Under shifting macro-economic conditions, namely rising energy imports, a reorientation of Chinese foreign policy under President Xi Jinping, and the expansive Belt and Road Initiative, China–United Arab Emirates and Saudi relations are burgeoning. Having concluded comprehensive strategic partnerships encompassing political, military, energy and security dimensions, these relations are well matched, especially in areas such as fintech, smart city technology, artificial intelligence and COVID-19 vaccine cooperation. However, conditioned by Beijing’s reticence over Middle East entanglements and prioritisation of the Indo-Pacific region, US policy priorities and aversion to over-dependence, this chapter finds that whilst bilateral relations are vital, they remain somewhat uncertain.
The conclusion answers the book’s guiding research questions. It covers a number of conceptual bases including threat perception, modified decision making, absent effective regional security structures, as well as transitions within and away from riyal politik and economic statecraft. The chapter also dwells on the role of oil policy and other strategic economic relations in the conduct of Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE) foreign policy and international relations, such as expatriate labour opportunities, labour remittances and the Hajj. The chapter discusses new or revitalised trade patterns generally associated with the Saudi and UAE Visions strategies, alongside shifts in US policy. Alliance patterns, hegemony, dependency, leverage, patron–client relations, hedging and political legitimacy are analysed within this new context.
Recent conflicts such as the Eritrean–Ethiopian War of 1998–2000, with a final peace agreed only in 2018 with significant Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE) economic and diplomatic support, and the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen from 2015, have catalysed Saudi and UAE engagement. The chapter also describes how the Arab uprisings as well as the Qatar Crisis involving Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt on the one hand, and Qatar and Turkey on the other, have further incentivised Gulf Cooperation Council state competition in the Horn of Africa, especially in states undergoing transition such as Sudan and Somalia. The chapter finds that Tehran does not generally have the economic resources to compete. However, the death knell for its influence in the Horn has been a combination of pragmatic local political elites seeking to balance their interests, a lack of local Shia affiliation, and Saudi Arabia’s golden opportunity to extend its alliances in the Horn in 2016, buttressed by upfront economic and energy payments.
Saudi and United Arab Emirates relations with India and Pakistan, and Asia more widely, are becoming increasingly complex and dynamic as Saudi Arabia shifts focus from Islamic to economic credentials and as these Gulf Cooperation Council states continue to implement their Visions strategies. Whilst relations with India and Pakistan are durable, a number of potential hurdles remain. This chapter argues that Saudi–India relations and Saudi–Pakistani relations reached a possible inversion point in the 2015–20 period after Pakistan proved unreliable in sending troops to support the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and indirectly criticised Saudi Arabia over its policy on Kashmir. As a major and growing economy which has been able to establish joint ventures and avoid entanglements in the Middle East, and with significant military-to-military relations, India adds significant value for these states. The chapter concludes with further remarks concerning the conceptualisation of shifts and transitions taking place bilaterally and inter-regionally between South and West Asia.
Having sat on the periphery of Gulf politics and Islam for decades, Southeast Asia is becoming a hotbed of local and interregional activity once more, partly spurred on by Iran filling a vacuum left by Gulf Cooperation Council state disinterest. Following the growth of Al Qaeda and ISIS in the Middle East and the Taliban becoming the dominant power once again in Afghanistan, debates surrounding violent Islamism and Islamic fundamentalism have been ignited, to which these states are responding. This chapter provides an overview of Saudi and United Arab Emirates engagement with Indonesia and Malaysia, referencing changes in the domestic politics of these nations and the evolving bases of their centuries-old interactions. Malaysia’s Muslim summit in 2019 positioned it briefly as a ‘challenger state’, underscoring an emerging fault line between these Asian states with diverse identities, constitutions, governance and policies.
This introductory chapter briefly lays out the aim of the book, which is to explore the foreign and security policies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two largest economies in the Middle East, in the context of leadership, political succession, transition and consolidation, as well as socio-economic change and other challenges taking place. It then summarises the structure of the chapters to follow.
Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE) relations with Iran are central to their respective threat perceptions and their wider regional and international calculations. This chapter outlines key shaping factors that drive these ’states’ contemporary interactions and provides some additional context for their (dis)engagement, notably due to Hajj incidents and to US policy ranging from rising sectarian tensions after the US intervention in Iraq in 2003, to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which failed to address Iranian missile developments and Iranian relations with militia groups. However, shifting calculations concerning US Middle East policy under successive administrations, especially on Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen, has created a new landscape for diplomatic engagement. The UAE, with its own historical contentions with Iran, doubled down on efforts to engage Iran with health diplomacy during COVID-19, and both Saudi Arabia and the UAE used the election of President Ebrahim Raisi as an opportunity to elevate contact and diplomacy further. The chapter, coupled with the following one on regional relations, underscores the main dynamics of Saudi–Iranian contestation and expression.
Institutionalising ties amid strategic uncertainty
This chapter details the broadening bilateral relations between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Japan and the Republic of Korea. It assesses the interplay of energy dependence, East Asian contributions to, and benefits from, Saudi and UAE Vision strategies, and attempts to conceptualise their contemporary relations and effects on the wider region. The chapter covers the period from the turn of the twentieth century, to Japanese energy calculations following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, and engagement with Vision 2030. The chapter further charts wider how energy and security relations have developed over time, East Asian soft power penetration into these Gulf Cooperation Council societies and the complementary nature of strategic diversification and demand between these states.
This omnibus chapter outlines the orientation of Saudi and United Arab Emirates policy and regionalism within the Gulf Cooperation Council, where sources of contrast and rivalry persist between these and other protagonists. The chapter utilises a limited number of case studies to illustrate the dominant paradigms of diplomatic and economic intervention through traditional riyal politik and broader economic statecraft, as well as through proxy warfare and military intervention. Special attention is given to the cases of Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Libya, and Yemen.
State formation, political consolidation and reform
This chapter sets the tone for further discussion on Saudi foreign policy by reflecting on Saudi statehood, survival and regional relations in historical context. It then moves on to assess contemporary transitions affecting sectarianism, secularism and liberalism. This is followed by coverage on dissent and repression and the ‘anti-corruption drive’ in the kingdom, encompassing the Ritz Carlton episode in 2017. The chapter then turns to the Saudi economy, role of sovereign wealth funds and climate change policies within that, and defence and national security issues, including counterterrorism issues. The conclusion analyses which domestic factors are likely to have a major bearing on Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy and international relations well into the twenty-first century.