The staggering amount of diplomatic currency that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has gained in the past couple of years, is a case study of its own. Given the modern outlook of the Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan led UAE and the country’s overwhelming acceptance of modernity and realist foreign policy, the small country has overtaken Saudi Arabia in the region.
Burdened by the Islamist and anti-Israel baggage, Riyadh has not been successful in carrying out pragmatic diplomacy and thereby losing influence to the UAE. Now finding its regional supremacy threatened and not so friendly President in the White House, Riyadh has doubled down on its China card.
In a statement released Monday, Human Rights Watch cautioned that two Uyghur Muslims facing deportation from Saudi Arabia to China “are at risk of arbitrary detention and torture.” The two men, both from Turkey, have been held in Saudi Arabia since November 2020, according to the US-based organisation.
According to Human Rights Watch, Nurmemet Rozi, 46, was told by a Saudi official in early January that he “should be mentally prepared to be deported to China in a few days.”
Saudi Arabia sidelined in the US policy priority
When Biden came to power, he announced, “I want the world to hear today: America is back. America is back.” Well, but nothing like that is happening. If for anything, Biden’s accession to power has pushed US allies into China’s arms. Take Saudi Arabia for instance. Riyadh is one of Washington’s frontline allies in a volatile Middle East region. But after coming to power, Biden started side-tracking Saudi Arabia.
He was trying to bully Riyadh, cancel Trump-era US-Saudi deals and grill the Saudi monarchy over human rights allegations. So, Riyadh has now decided to land in China’s lap and build its ballistic missiles with China’s help. In addition to the US ignorance, the rise of an independent Abraham accord country UAE’s clout in the region has also accelerated this transition.
Saudi Arabia’s China ballistic missile story
In what could be the biggest setback for Biden since he came to power earlier this year, Riyadh has reportedly started building its missiles with the help of China, as per US intelligence assessments and satellite images. Satellite images obtained by NBC News too suggest that Riyadh is making its ballistic missiles at a site west of Riyadh.
Jeffrey Lewis and David Schmerler of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute said, “The key piece of evidence is that the facility is operating a ‘burn pit’ to dispose of solid-propellant leftover from the production of ballistic missiles.” The two added that the site “appears to have been constructed with Chinese assistance.”
For Saudi Arabia, the Iran nuclear programme is a big issue. Saudi Arabia understands that under Biden’s rule, Iran has become larger than life. Biden exited the Yemen war, leaving the UAE and Saudi Arabia to fend for themselves. He also seemed to side-track Israel and Saudi Arabia for placating Iran. While these were sufficient reasons, the subsequent rise of UAE’s geopolitical fortunes has only catalyzed the Saudi Arabian policy direction.