’t sell Riyadh its APR-1400 reactor because it incorporates US nuclear technology that is property of Westinghouse. KEPCO, they insist, would first need to secure US Energy Department approval under US intangible technology transfer controls (known as Part 810 authorizations). This requirement, they argue, gives Washington the leverage it needs to impose nonproliferation conditions on South Korea’s reactor export to Riyadh.

During his recent visit to Saudi Arabia and his meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, US President Biden chose not to showcase the Kingdom’s most recent interest in nuclear energy. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)

This sounds fine. But there’s a catch. South Korean officials insist that its APR-1400 design, which uses a Combustion Engineering data package that Westinghouse now owns, is entirely indigenous. Focusing on the matter of technology transfer authority also begs a bigger question: Does the Republic of Korea need Washington’s blessing to begin enriching uranium itself or to transfer enrichment technology to other countries, such as Saudi Arabia?

The short answer is no.

South Korea has always been free to enrich uranium and transfer uranium enrichment technology to other countries so long as the uranium it enriched or the enrichment technology it shipped wasn’t of US origin. America’s veto over South Korean enrichment only applies to uranium that comes from the United States. As I learned from a recent interview of the two top negotiators of the 2015 US-Republic of Korea civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, Seoul has always known this. Yet, South Korea asked that Washington explicitly grant it authority to enrich uranium in the 2015 agreement—something Washington has yet to grant. According to the negotiators, South Korean officials preferred to have political permission from Washington to do so, even though they did not legally need it.

South Korea and the United States have a choice

South Korea’s previous administration under President Moon Jae-in announced in 2021 that South Korea would not export reactors to countries that had not yet agreed to adopt the IAEA’s Additional Protocol. Is this pledge one that President Yoon Suk-yeol will uphold? Or will Yoon reverse this policy in his effort to go all out to secure the reactor sale to Riyadh?

Similarly, how committed is the Biden Administration to prevent Saudi Arabia from enriching uranium and reprocessing spent reactor fuel? Previous administrations have tried to keep Riyadh clear of such activities. Will Washington keep Seoul’s and Saudi Arabia’s feet to the fire on this or will the administration’s desire to close ranks with South Korea and Saudi Arabia push these nonproliferation concerns to the sidelines? Anyone interested in preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East should want to know the answers.

Henry Sokolski is the executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Arlington, Virginia, and author of Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future (2019). He served as deputy for nonproliferation policy in the office of the US secretary of defense during the George H.W. Bush administration.

This article was first published by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and is republished here with permission of the author.

The opinions expressed in articles by outside contributors and published on the Beyond Nuclear International website, are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Beyond Nuclear. However, we try to offer a broad variety of viewpoints and perspectives as part of our mission “to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future”.

Headline photo of Riyadh Ministry of the Interior building, Saudi Arabia, by IMP1/Creative Commons.

If we forget the fact that KSA already has access to nuclear weapons, such news is entertaining.

Important news:

- SAMI Defense Systems, in partnership with MBDA, obtain approval to start establishing a joint venture in the field of missiles and missile systems. - It seems that SAMI will start production operations for a number of missiles with MBDA, which were announced through previous exhibitions are: CAMM & CAMM-ER ASRAAM Brimstone Spear.





And this was news in March 2022:

Saudi Arabia signs a joint venture agreement with European MBDA, a leading company in the field of missiles and missile systems, with the aim of establishing the “SAMI-MBDA” company for missile systems, which will provide maintenance, repair and overhaul services, and “production and development” of missile defense systems in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Last edited:

Will Xi or Won’t Xi: Is China’s Leader Heading to Saudi Arabia?​

What a rumored, but to date unrealized, foreign trip tells us about a leader, his country and his foreign and domestic political priorities.

Friday, September 9, 2022 / BY: Andrew Scobell, Ph.D.
PUBLICATION TYPE: Analysis and Commentary
Share This

Last month witnessed considerable media speculation that Chinese leader Xi Jinping would soon visit Saudi Arabia in what would be his first trip overseas in two and a half years. However, this trip has yet to materialize. As the recent visit by a senior U.S. congressional leader to Taiwan reminds us, not every high-level government visit is necessarily publicly announced ahead of time. While it appears that Xi will be attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Uzbekistan on September 15, it’s worth exploring what these swirling rumors of an imminent Xi trip to Riyadh mean.

Xi Jinping arrives at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Feb. 16, 2012. Xi has not made a foreign trip since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Monica Almeida/The New York Times)
Xi Jinping arrives at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Feb. 16, 2012. Xi has not made a foreign trip since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Monica Almeida/The New York Times)
These news reports were plausible for four reasons. First, the timing appeared propitious. Second, the COVID pandemic seemed to be abating, making Xi more inclined to go abroad. Third, Saudi leaders were keen on a visit. Fourth, China’s top leader was eager to resume international travel with a high-profile flourish to key geostrategic region of the world like the Middle East. So why is Xi headed to Central Asia instead?

Why Now? Propitious Timing​

First and foremost, Xi is fully embarked upon the final phase of his preparatory campaign for the most consequential Chinese Communist Party (CCP) conclave in a decade. In addition to holding the position of China’s head of state, Xi also serves as general-secretary of the CCP. Indeed. because China is a party-state in which the CCP dominates all, Xi’s party post carries far more significance than his state office. The CCP’s 20th Party Congress is scheduled to commence on October 16 and Xi is running for an unprecedented third term as CCP chief. The outcome of the election may not be in doubt, but this does not mean that Xi is taking his recoronation for granted.

He wants to ensure that the high-profile formal gathering itself is meticulously stage-managed and that the months leading up to the event showcase Xi’s domestic accomplishments and highlight his international stature. To this end, in recent months, Xi has begun stepping out of his COVID cocoon. In July he made a rare visit to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. In late June, Xi traveled to Hong Kong to preside over festivities commemorating the 25th anniversary of the transfer of the former British colony to a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China and personally administered the oath of office to the SAR’s latest handpicked chief executive — his first in-person appearance outside of mainland China since January 2020.

Overcoming COVID Concerns​

Second, Xi is starting to feel safer, believing that he is now reasonably well protected against the virus as long as he takes precautions. Just as large numbers of citizens in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have been locked down for extended periods over the past two plus years to counter COVID-19, so Xi has been sheltered inside a protective bubble to insulate himself from the pandemic. While it appears that Xi has been vaccinated and is in reasonably good health, the 69-year-old dictator remains worried about catching the virus and hence has limited his exposure to others and drastically curtailed his vigorous pre-COVID domestic and foreign travel schedule. Most of his 2022 interactions with foreign leaders — such as his August tete-a-tete with President Joe Biden — have been conducted virtually. There have been exceptions, but all in-person meetings have taken place on Chinese soil — notable face-to-faces include with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in February on the sidelines of the Beijing Winter Olympics and, more recently, in late July, with Indonesian President Joko Widodo. The last foreign trip Xi made was in January 2020 when the Chinese leader visited neighboring Myanmar.

Xi’s travel and appearances in recent months, both public and private, are managed to limit the risks to his health. Of course, even under normal circumstances Xi’s meetings and events are carefully scripted and closely choreographed to ensure China’s top leader is both secure and portrayed in the best possible light. But these efforts have been ratcheted up in recent months to minimize his direct contact and exposure to viruses as he begins to venture beyond Beijing. In the lead up to Xi’s recent stopover in Hong Kong, thousands of guests and employees at the venues where he was scheduled to appear were subjected to daily COVID tests and multi-day quarantines. Moreover, Xi did not even spend the night in the SAR but retired to what was presumably considered to be a safer location — a state guesthouse in the next-door Shenzhen Special Economic Zone.

Convening at the Crossroads of Competition​

Third, Saudi leaders are very keen to have the Chinese leader visit the kingdom. Back in March, Riyadh reportedly issued a formal invitation to Xi. The visit by the PRC leader would underscore Saudi Arabia’s status as a regional powerbroker with a reach that is increasingly global. A high-profile visit by Xi would demonstrate that Riyadh has a set of large and powerful friends outside its neighborhood. As the title of a recent report highlights, the Middle East has emerged as the world’s “crossroads of competition” where the United States, China and Russia all vie for geopolitical influence and geoeconomic advantage.

Yet, Middle Eastern states, including Saudi Arabia, are not passive actors and actively seek to leverage great power competition for national benefit. Riyadh’s relations with Washington have cooled considerably in the aftermath of the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the publication of a U.S. Government report stating that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (commonly referred to as MBS) approved the operation. China’s values-free diplomacy allows Beijing to overlook such outrages and Riyadh returns the favor. While President Biden has sought to get beyond the frostiness in relations, his July visit to Saudi Arabia was noticeably strained, as captured in the image of an awkward fist bump between the U.S. head of state and MBS. A state visit by PRC leader Xi would send an unmistakable signal to Washington that Riyadh has options. The visit would not only carry important symbolism but would be backdropped by the reality of considerable trade and investment activity and noteworthy security cooperation between Saudi Arabia and China.

Why Saudi Arabia?​

Fourth, Xi himself is eager for red carpet treatment that would make him look statesman-like and highlight the great deference that China is afforded around the world, and for Xi to take personal credit for China’s rise in power and status. A late 2022 or early 2023 visit to Saudi Arabia would implicitly put the Chinese leader on par with the leader of the world’s most powerful state. Furthermore, Xi is likely to be received with much more pomp and circumstance than Biden and would almost certainly be afforded all the ceremonial trappings of a state visit, something that Washington sought to avoid on Biden’s visit. Video feed of a Xi visit would saturate Chinese television screens and the internet, and photo ops would fill print media. The result would further strengthen Xi’s almost unassailable incumbent advantage at the Party Congress. To be clear, official announcement of the visit has yet to be given but Xi is likely to be eager to visit Riyadh in the near future.

Such a trip by Xi would be to a key Chinese partner in a region of tremendous geostrategic importance to China. Beyond being a significant source of petroleum, Beijing considers Riyadh to be a steady, trusted, and reliable friend in a particularly volatile region. Moreover, Xi’s cordial relationship with Saudi Arabia’s most visible and vigorous senior leader, MBS, contrasts with Biden’s strained personal ties.

Moreover, the Middle East looms large as a central arena of geopolitical competition and the visit allows Xi to demonstrate that China is now a major player in a region where in recent history Beijing has tended to be absent and long ceded ground to Washington, Moscow and other out-of-region capitals. Xi’s welcome in Riyadh would signal to 96 million CCP members and 1.4 billion Chinese people that their country has become a major player in the Middle East and by extension a global power since only consequential outside countries get traction in the region.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia would make an ideal destination for the Chinese leader because Xi will be guaranteed that he will not face uncomfortable topics behind closed doors, confront criticism from his hosts in front of the cameras, or parry awkward questions from reporters. Even on the matter of Beijing’s repression of Chinese Muslims, especially its harsh crackdown on the Uyghur minority, Xi can be confident that Saudi leaders will not bring it up. This is because Beijing continues to work extremely hard to inoculate itself from public criticism from Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia with remarkable effectiveness. Of course, in return China does not call out the human rights records of countries like Saudi Arabia.

Why Central Asia and not Riyadh?​

Since there seems to be no downside for Xi to visit Saudi Arabia, why has the Chinese leader yet to visit Riyadh? While the answer is not completely clear, circumstantial evidence suggests that Xi continues to be preoccupied with recurring waves of COVID inside China and is more comfortable traveling to a foreign destination closer to home. It appears that his first overseas trip in more than two and a half years will be to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) annual heads of state summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 15 and 16. This foray into Central Asia will still permit Xi to look every inch the statesman appearing in carefully staged events with multiple foreign leaders. Of special note is the opportunity to engage directly his closest international counterpart, Vladmir Putin. Xi has met more frequently with the Russian dictator than he has with any other foreign leader. Moreover, Xi is guaranteed a grandiose welcome at a regional multilateral forum that China took the lead in creating 21 years ago and in which it remains the most important member state.

The CCP’s inability to eradicate the pandemic at home has become not only an embarrassment but also source of popular disaffection in China. Furthermore, Xi is directly associated with the “zero COVID” policy upon which the party has publicly staked its credibility. The expressions of individual anger and collective frustration seems less directed at the CCP’s inability to eradicate the pandemic and more at the hardships people confront as a result of the party-state’s draconian lockdowns imposed somewhat arbitrarily in cities and locales across China. Xi very likely feels that he cannot afford to be seen as taking an extended foreign sojourn further afield while the people of China endure great hardships back home.

The Chinese leader may also be worried about contracting COVID or some other illness on a long trip. In the lead up to the Party Congress, Xi is almost certainly focused on staying healthy. When the curtain rises on the CCP quinquennial gathering the leader wants to look the epitome of a vigorous and dynamic dictator who is fully prepared to lead his party and his people for a third five-year term.

A trip by Xi Jinping to Saudi Arabia is almost certainly still in the cards but is probably on hold until after his October recoronation. In the meantime, Samarkand beckons.

Remember, that this is a US source, so always look at their agenda when writing such a piece.

Similarly with the Hudson Institute above.

Whenever the West works 24/7 to create propaganda/fear, it usually means that KSA (leadership) is moving towards China/away from West/becoming more independent.

Example (The Economist) 3.7 million views in 3 weeks.

The Saudi prince: how dangerous is MBS?​

Continious reports (Western press) about Saudi Arabian nuclear program too. Posted 1 such recent report already in post 152.

Take it all with a grain of salt.
Long but insightful article about the strategic KSA-China ties by Naser Al-Tamimi. Most topics of note are covered.

Aug 18, 2022
14 min read

Saudi Arabia’s once marginal relationship with China has grown into a comprehensive strategic partnership​

Naser Al-Tamimi

Naser Al-Tamimi
Political Economist and ISPI Senior Associate Research Fellow

Saudi Arabia is unlikely now, or in the immediate future, to turn to China as a military replacement for the United States as good relations with Washington remain a key Saudi foreign policy objective. However, Riyadh may begin to seek multiple political-security arrangements over time, should the developing rift with Washington deepen, or the United States pay less attention to the Middle East.


Status quo: Cooperation is expanding across many policy issues​

Over the last thirty years, Sino-Saudi political, economic and military ties have deepened. Saudi Arabia has become China’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and China’s top global supplier of crude oil.1 Conversely, China is Saudi Arabia’s biggest trading partner and crude oil customer.

Last year, China took 27 percent of Saudi Arabia’s total crude oil exports, lifting its volumes by 3.4 percent to an annual record of 1.75 million barrel per day (mb/d). This happened even as China’s overall crude imports fell for the first time in 20 years.2 China is also the largest trading partner for Saudi Arabia’s chemical industry, taking almost a quarter of the Kingdom’s exports from this sector.3

Their bilateral trade involves huge sums but remains narrowly based; more than 95 percent of China’s 2021 imports from the Kingdom consisted of petroleum oils, plastics, and organic chemicals.4

Annual bilateral trade volume was worth USD 87.31 billion at the end of 2021, an almost 209-fold increase from USD 418 million when diplomatic relations were established in 1990, just over thirty years ago.5

Saudi Arabia has also been the largest regional recipient of Chinese contracting and investment, which totaled nearly USD 43.5 billion between 2005 and 2021.6 In turn, Saudi Arabia has invested or is planning to invest about USD 35 billion in China-based projects, with production capacity reaching 7.5 million tons of chemicals, amounting to 45 percent of total overseas production capacity for Saudi producers.7

The scope of Sino-Saudi cooperation has expanded in recent years, branching out from the energy trade into investments in infrastructure, communications, high-tech, industry, finance, transport, renewable and nuclear energy, and arms production.

Co-operation has been bolstered by bilateral and regional coordination mechanisms to create synchronicity between China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Kingdom’s Saudi Vision 2030. The latter is a Saudi development strategy that aims to reduce Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil, promote economic diversification, shrink the public sector’s footprint and promote private sector development. These two mechanisms have fostered significant cooperation in many economic and investment areas.

Political ties have also developed steadily as the relationship between Riyadh and Beijing has grown from one of marginal importance into a “comprehensive strategic partnership.”8 Both sides have focused attention on common ground and avoided causes of conflict such as human rights, or any comment on each other’s domestic affairs. This framework of delicate diplomatic interaction has so far proven a success.9

However, China’s improving relations with Iran may cause discomfort among Saudi leaders. Beijing and Tehran recently signed the 25-year China-Iran Cooperation Programme which reportedly enables China to buy energy cheaply in exchange for a commitment to significant investments in Iran’s economy. For Riyadh, military cooperation between China and Iran is a major concern. So far, Beijing has taken a cautious approach toward Tehran, despite supporting the Iran nuclear deal. However, it is a certainty that the Saudis will monitor China-Iran relations – especially in the event of sanctions on Iran being lifted – and will be alert to any impacts on Saudi national security.

Sino-Saudi defense ties remain limited in scope, despite greater bilateral economic and diplomatic engagement. Defense ties are confined to joint exercises, counter-terrorism cooperation, sales of some weapon systems, and joint production of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).10 Beijing has limited capacity to compete with Western arms suppliers, while the Saudi military’s long-term dependence on US hardware means that Chinese arms will not easily integrate with pre-existing systems. In general, it takes years to complete diversification of weapons sources or any move towards local manufacture.

However, China has reportedly helped Riyadh to set up a nuclear program, including a “secret” yellowcake extraction plant, and improve its solid-fuel ballistic launcher capabilities.11 Although Riyadh “categorically denies” that it has built a uranium ore facility in the area described by a media report, Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman confirmed the existence of a contract with China for uranium exploration in certain areas.12 Prince Abdulaziz also confirmed that his country has plans to develop its uranium resources with a view to supporting its nascent nuclear power program. “We do have a huge amount of uranium resource which we would like to exploit, and we will be doing it in the most transparent way (..) We will be bringing partners and we will be exploiting that resource, and we will be developing all the way to the yellowcake,” Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry told the Future Minerals Summit in Riyadh in January 2022.13

There is also potential for Chinese companies to win more Saudi defense procurement deals over the next decade, particularly as Riyadh may seek to strengthen strategic ties with Beijing and receive technology transfers through offsets, particularly for drones, light weapons, and some types of armor or even missiles.14 Saudi Arabia was the world’s second- largest arms importer in 2017-21 (just behind India) and accounted for 11 percent of all imports of major arms. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia purchased less than 1 percent of its arms imports from China in that period. The United States was by far the largest arms supplier to Saudi Arabia in 2017-21, supplying 82 percent of the Kingdom’s arms imports.15

Saudi Arabia’s strong US military ties may limit Riyadh’s openness to any increased Chinese military presence in the Kingdom – at least in the short term. Riyadh’s ability to maneuver US-China tensions is likely to be tested in the months ahead as Washington may well pressure Gulf Cooperation Council states to limit their interactions with China, especially if Beijing faces secondary US sanctions linked to the war in Ukraine.

Geopolitics: Seeking a balance between Washington and Beijing​

Although Saudi Arabia seeks economic and diplomatic benefits from a greater Chinese role in the Middle East, Riyadh knows it must balance such long-term benefits against the more immediate imperative not to alienate the United States.16 Saudi Arabia is also aware that China’s sustained economic growth may eventually translate into increased military power, expressed in more assertive strategies in the Middle East and beyond.

However, Saudi leaders do not believe China possesses the necessary capabilities to provide a credible alternative to the US security umbrella in the Gulf or broader Middle East.17 Nor is China strategically motivated to do so. Riyadh faces complications from any US pressure to limit engagement with China, particularly in military affairs. It needs to find a difficult balance between deepening ties with China, its top economic partner, and appeasing its historic ally, the United States.18

To this end, Saudi Arabia is working along parallel routes: strengthening its independent military capabilities and aggressively diversifying economic and military ties with key external players. To offset declining US security support in the near term, Saudi Arabia will increasingly look to strengthen defense ties with European countries, plus China, India, Brazil, South Africa and even Turkey. It will hope these other partners can pump substantial investment into the growing Saudi arms industry. Eventually, the kingdom may also be tempted to deepen its defense ties with China and expand the ballistic missile program it is developing with Beijing’s help.

Perceptions: Growing sympathy with China's political model​

Saudi political and business elites increasingly perceive China as a superpower in the making and expect it to remain a top destination for their energy exports for the foreseeable future, making it vital to cultivate strategic relations with the rising power.

  • Diplomacy: China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC), and its political influence will increase over time as its economic and military power grows. Saudi leaders express appreciation for China’s growth model, non-intervention policy, and opposition to interference in Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs. The country has supported China’s positions on Xinjiang and Hong Kong.19

  • Economics: China is the world’s second largest economy and could surpass the United States by the end of the 2030s. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has applied for a license that would enable it to make major investments in Chinese companies. This is a new direction for PIF as it has so far focused on US and European overseas holdings. As a Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) license-holder, PIF will be able to trade renminbi-denominated stocks directly, instead of through third parties.20 In the energy sector, China is the world’s largest energy consumer and top largest oil importer. According to projections by the International Energy Agency (IEA), China will remain Saudi Arabia’s top crude market for the foreseeable future.21 Although Saudi leaders have pledged to diversify, to develop new sources of non-oil income, the Saudi economy will depend on energy exports for many years to come.22 New opportunities are emerging from the Saudi Green Initiative program, which promises to facilitate some USD 190 billion-worth of green investment by 2030.23 As China is the world’s leading manufacturer, user, and exporter of green technologies, Saudi projects can bolster China’s domination of the green energy supply chain.24

  • Military: China has the world’s largest army; it is a nuclear power and has the second- largest military budget after the United States. Many Chinese weapons remain less technologically sophisticated than those of Western military powers. However, China is expected to close the technological gap during the next decade or so.25

Beijing’s efforts to advance the BRI in the Gulf seem to be broadly welcomed by the Saudi population, though the lack of independent polling makes it challenging to gauge Saudi public opinion. There are no well-established local polling firms and government influence has an inhibiting effect on the sector and the public. A recent poll commissioned by the Washington Institute on key foreign policy issues found that almost 50 percent of Saudis view good ties with China as “important,” compared with 37 percent who regard the United States as important.26
A recent Ipsos survey on the future of the world order reported that 84 percent of Saudi respondents agree China offers a political and economic model for their country to emulate.27

Here, it is worth noting that the catastrophic repercussions of the so-called Arab Spring of 2011 have undermined the attractiveness of the Western model of democracy. China’s political model, at least as perceived in Saudi Arabia by respondents ranging from the political elite to ordinary citizens, gets points for avoiding political tumult and for its association with stability and economic growth.

Outlook: Riyadh distances itself from seemingly unreliable Washington​

Washington’s growing reluctance to engage militarily in the Middle East has stoked concerns among Saudi leaders that the United States cannot be counted on for support in the event of a conflict. The rapid US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 provided the starkest example yet of its desire to disentangle itself from lengthy, costly Middle East conflicts.28

It appears that Saudi Arabia is already preparing for the eventuality that the United States may be reluctant to intervene in crises. The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen’s civil war since early 2015 reflects this. Riyadh has been acting more independently of the United States in recent years, setting a new norm that is likely to persist.29

From the Saudi perspective, Iran is the primary security challenge in the Middle East regardless of whether the United States rejoins the Iran nuclear deal or not. US policies and a renewed Iran nuclear deal are likely to ease regional tensions, but Riyadh fears the consequences. Once pressure on Iran eases, Tehran will be freer to resume an assertive foreign policy over the medium-to-long term and threaten Saudi interests.30

Some of these Saudi concerns appear to resonate in Beijing. US intelligence agencies reportedly believe Saudi Arabia is now actively manufacturing its own ballistic missiles with China’s help.31 More broadly, if the Saudi elite lose faith in US willingness to defend their interests, perhaps due to the failure to halt Iran’s nuclear program, the Kingdom will be more likely to accelerate its own nuclear programs.32

Saudi Arabia and the war in Ukraine: Reaping the benefits of higher oil prices​

On March 1, the Saudi cabinet affirmed support for international efforts to achieve de-escalation in Ukraine through dialogue and diplomacy, and to restore security and stability. Saudi Arabia backed the March 2 UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Although Saudi Arabia would like to sit on the fence, US efforts to isolate oil- producer Russia over the war in Ukraine have handed Riyadh an opportunity to leverage its oil policy to re-calibrate relations with the United States, and a chance to regain the West’s support for its security concerns. Saudi Arabia will also reap the benefits of higher oil prices. However, Saudi Arabia also wants to be seen as reliable guardian of the oil market, for instance by keeping its long-held pledge to stabilize the market and maintain acceptable prices for consumers and producers.

Meanwhile, Riyadh has signaled it wants closer ties with Beijing by inviting China’s President Xi Jinping to visit Saudi Arabia this year. The Wall Street Journal also reported that Saudi Arabia was in talks to price some sales of crude to China in yuan.

1 | Saudi Arabia has remained China’s top supplier since 2002, losing that place to Russia only briefly in 2016-2018.

2 | See: MEES (2022). “China 2021 Crude Imports: Saudi Top As Iran Volumes Rise.” January 21. http://archives.mees.com/issues/1938/articles/60490. Accessed: January 29, 2022. And MEES (2022). “Saudi Crude Oil Exports Sink To 11-Year Low For 2021; Now For The Rebound.” January 7. http://archives.mees.com/issues/1936/articles/60427. Accessed: January 29, 2022.

3 | Al-Tamimi, Naser (2022). “China and Saudi Arabia From enmity to strategic hedging.” In: Fulton, Jonathan (eds.) Routledge Handbook on China-Middle East Relations, 137-154. London and New York: Routledge. P. 143

4 | See: https://comtrade.un.org/

5 | General Administration of Customs of the People's Republic of China (2022). “Total imports and exports by country or region 2021.” http://www.customs.gov.cn/customs/302249/zfxxgk/2799825/302274/302277/302276/4127455/index.html. January 18. Accessed: February 11,2022.

6 | See China Global Investment Tracker. https://www.aei.org/china-global-investment-tracker/

7 | Chen, Dongmei. KAPSARC (2021). “China’s BRI and Saudi Vision 2030: A Review to Partnership for Sustainability.” https://www.kapsarc.org/research/pu...iew-to-partnership-for-sustainability/October 24. Accessed: February 6, 2022.

8 | Ibid.

9 | Al-Tamimi, “China and Saudi Arabia: From enmity to strategic hedging.” Ibid, p. 142.

10 | Ibid, p. 146.

11 | Lim, Kevjn. Institute for National Security Studies (2021). “China-Iran Relations: Strategic, Economic, and Diplomatic Aspects in Comparative Perspective.” https://www.inss.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Memo213_e.pdf. Accessed: February 1, 2022.

12 | Middle East Eye (2020). “Saudi Arabia constructs facility for extracting uranium yellowcake: Report.” August 5. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/saudi-arabia-nuclear-programme-china-yellowcake-uranium. Accessed: January 31, 2022.

13 | See Gnana, Jennifer. S&P Global, (2022). “Saudi Arabia to develop 'huge' uranium resources in energy diversity push: minister.” January 12. https://www.spglobal.com/commodityi...m-resources-in-energy-diversity-push-minister. Accessed: January 31, 2022, and CNN (2022). “Saudi Energy Minister: We have a huge amount of uranium, and we will exploit it.” January 13. https://arabic.cnn.com/business/article/2022/01/13/saudi-energy-minister-yellow-cake. Accessed: January 31, 2022.

14 | Fitch Solutions Country Risk & Industry Research (2021). Saudi Arabia Crime, Defence & Security Report, 2021. London: Fitch Solutions Group. P. 26

15 | SIPRI Fact Sheet (2022). “Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2021.” March 15. https://www.sipri.org/publications/2022/sipri-fact-sheets/trends-international-arms-transfers-2021. Accessed: March 20, 2022.

16 | Al- Tamimi, Naser. European Council on Foreign Relations (2019). “The GCC’s China Policy: Hedging Against Uncertainty.” In Lons, Camille (eds.) “China’s Great Game in the Middle East.” October 21. https://ecfr.eu/publication/china_great_game_middle_east/. Accessed: February 10, 2022.

17 | Ibid.

18 | Ibid.

19 | CGTN (2021). “China, Saudi Arabia vow to oppose interference in other countries internal affairs.” March, 25. https://news.cgtn.com/news/2021-03-...nce-in-internal-affairs-YUuoTSUFbO/index.html. Accessed: February 8, 2022.

20 | Martin, Matthew. Bloomberg (2021). “Saudi Wealth Fund Moves Step Closer to Direct China Stock Deals.” November 4. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/arti...moves-step-closer-to-direct-china-stock-deals. Accessed: February 1, 2022.

21 | About 60 percent, or USD 149 billion, of the Saudi budget in 2021 derived from oil. The kingdom needs to diversify income sources as world demand for fossil fuels shifts. https://www.ft.com/content/6dce7e6b-0cce-49f4-a9f8-f80597d1653a

22 | IISS (2021). “Relations between China and the Arab Gulf states.” Strategic Comments, 27(10), iv-vi. DOI: 10.1080/13567888.2021.2021685

23 | Economist Intelligence Unit (2021). “Middle East is highly exposed to climate change.” November 18. https://www.eiu.com/industry/energy/middle-east-and-africa/saudi-arabia. Accessed: January 31, 2022.

24 | Allison, Graham. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, (2021). “The Great Rivalry: China vs. the U.S. in the 21st Century.” December 7. https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/great-tech-rivalry-china-vs-us. Accessed: January 31, 2022.

25 | IISS (2022). “The Military Balance 2022.” https://www.iiss.org/events/2022/02/military-balance-2022-launch. February 2022. Accessed: February 14, 2022.

26 | Pollock, David. Washington Institute for Near East Policy (2020). “Saudi Poll: China Leads U.S.; Majority Back Curbs on Extremism, Coronavirus.” July 31. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org...-us-majority-back-curbs-extremism-coronavirus. Accessed: February 9, 2022.

27 | Statista Research. (2021) “Share of respondents in Saudi Arabia who agreed that China offers a political and economic model they would like to emulate as of September 2019.” October 19, https://www.statista.com/statistics...-on-china-s-political-and-economic-model/2021. Accessed: February 2, 2022.

28 | Economist Intelligence Unit (2021). “US Afghanistan withdrawal: the impact on MENA geopolitical risk.” September 3. https://www.eiu.com/n/campaigns/geopolitics-in-the-middle-east/. Accessed:
January 30, 2022.

29 | Fitch Solutions (2021). “US Unlikely To Substantially Reduce Gulf Military Presence Over Next Decade.”
March, 2. https://www.fitchsolutions.com/defe...military-presence-over-next-decade-02-03-2021. Accessed: February 9, 2022.

30 | Fitch Solutions Country Risk & Industry Research (2021). Saudi Arabia Country Risk Report, Q1 2022.
London: Fitch Solutions Group.

31 | Cohen, Zachary. CNN (2021). “CNN Exclusive: US intel and satellite images show Saudi Arabia is now building its own ballistic missiles with help of China.” December 23. https://edition.cnn.com/2021/12/23/politics/saudi-ballistic-missiles-china/index.html. Accessed: February 8, 2022.

32 | Al-Tamimi. “The GCC’s China Policy: Hedging Against Uncertainty.” Ibid.

More fruits of the KSA-China strategic partnership.

The Chinese radar 3D TWA of the Saudi air defense while securing important sites, is intended to simultaneously detect and track several low-flying and small targets such as cruise and drones, and determines with high accuracy their location, height, speed and direction, and some Chinese sites say that it is capable of jamming

- On the basis that something is remembered... at the end of last August at the defense exhibition held in Thailand, a picture of His Excellency the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Fayyad al-Ruwaili, appeared, referring to some Chinese defense systems, in which there was a model of the A300 launcher.

The missiles are characterized by their ability to maneuver during flight in the final stage in order to overcome air defenses and pounce on the target. - High intensity of fire, long range, excellent accuracy, and final maneuvering to bypass air defenses.. An excellent option for strengthening the ranks of the National Guard artillery in carrying out its missions if they are completed.

An anthropomorphic Chinese A300 launcher in the background.

@IblinI and other Chinese friends, have you guys heard about any recent news in Chinese media in regards to the Saudi Arabian ballistic missile program and China's involvement?
@IblinI and other Chinese friends, have you guys heard about any recent news in Chinese media in regards to the Saudi Arabian ballistic missile program and China's involvement?
Just some chitchat among military enthusiast, nothing worth mentioning.
Just some chitchat among military enthusiast, nothing worth mentioning.

A shame as I would love to be a fly on the fall in regards to the Saudi Arabian domestic ballistic missile program. I think that there are HUGE surprises in store given developments in the past 35 years. I would not rule out some kind of "North Korea style development" within KSA with the help of China and Pakistan as well as other sources.
@IblinI and other Chinese friends, have you guys heard about any recent news in Chinese media in regards to the Saudi Arabian ballistic missile program and China's involvement?
Do you want to ask about this report in the Saudi official newspaper <OKAZ>?


Chinese netizens have already known the news. But we are waiting for official confirmation from China. After all, it is ICBM, and such action must have political significance.
US source but interesting read regardless.

China Makes a Move in the Middle East: How Far Will Sino-Arab Strategic Rapprochement Go?​

Publication: China Brief Volume: 22 Issue: 24​

By: Sine Ozkarasahin

December 30, 2022 09:10 PM Age: 2 weeks


President Xi Jinping and King Salman shake hands at Riyadh's al-Yamamah Palace on December 8 (source: Xinhua)
With a well-planned strategy and a careful exploitation of the gaps opened by U.S. foreign policy shifts, China has successfully increased its role as a strategic actor in the Middle East, including by gaining a foothold in the regional arms market. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s early December visit to Saudi Arabia, upon King Salman’s invitation, exemplifies the recent improvement in Sino-Arab ties (Xinhua, December 8). While in Saudi Arabia, Xi initiated two new multilateral forums intended to strengthen engagement between China and the Arab world: the China-Arab States Summit and the China-Gulf Cooperation Council summit (Xinhua, December 11).

In addition to deepening political rapprochement between Beijing and several regional countries, China is simultaneously establishing crucial military-strategic ties with key Middle Eastern states. Chinese-made drones are already present in the arsenals of multiple Arab countries and technological cooperation between Beijing and its regional counterparts is rapidly increasing. The most striking example in this regard was the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) revocation of the F-35 deal that constrained its cooperation with the Chinese tech and telecommunications giant Huawei over 5G technology (Al Arabiya News, December 14, 2021). As many Arab countries’ doubts about Washington’s commitment to regional security grow, more and more countries are increasingly open to entreaties from China.

Although Beijing is known for using infrastructure investment and economic leverage to increase its overseas influence, Sino-Arab relations are not as purely transactional as some argue. On the contrary, they carry the utmost strategic value. With important partnerships in the fields of technology and arms transfers, Chinese influence in the region is already more extensive than many realize. As China improves its relations with once-close U.S. allies, Washington faces two imminent risks. The first risk is economic, whereas the second danger is strategic. The economic risk is that Washington is already losing its most lucrative arms market to its biggest rival. The second risk relates to geopolitics and has strategic implications. While filling the burgeoning arms market with alternatives to Western suppliers, China is also expanding strategic ties with the leading Arab states, which could reset the balance of power across the region.

Beijing and Riyadh: An Alignment Years in the Making

Although bilateral ties have taken off of late, Sino-Saudi cooperation is hardly new. The two countries officially established diplomatic relations in 1990 (Xinhuanet, February 9, 2009). In fact, official relations were already preceded by defense cooperation in the 1980s, including the sale of Dongfeng-3 (DF-3) medium-range ballistic missiles (South China Morning Post, December 8). However, the number of arms deals increased after 2014, as U.S.-Saudi relations soured, following the OPEC+ oil crisis and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. China drafted its Arab Policy Paper in January 2016, which aimed to boost the dialogue and cooperation between Beijing and Middle Eastern countries (Xinhua, January 14, 2016). Shortly after, Saudi Arabia and China announced a five-year plan for an enhanced security agreement. Supported by 17 different high-level agreements, the plan included partnerships on science and technology, as well as counterterrorism cooperation and joint military drills (PRC State Council, August 30, 2016). The first joint bilateral counterterrorism drill took place in October 2016, and the coming years followed suit with various exercises, such as the Blue Sword naval training in 2019 (China Military Online, November 20, 2019).

As noted, President Xi recently made headlines for his three-day visit to the Saudi capital from December 7-10. During the trip, Xi attended the China-Arab States Summit and the China-GCC Summit in Riyadh, both of which were held for the first time. According to the statements made by the Saudi investment minister, the two countries signed over 30 bilateral trade and investment agreements worth around $50 billion during the three-day visit (Al Arabiya News, December 8). The promised areas of strategic cooperation include oil, green energy, military, logistics and cloud computing (Masrawy, December 12). The deals are financially significant as Saudi Arabia is China’s biggest trade partner in the Middle East (Asharq Al-Awsat, October 21, 2021). Moreover, Saudi Arabia is an active participant in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which yields

favorable investment and other economic partnership opportunities, while opening the way to future cooperation. Both sides frame the relationship as mutually beneficial (Global Times, December 9). With several annual supply deals with state oil refiners, China benefits from a secure oil supply, while Saudi Arabia enjoys a generous flow of combat-proven weapon systems and support for its strategic projects.

U.S. policy choices are an important factor fueling the rapprochement between the two countries. The Biden administration is currently trying to turn back the arms sales Trump approved for the Middle East. This change in policy was reflected in the temporary freeze of the sale of F-35 fifth-generation fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as the suspension of munition sales to Saudi Arabia. During the state visits that took place as part of the planned program, King al-Salman noted that the Chinese-Saudi partnership “effectively promoted regional peace, stability, prosperity and development”, emphasizing the positive trajectory of the bilateral relations (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China [FMPRC], December 7).

Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has scaled up its arms procurement from China. Rumors circulated on social media after the Zhuhai Air Show in November arguing that Riyadh purchased $4 billion worth of military equipment and weapons from Beijing, marking a significant increase compared to the previous arms deal (Zhihu, November 12). In addition to these public-private partnerships, the military-strategic side of Sino-Saudi relations, particularly the Chinese fingerprint on Riyadh’s ballistic missile program, is especially significant for U.S. foreign policy.

The Real Deal: Chinese Signature on Saudi Arabia’s Upcoming Ballistic Missile Program

As noted, Chinese sales of ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia are not new, but go back over three decades to 1987, when a deal was signed for the 3000-kilometer range Dongfeng-3 (DF-3) missiles. In 2007, Saudi Arabia opted for other Chinese solutions to expand its ballistic missile arsenal. The DF-2 missiles are one prominent example. Riyadh showcased Chinese missiles in a national military parade, which many analysts regarded as a political message to the U.S.

Known for its desire to build its own indigenous missile program, Saudi Arabia has hitherto largely lacked the means to kickstart such an initiative. Its familiarity with Chinese ballistic missile technologies and established links with Beijing put China in the higher ranks in the eyes of the Saudis as a reliable partner. The Chinese and the Saudis share a history of cooperation, including missile technology transfer. Although he did not touch on the allegations, a People’s Republic of China (PRC) Foreign Ministry spokesperson recently stated that the countries are strategic partners with cooperation in several fields, including trade and defense (FMPRC, December 9). Consequently, the PRC appears to be the most viable partner for Saudi Arabia as it works to develop its ballistic missile program.

In late 2021, U.S. Senator Ed Markey attracted considerable attention when he said that Saudi Arabia started to manufacture its own ballistic missiles (Senator Ed Markey Twitter, December 23, 2021). Private satellite imagery taken between October 26 – November 9, 2021 confirms this claim. The images show a production site located in the town of Dawadmi, which is located 200 kilometers from Riyadh. The photos feature a solid propellant production area and an engine test stand (Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, January 13). Given the past partnerships, the increasing sense of trust, a generous technology transfer and previous familiarity with Chinese missile technologies, Beijing appears the probable partner for Riyadh in this ambitious project.

(Image: Solid Fuel Disposal Site, Al Dawadni Solid Fuel Production and Test Site, source: MIIS)

However, Riyadh’s development of an indigenous ballistic missile program poses a number of risks that threaten to further destabilize the region by intensifying the security dilemma between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which could fuel an uncontrolled arms race in the region. As its relations with Riyadh deepen, Beijing will increasingly struggle to maintain balance in its Middle East strategy. Such a project designed under Chinese influence will have implications for regional threat perceptions. on Second, it allows China to deepen its strategic-military footprint in the region, by establishing itself as a credible and reliable alternative to the West. Third, it shortens the Saudi pathway to a potential nuclear strike capability, should they acquire nuclear warheads, as several Chinese ballistic missiles are dual-use capable of carrying nuclear payloads.


These developments are rooted to a significant extent in U.S. policy, in particular inattention to the continued high threat perception of Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies toward Iran. The primary driver behind Saudi Arabia’s desire to boost its defensive and offensive capabilities is the Iranian threat. Therefore, Washington’s perceived limitations in being able to counter Tehran’s aggressive behavior towards its regional allies carry costs in the Middle East. Left out in the cold after repeated requests to purchase U.S.-made ballistic missiles (and previously UAVs) Riyadh has started seeking alternatives to counter Iran’s growing power and influence.

At present and in the near future, Washington will have a hard time trying to counter China in the Middle East, but should rather to seek to rebuild relationships and regain trust with its once-close regional allies. Avoiding future arms freezes and improving dialogue are the first steps in this regard. Another important aspect is persuading Riyadh that working with China can work against its favor in the long-run, especially given the rather close relations between China and Iran. Although it might be too late to turn back time and reverse the economic partnerships between Beijing and Riyadh, as manifested in BRI, there is still time to make things right and avoid the emerging Chinese – Saudi strategic partnership being set in stone.

Sine Ozkarasahin is an analyst at EDAM’s defense research program. She holds a BA from Leiden University in International Studies (with a specialization in North American Studies) and a postgraduate degree in International Development (with specializations in Middle Eastern Studies and Project Management) from Sciences Po Paris. Her work at EDAM focuses on open-source intelligence analysis, drone warfare, defense economics and emerging defense technologies.


Pakistan Defence Latest Posts

Top Bottom