China assisting Saudi Arabia in producing ballistic missiles, US intelligence experts believe

China assisting Saudi Arabia in producing ballistic missiles, US intelligence experts believe
The Saudi ballistic missile revelation could prompt a response from Iran, the kingdom's regional arch-rival.
3 min read
24 December, 2021
Saudi Arabia has previously bought ballistic missiles from Beijing [Ziad Alangri/EyeEm/Getty]

China is assisting Saudi Arabia in producing ballistic missiles, the United States' intelligence community believes.

While the Gulf state has previously bought ballistic missiles from Beijing, three knowledgeable sources said the Saudis have for the first time begun making them, CNN reported on Thursday.

The outlet said it had seen satellite photos which indicate Riyadh is producing the projectiles, which can be used for both conventional and nuclear purposes, at at least one site.

There is no suggestion the Saudis are seeking to turn the missiles nuclear, however.

Classified information that figures in Washington have been made aware of indicates that several significant batches of projectile tech were sent between Beijing and Riyadh, two of CNN's sources said.

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The news could prompt a serious response from Iran, with the potential to hamper recent moves towards mending ties between the two rivals.

Weaponry academic Jeffrey Lewis said: "While significant attention has been focused on Iran's large ballistic missile program, Saudi Arabia's development and now production of ballistic missiles has not received the same level of scrutiny."

He explained that Riyadh's homegrown projectile programme indicates any political means of curbing the rapid amassing of missiles requires participation from those Middle Eastern states producing the technology, such as Riyadh and the Israelis.

Washington's reaction to Saudi Arabia's move on missile tech may be made more difficult by its priorities for relations with Beijing. The United States aims to bring China back into dialogue on coronavirus, climate change and trade among other arenas.

"It's all a matter of calibration," according to a high-level Biden figure.

The Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Council refused to respond to an inquiry from CNN.

Riyadh's Washington embassy and government didn't reply to the broadcaster.

China's foreign ministry was questioned as to whether "sensitive ballistic missile technology" has been sent between Bejing and Riyadh of late.

The ministry added: "Such cooperation does not violate any international law and does not involve the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

Washington has known Riyadh was working with Beijing to further its ballistic missile abilities since the Donald Trump era.

The now ex-US president did not act sufficiently to curb Saudi Arabia's ambitions, leaving them confident to proceed with their plans, according to authorities on nuclear proliferation.

Washington usually would ordinarily have pushed the Gulf kingdom away from developing its ballistic missile scheme, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Ankit Panda said.

An authority on nuclear issues, he added: "The Trump administration, to put it lightly, was not interested in bearing down on Riyadh over these issues."