As Saudi Arabia and the UAE step up efforts to diversify their economies and boost the contribution of research and development activities and innovation sectors, cooperation with China will remain important, experts say.
Given China’s commitment to “win-win cooperation” and the extensive commitments of its mega global infrastructure program “Belt and Road”, the Asian giant can help accelerate the deployment of advanced technologies in the Middle East region, they said.
Deniz Istikbal, an economics researcher at the Political, Economic and Social Research Foundation, a policy think tank based in Ankara, Turkey, told China Daily that as one of the biggest spenders in research and development in the world, “China is important for West Asia. countries”.
“Because of its technological infrastructure, manufacturing industry and production capacity, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should increase their cooperation with China in the field of technology and encourage investment by Chinese enterprises,” Istikbal said.
In an interview with CNN last month, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan said his country is “always looking for what is best for us” and what meets Saudi technological needs. For the region to have a path to lasting prosperity, it “needs cooperation, not confrontation”, he said, stressing China’s importance as the world’s second-largest economy.
The minister also said that the Saudis were not going to limit themselves to one supplier, because “it just doesn’t make business sense”.
On June 30, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is chairman of his country’s Supreme Committee for Research, Development and Innovation, or RDI, announced his country’s ambition to become a world leader of RDI over the next two decades with an annual investment ratio equivalent to 2.5% of gross domestic product in 2040.
He said it would diversify and add $16 billion to the economy while creating high-value jobs in science and technology, the Saudi Press Agency reported. Priority areas cover health and well-being, environmental sustainability and meeting basic needs, and energy and industrial leadership of the future.
On July 13, the President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also set out his national vision, saying that the diversification of the economy of the United Arab Emirates was a fundamental necessity and underlining the value of human capital and the pursuit of science and technology.
In May this year, Saudi Telecom Company entered into a joint venture with Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group to launch a cloud services company in Riyadh, with an initial investment of $238 million.
The new Alibaba Cloud venture also counts the Saudi Company for Artificial Intelligence, the Saudi Information Technology Company and eWTP Arabia Technology Innovation as partners, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
As for the United Arab Emirates, it envisions an important role in the BRI and aims to build a trade and infrastructure network linking Asia to the European and African continents, according to Anis Khayati, professor of economics at the University of Bahrain.
He said it was becoming vital for the UAE to find economic alternatives and solutions to improve its growth prospects and foster foreign investment.
Cooperation between China and the UAE in research, development and innovation has already deepened, especially with regard to COVID-19 vaccine cooperation, with the UAE being the first country to approve the emergency use of anti-coronavirus injections developed by Sinopharm and later take steps to manufacture the vaccines on its own soil.
The UAE has invited the Chinese to set up projects in the Arab nation, “and Emirati officials have drawn the attention of their Chinese counterparts to the fact that the UAE has national industries which they wish to export. , such as aluminum and chemical fertilizers, expressing their hope that these industries will find markets in China,” Khayati said.
Although the UAE is doing relatively well in terms of diversifying its economy, it still needs to move into more complex products and sectors, Khayati said.
Mohammad Salami, a research associate at the Pakistan-based International Institute for Global Strategic Analysis, said China “is the best option” to help strengthen the R&D sectors of the Gulf countries, because unlike Western powers, the China more readily provides advanced technologies.
“Western countries subject their technologies to certain conditions such as mandatory implementation of liberalism or human rights, but Beijing does not consider such conditions,” Salami noted.
In addition, he said, there is a clear difference between China’s aid and that of Western countries to Gulf countries.
“Westerners only do business with these countries for commercial purposes, but China is interested in improving the infrastructure of these countries, to develop the Belt and Road Initiative,” Salami said, adding that collaboration with China represents the “win-win” results.