Riyadh: Saudi Arabia has agreed to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as a “dialogue partner”, state media reported on Wednesday, the latest indication of closer political ties with China.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was established in 2001 as a political, economic and security organisation.
Besides China, its eight members include India, Pakistan and Russia, as well as four central Asian countries - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
The cabinet approved the decision at a meeting on Tuesday chaired by King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
The move would grant Riyadh “the status of a dialogue partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation”, it said.
Riyadh’s move to partner with the bloc comes less than three weeks after the unveiling of a landmark China-brokered reconciliation deal with Iran to restore full diplomatic relations that were severed seven years ago.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have engaged in a series of proxy conflicts in the region, such as the protracted fighting in Yemen.
Riyadh has said that while it had engaged in previous rounds of bilateral talks with Tehran, the reconciliation process was jump-started by President Xi Jinping’s offer last year to serve as a “bridge” between the two Middle East heavyweights.
Xi, in a phone call on Tuesday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, King Salman’s son, lauded what he called the easing of tensions in the Middle East.
In his first comments on the matter to be made public since the Saudi-Iran deal was struck, Xi said the dialogue promoted by China would “play a major role in strengthening regional unity and cooperation”.
The SCO currently comprises eight members: China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, four observer states interested in acceding to full membership: Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia, and six “Dialogue Partners”: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey.
In 2021, a decision was made to start the accession process of Iran to the SCO as a full member, and Egypt, Qatar as well as Saudi Arabia as dialogue partners.
Since its inception in 2001, the SCO has mainly focused on regional security issues, its fight against regional terrorism, ethnic separatism and religious extremism. To date, the SCO’s priorities also include regional development.
The SCO has been an observer in the UN General Assembly since 2005.
In April 2010, the UN and SCO Secretariats signed a Joint Declaration on Cooperation.
SCO Secretariat has also established partnerships with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), in addition to its ongoing cooperation with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the UN Office on Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT).
Technical and vocational training tie up with China
The Saudi Cabinet, meanwhile, authorised the Minister of Education and chairman of the board of directors of the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation to discuss and sign with China a draft memorandum of understanding in the field of technical and vocational training between the Saudi corporation and the Ministry of Commerce of China.
It authorised the president of the General Court of Audit to discuss and sign with the China a draft memorandum of understanding between the General Court of Audit of Saudi Arabia and the National Audit Office of China for cooperation in the field of accounting, oversight and professional work.
Agreement with India's RAW to combat terror
The Council of Ministers also approved the cooperation agreement between the Presidency of State Security in the Kingdom and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in India for combating terrorist crimes and its financing.
The Cabinet authorised the Minister of Energy and chairman of the board of directors of King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy to discuss and sign with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a draft agreement between the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy and the International Atomic Energy Agency regarding the Junior Professional Officer (JPO) Programme.
It also authorised the Minister of Culture to discuss and sign with the Senegalese and Argentine sides two draft memorandums of understanding for cooperation in the cultural field between the Ministry of Culture of Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Culture and Historical Heritage of Senegal, and the Ministry of Culture of Argentina.
MoU with Turkey
The council also authorised the Minister of Islamic affairs, Dawah and Guidance to discuss and sign with Turkey a draft memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance of Saudi Arabia and the Presidency of Religious Affairs of Turkiye in the field of Islamic affairs.
The Cabinet approved a memorandum of understanding for cooperation in the field of tourism between the Ministry of Tourism of Saudi Arabia, and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism of Spain.
It authorised the Minister of Transport and Logistic Services and chairman of the Board of Directors of the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) to sign a draft agreement between Saudi Arabia and the UK in the field of air transport services.
The Cabinet also approved the Kingdom’s accession to the International Coffee Agreement. It also approved a headquarters agreement between Saudi government and the International Dates Council.
-- With inputs from AFP