Natural partner seen for Gulf

Chinese tech can aid diversification goals of Saudis, Emiratis, experts say

Visitors from Saudi Arabia discuss with Chinese representatives. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

As Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intensify their efforts to diversify their economies and seek growth through innovation, cooperation with China will remain important, experts say.

Given its commitment to "win-win cooperation" and the broad engagements of the China-proposed Belt and Road global infrastructure program, the economic giant can help accelerate the rollout of advanced technologies in the Middle East region, they said.

Deniz Istikbal, an economic researcher at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, a think tank in Ankara, told China Daily that as one of the world's largest spenders on research and development, "China is important for Western Asian countries".

"Due to its technology infrastructure, manufacturing industry and production capacity, Saudi Arabia and the UAE should increase their cooperation with China in the field of technology and encourage the investments of Chinese companies," Istikbal said.

In an interview with CNN last month, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said his nation is "always looking for what is best for us" and what fits the country's technological needs. For the region to have a pathway to sustainable prosperity, it "needs cooperation and not confrontation", he said, stressing China's importance as the world's second-largest economy.

On June 30, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, who is chairman of his nation's Supreme Committee for Research, Development and Innovation, announced that Saudi Arabia would become a global leader in spending of this kind in the next two decades, with an annual investment equivalent to 2.5 percent of GDP in 2040.

On July 13, UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan set out his national vision, saying that diversifying the economy is a fundamental necessity. He also stressed the value of human capital and the pursuit of science and technology.

In May, telecommunications provider Saudi Telecom 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 UAE is looking at an important role in the BRI, and aims to help build a trade and infrastructure network linking Asia with Europe and Africa, said Anis Khayati, an economics professor at the University of Bahrain.

He said it became vital for the UAE to find economic alternatives to enhance its growth prospects and attract foreign investment.

The cooperation in research and development between China and the UAE has deepened, notably in regard to COVID-19 vaccine cooperation. The UAE became the first country to approve the emergency use of a vaccine from Chinese drugmaker Sinopharm.

Though the UAE has been doing relatively well in terms of diversifying its economy, it still needs to move forward to more complex products and sectors, Khayati said.

Mohammad Salami, an associate researcher at the International Institute for Global Strategic Analysis in Pakistan, said there is a clear difference between China and Western countries in their business focus on the Gulf region.

"Westerners are in business with these countries only for the purpose of trade, 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 win-win results.

Xinhua contributed to this story.