Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering China’s offer to help the country build a Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). This was disclosed by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) as quoted by Reuters on.
The decision could derail US plans to develop a similar project for the Saudis.
China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) has submitted a bid to build a nuclear power plant in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, near the borders of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the WSJ wrote, citing Saudi officials familiar with the matter.
China’s foreign ministry did not confirm the WSJ’s report, but a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told a news conference that “China will continue to mutually beneficial cooperation with Saudi Arabia in various fields, including civilian nuclear energy, while strictly adhering to its obligations.” international non-proliferation (not spreading nuclear weapons).
CNNC has not yet responded to Reuters questions on the matter, while Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry declined to respond to a similar request from Reuters.
Saudi Arabia has previously requested cooperation from the United States in establishing a civilian nuclear program in the country, as part of a possible normalization of Saudi diplomatic relations with Israel. Washington has always said it is ready to share nuclear power technology with Riyadh, but only if the agreement is not for uranium enrichment or the reprocessing of plutonium made in reactors. Both are steps towards the process of creating nuclear weapons.
Saudi government officials recognize that exploring the issue with China is a way of pushing the Biden administration into compromises on non-proliferation terms the WSJ said.
Saudi government officials said they preferred to use the services of South Korean company Korea Electric Power to build the nuclear reactors and engage US operational expertise, but without agreeing to the usual non-proliferation controls required by Washington, the WSJ wrote.
Israel’s energy minister voiced his rejection of Saudi Arabia’s plan to build a civilian nuclear program as part of US efforts to bring Israeli-Saudi relations closer.
Israel hopes to be consulte by Washington on any US-Saudi agreements that affect its national security. Israel, which is not bound by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has no nuclear energy, is believed to possess nuclear weapons.
In the past year, Saudi Arabia has been getting closer to China. In March, China brokered a bid to normalize Saudi Arabia’s relations with regional foe Iran.
China and Saudi Arabia have established extensive trade relations in the energy sector, bearing in mind that China is the world’s largest importer of crude oil, while Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter.
Another Chinese state-owned company, Energy Engineering Corp. Is building a 2.6 GW solar power plant in Al Shuaiba, together with a Saudi utility company, ACWA Power. This will be the largest solar power project in the Middle East.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Saudis in December last year. Which the Chinese Foreign Ministry described as an “important milestone in the history of Sino-Arab relations”.
Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia is trying to maintain a balance between China and the United States. The United States is still Saudi’s most important security partner.