Saudi Arabia sees investment surge from China, according to Emirates NBD

Money pouring into the kingdom from the world's second-biggest economy is up more than tenfold from the previous year

Traffic in downtown Riyadh at sunset.

China is emerging as Saudi Arabia’s most active foreign investor amid a flood of new projects aimed at turbocharging non-oil economic growth in the kingdom. The world’s second-largest economy accounted for 58% of new business investments — primarily focused on automotive, metals and semiconductor investments — in Saudi Arabia in 2023, with $16.8 billion invested. That figure is up more than tenfold from $1.5 billion the previous year, according to new data from Dubai-based Emirates NBD.

Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy, is still trailing its target of attracting $100 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) by 2030 as de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman looks to boost non-oil GDP and diversify the economy. But 2023 showed signs of progress: foreign investment into new business in Saudi Arabia more than doubled to $28.8 billion last year, according to Emirates NBD, surpassing the 2018 peak of $17.6 billion but shy of the 2008 record of $34.3 billion.

The influx in foreign capital comes as Gulf economies are increasingly turning East to China and India, one of the fastest growing economies, for opportunity. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been invited to join the BRICS economic alliance, which analysts have predicted will increase China’s power and influence in the MENA region. Still, the U.S. was runner-up: pouring $2.7 billion into Saudi Arabia, mostly in software and IT, and a 238% increase over the previous year. The UAE came in third, its investments primarily focused on renewable energy.

This week the kingdom’s Minister of Culture, Prince Badr bin Abdullah, visited Beijing, where he signed a flurry of agreements with his Chinese counterpart to boost collaboration. Museums, cultural heritage, theater, architecture and libraries are all on the table for greater exchange. “With the support of the leadership of the two friendly countries, Saudi-Chinese cultural cooperation begins a new chapter,” Prince Badr said on X.