Saudi Arabia's Cabinet on March 29 approved a decision to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), as Riyadh builds a long-term partnership with China despite U.S. security concerns.

The official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia has approved a memorandum of understanding (MoU) granting the Kingdom the status of a dialogue partner in the SCO.

Al Jazeera reports that according to sources, joining the SCO was discussed during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Saudi Arabia last December.

The decision reportedly followed an announcement by Saudi Aramco, which raised its multibillion-dollar investment in China on Tuesday, by finalizing a planned joint venture in northeast China and acquiring a stake in a privately controlled petrochemical group.

Riyadh’s move to partner with the bloc also came less than three weeks after the unveiling of a landmark China-brokered reconciliation deal with Iran to restore full diplomatic relations that were severed seven years ago.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was founded at a Summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the presidents of Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.  It was preceded by the Shanghai Five mechanism.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization currently has eight full members -- China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, India, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Iran (September 17, 2021) and Belarus (September 16, 2022) are acceding members.

Besides, Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia are four observer states.

SCO’s dialogue partners include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Egypt, Nepal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Turkiye. 

Bahrain, Kuwait, Maldives, Myanmar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are upcoming dialogue partners.

ACEAN, CIS, Turkmenistan and the United Nations are guest attendances.

Initially focused on regional security, including border conflicts, terrorism and militant Islam, its activities have expanded to cover economics and trade, transport and law enforcement.  Security and economic cooperation remain priorities. China and Russia are the dominant members.  Russia regards Central Asia as its sphere of influence but Chinese economic sway is growing.  At an informal level, the SCO is a diplomatic platform that helps address and contain potential friction.