Tuesday, November 15, 2016

China and Saudi Arabia's Burgeoning Defense Ties

Tensions in the U.S.-Saudi alliance have China poised to expand its defense ties with Riyadh.

By Samuel Ramani

THE DIPLOMAT - November 16, 2016

On November 7, 2016, Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarch King Salman bin Abdulaziz met with Meng Jianzhu, a special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Riyadh. After a series of talk between Chinese officials and senior members of the Saudi royal family, the Saudi government unveiled a five-year plan for Saudi Arabia-China security cooperation during Meng’s visit. This plan would include counterterrorism cooperation and joint military drills, cementing Saudi Arabia’s status as a vital Chinese ally in the Middle East.
Even though China has emerged as Saudi Arabia’s leading economic partner in recent years, the transition toward a full-fledged defensive partnership is a new, largely unforeseen development. In contrast to the multibillion dollar annual arms contracts binding Saudi Arabia to the United States, China only sold $700 million in arms to Riyadh from 2008-2011. Low levels of Riyadh-Beijing security cooperation were attributed to China’s long-standing friendship with Iran, disagreements over Bashar al-Assad’s future in Syria and long-standing Chinese disdain for Saudi Arabia’s sponsorship of Islamist networks.