Over the past two decades, China has become Saudi Arabia’s dominant trading partner. The total trade volume now exceeds that of the United States and EU combined. Much of this consists of crude oil imports by China. But nuclear energy could become a Saudi import from China. Saudi Arabia is pursuing nuclear power and China’s President Xi Jinping has spoken of the need to strengthen nuclear energy as a source of economic growth with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. During Xi’s December 2022 visit to Riyadh, there were agreements to create a joint forum on nuclear technology, a China-GCC nuclear security demonstration center, and for China to provide training opportunities to GCC countries on nuclear energy and technology. China could be a more favorable nuclear partner for Saudi Arabia in comparison with the United States. U.S.-Saudi negotiations on a nuclear cooperation agreement are stalled over non-proliferation and uranium enrichment issues and the bilateral political relationship is significantly strained. The stalemate is also impacting the potential for South Korea to be a Saudi nuclear vendor, further raising China's appeal.
Alex de Ramon, Della Ratta Fellow