(MENAFN) Saudi Arabia has taken a step closer to joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a powerful regional bloc led by China and Russia. The Saudi Cabinet approved a memorandum on becoming a dialogue partner in the SCO during a meeting chaired by King Salman bin Abdulaziz on Tuesday, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.
The SCO was founded in June 2001 by China, Russia, and the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. It is recognized as the world's largest regional organization, with eight members, four observer states, and several dialogue partners, including Türkiye.
Pakistan and India became full members of the organization in 2017. Iran, an SCO observer state since June 2005, had its permanent membership approved in September 2021 and signed a memorandum of commitment a year later for its full accession.
Saudi Arabia's move to become a dialogue partner in the SCO marks a significant shift in the country's foreign policy, as it seeks to strengthen ties with China and Russia. The move aligns with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 plan to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil exports.
Joining the SCO would provide Saudi Arabia with access to a vast market of more than three billion people and enhance its economic and political influence in the region. It would also provide the country with an opportunity to participate in initiatives aimed at promoting regional stability, such as the SCO's efforts to combat terrorism and extremism.
However, Saudi Arabia's potential membership in the SCO has raised concerns among some experts, who worry that it could further destabilize the already tense geopolitical situation in the Middle East. The SCO's close relationship with Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional rival, could complicate the country's efforts to build closer ties with the organization.
Regardless, Saudi Arabia's decision to become a dialogue partner in the SCO underscores the country's growing interest in the Asia-Pacific region and its efforts to diversify its strategic partnerships beyond traditional Western allies.
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