MBS wants China to revive KSA nuclear project, to US discontent
The project is intended to begin by constructing two initial reactors, but back in 2018, the kingdom stated its plans of having 16 reactors in an investment amounting to nearly $80 billion.
In an attempt to revive the civil nuclear industry project on Saudi land, Mohammed bin Salman is stirring up a partnership with China but the US, South Korea, and France would rather this not happen, according to a report by Intelligence Online.
With Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire expected to visit the UAE on January 30-31, his counselors are also hoping for him to make a stop in Riyadh to discuss the project, which was previously tackled between MBS and French President Emmanuel Macron in Bangkok last November during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
If Le Maire does end up taking a trip to Riyadh, he is anticipated to take EDF CEO Luc Remont along with him, whose company has 90% of it owned by the French state.
The project is intended to begin by constructing two initial reactors, but back in 2018, the kingdom stated it plans on harboring 16 reactors for an investment amounting to nearly $80 billion. EDF's former CEO, Jean-Bernard Levy, made three trips to Saudi Arabia in 2022 before leaving his position last November.
MBS stuck between South Korea and China, but US export controls play a decisive role
Of the three most credible interested investors for the project, South Korea's Korea Electric Power Corp, known as KEPCO, invested much energy into the project and was taken up at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week. South Korean President Moon Jae-in pointed to MBS to show his country's willingness to renegotiate, but Moon Jae-in would have to wait.
Intelligence Online said in its report that due to KEPCO's technology partially being from the American manufacturer Westinghouse, the former is under the control of US export authorities. That would mean that South Korea striking a deal with Saudi Arabia for the project cannot pass without approval from Congress.
Saudi Arabia, however, is cooking up a bid from China Nuclear Engineering Corp (CNEC) which seems more reasonable than EDF's offer. Saudi Arabia's nuclear industry's main agencies, the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (K.A.CARE) and the newly-launched Saudi Nuclear Energy Holding Co, see that the CNEC meets their technical needs more than EDF while also costing 20% less.
On the other hand, that kind of deal comes eerily close to a red line with the US - the archenemy of China. In October, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, held a virtual meeting with his counterpart in China, Zhang Jianhua, to discuss cooperation in the global oil market and nuclear energy.
The meeting came amid a deepening political crisis between Washington and Riyadh, especially after Saudi Arabia led a decision in OPEC+ to cut oil production by 2 million barrels a day as of November after Biden did all in his lobbying power to halt the decision. Biden, in a retaliatory statement, said that the US would have to re-evaluate its relations with Saudi Arabia.
That's when tensions really began to tighten up between the US and Saudi Arabia. Biden, according to National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby, believes that the US should examine its relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of the OPEC+ decision to cut oil production down to 2 million barrels a day amid an alarming fuel crisis and take a look to see if that relationship is where it needs to be and that it is serving our national security interests."
As China's bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia and multilateral ties with the Middle East are on a rapid rise, MBS is playing the field and pitting nuclear-potent countries and interested investors against each other.