chapter  6
18 Pages

China and Saudi Arabia

The earliest contact between Saudi Arabia and China goes deep into the history of the Silk Road, of Islam-Chinese relations and back to the famous voyages of the Chinese Muslim Admiral Zheng He to the shores of Arabia. His voyage to the holy city of Mecca in 1421 is celebrated as the starting point of modern contacts between China and Saudi Arabia. When King Abdelaziz Ibn Saud launched his campaign to re-establish the Saudi Third Kingdom and unite the Arabian Peninsula under the Al Saud family in 1902, he established friendly relations with the newly declared Republic of China (ROC) and, in 1949, extended diplomatic relations that continued until 1990. Saudi relations were strategic and pivotal to the ROC, given that the bulk of its energy imports came from Saudi Arabia. The latter maintained its distinguished relations with the ROC even when the majority of the world abandoned Taiwan diplomatically and defected to the PRC in 1971. By the summer of 1989, Saudi Arabia was the only Arab country that did not recognize the PRC, much less had established diplomatic relations with it. It was also the second Middle Eastern country after Israel that had no diplomatic relations with China, a step both countries took in 1990 and 1992 respectively. The loss of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and Saudi Arabia was one of the fundamental diplomacy setbacks for the ROC since WWII, but the two sides still maintain economic representative offices and trade relations. Taiwanese construction companies carried out major construction projects in Saudi Arabia between the 1970s and 1990s, a role currently taken over by China’s corporations. Over the past four decades, whether interactions were direct or indirect, Saudi-Sino bilateral relations have developed rapidly, shifted from animosity and discord to pragmatism and friendship and grown into a strategic partnership.