On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s cabinet approved a decision for Riyadh to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Eurasian security and economic bloc that was founded in 2001 by China, Russia, and several Central Asian countries.
According to Saudi state media, Riyadh has approved a memorandum that would make Saudi Arabia a dialogue partner of the SCO, the first step toward a permanent membership.
The news comes as Saudi Arabia is moving closer to Beijing, raising concern in Washington. According to Reuters, Riyadh joining the SCO was discussed when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Saudi Arabia in December.
Saudi Arabia and China have agreed to increase cooperation in all areas during Xi’s visit. The Wall Street Journal reported this month that Riyadh is in talks with Beijing on pricing its oil in the yuan, a move that could impact the US dollar’s dominance.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to join the SCO comes after China brokered a surprise normalization deal between Riyadh and Tehran. Last year, Iran signed a memorandum to become a permanent member of the SCO, which is expected to become official this year. Other permanent members include India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
The SCO is a significant economic bloc as its members make up half of the entire world’s population. Iran’s ascension into the SCO will help the country weather US and other economic sanctions as it will help increase trade with Russia, China, and other major economies.