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China to Build First Drone Plant in Saudi Arabia

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Riyadh Looks East: China to Build First Drone Plant in Region

(Source: Sputnik news; posted March 30, 2017)

The Saudis’ recent business tour through East and Southeast Asia, intended to increase the kingdom’s revenues, landed a new project for the oil-rich nation: China will set up a done manufacturing plant in Saudi Arabia.

The deal between China’s state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) and Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology to build the drones is one of a package of agreements worth a total of $65 billion negotiated by the two country’s leaders at a recent summit in Beijing, the South China Morning Post reported on March 26.

The new factory is poised to be the first drone plant in the Middle East, The Times reported. It will produce China’s CH-4 unmanned aerial vehicle, the Chinese version of a Predator drone — an aircraft the US military is already planning to phase out July 1 of this year.

Low oil prices have left Riyadh strapped for cash. The nation is attuned to the fact that being too reliant on one source of revenue can put the nation’s finances in volatile territory. “Salman is looking at both strategic investments in Asia as well as Asian investments in the kingdom” that will promote diversification with Saudi Arabia, the South China Morning Post reported.

Following the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, Saudi Arabia along with many other countries are seeking to strengthen cultural, regional, religious and economic ties with other partners amidst “an era of uncertainty about the United States’ place in the world,” the South China Morning Post added.

The new plant in Saudi Arabia will be CASC’s third plant, The Times notes. CASC’s other two factories were built in Pakistan and Burma.

China could hypothetically play a much larger role in global affairs should the US no longer serve as a guarantor of security in the Middle East, but the White House has yet to issue a coherent doctrine on America’s new foreign policy. Military and equipment alliances often provide hints as to relations between countries, and so the growing bond between Saudi Arabia and China could drastically alter the current “strategic balance” in the Middle East.

Looking at the Trump administration's proposed budget, for instance, might provide a better idea of America’s foreign policy goals. The White House’s proposal expands the Defense Department’s budget while issuing double-digit percentage point cuts to the State Department and US Agency for International Development (USAID), two of Washington’s biggest diplomatic agencies.

It should be noted that analyzing the budget hardly amounts to much more than speculation. The White House has left Americans and leaders around the world waiting to hear what exactly America’s foreign policy direction will be under the new administration.