The history of China-Saudi Arabia missile cooperation dates back to the end of the Cold War, when Riyadh purchased long-range DF-3 ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. In 2006, such collaborations led to the purchase of a new generation of short-range DF-21 missiles, and in 2019, and then more recently in late December 2021, it was revealed that such collaborations had reached the domestic production of missile engines. Therefore, in the process of such missile cooperation, Riyadh seeks defensive targets and offensive deterrence, which is due to the dynamics and changing regional and international conditions that have shaped the actor’s perception of the current trends. Such measures should also be considered as part of the diversification of arms purchase baskets by Saudi Arabia, which will pave the way for achieving the targets of the vision document monitoring domestic arms production from 2% in 2016 to 50% in 2030.
In the case of correctness of the cooperation of Saudi Arabia and China in the production of ballistic missiles and their mass production in the forward perspective, it should be said that this model of weapons is important in terms of missile deterrence, especially against Iran’s capabilities and threats of Resistance groups, especially in Yemen and does not necessarily have a special offensive capability, such as buying fighter planes, for countries. In fact, parallel with the Saudi involvement in the regional crises, escalation of tensions and the threat to Saudi Arabia’s vital infrastructure, the ground will be prepared for the use of such missiles, and generally Riyadh will be able to manage the war in places like Yemen with more confidence.
Meanwhile, as Jeffrey Lewis, an arms expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, has said, Saudi Arabia’s plan to build ballistic missiles will complicate regional equations; because in addition to being a regional rival to Iran, it also shares the approach of the United States, Europe, the Zionist regime and other Persian Gulf emirates to control Iran.
Naturally, part of Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s attitude toward China stems from changes in the US strategy in the Middle East and its strategic focus on China, which has made America’s traditional Arab allies worried and uncertain with regard to the vast commitments the United States has made for their security over the past decades. In addition, the realities of China’s power elements and the expansion of its role in the regional and global arenas have encouraged actors such as Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to take advantage of Beijing’s role in the geoeconomic and geostrategic equations. In particular, diversifying international partners and striking a soft balance with the United States could pave the way for potential concessions from Washington in the changing regional context. For example, the Saudi game with the S400 system and the UAE game with the F35 fighters are part of the subtleties of the two countries scoring points from the great powers.
In this way, China is trying to promote economic and military cooperation with many regional actors and benefit from the capacities of various actors in the form of the Belt and Road strategy. Therefore, despite the Saudi-Chinese missile cooperation, which is considered as an action against Iran and to compensate for it, China is expected to put the advancement of strategic cooperation with Iran more seriously on the agenda, especially that the lifting of sanctions on Iran will provide a very favorable atmosphere for more active cooperation of China.