The Saudi Arabia–China relationship at a crossroad: A neoclassical realist analysis

Xiaolin Duan*, Shafi Aldamer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The Saudi Arabia–China relationship is at a crossroad. Riyadh has been continuously building a strategic economic partnership with Beijing and enhancing its security alliance with Washington. However, the two great powers are increasingly involved in tense power competition. This article applies neoclassical realism in trying to understand how systemic changes and several unit-level factors and their synergies and tensions characterize the Saudi–China relationship. It argues, in neoclassical realist terms, that the systemic factors shape the broad contours and general directions of states' foreign policies, but their real-world effects are mediated by unit-level factors. In this context, rapid foreign policy shifts on the Riyadh side, either those of balancing or bandwagoning, seem unlikely, despite rising systemic pressure; whereas economic pragmatism and hedging will continue to characterize the Saudi–China relations. A dualistic structure—namely, Saudi Arabia's security alliance and American and economic partnership with China—will endure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-128
Number of pages15
JournalAsian Politics and Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

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© 2022 Policy Studies Organization


  • Belt and Road Initiative
  • China–Saudi Arabia relations
  • Saudi Arabia foreign policy
  • geopolitics
  • neoclassical realism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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