Saudi Arabia moving in a new direction

Monday, 2017-03-06 11:26:37
 Font Size:     |        Print

Saudi Arabia's King Salman inspects an honour guard at the Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia February 26, 2017. REUTERS
 Font Size:     |  

NDO - Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is more than halfway through his month-long tour to Asia. In addition to reaching economic targets and extending the country’s influence, the tour also reflects Riyadh’s new direction of diplomacy at a time when concerns have arisen about its relations with its closest ally – the US.

Commenced on February 26, the tour to seven Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Japan, China, the Maldives and Jordan has drawn much public attention in the region. Indonesia and China are said to be the focuses of the King’s trip.

Looking at the schedules and destinations during the visit, it can be seen that the trip has identified priority economic objectives. Saudi Arabia is on a mission to diversify the economy, reduce heavy dependence on oil exports, deal with the dwindling oil income as global oil prices have been in free fall. In this context, strengthening the cooperation of dynamic Asian economies and expanding the market for oil exploration are sound decisions for Saudi Arabia. Not to mention that developing countries in Asia also need resources for production capacity, which can meet Riyadh’s goals of increasing oil exports, attracting investment from abroad to technology, infrastructure, and non-oil economic sectors.

In particular, the Saudi capital of Riyadh wants to attract Asian investors to the initial public offering of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco), planned in 2018. As a sale of just 5% of Aramco could raise more than US$100 billion, the listing of Aramco is expected to be the world's biggest initial public offering.

The set targets have been realised by economic agreements worth billions of US dollars. For instance, seven cooperation agreements were signed during the King’s first stop in Malaysia, including cooperation in construction and aviation. The King’s stop in China is expected to help Saudi Arabia strengthen its relations with Beijing – the leading economic partner which overtook the US as the world's biggest oil importer of Riyadh.

Apart from the economic benefits, the trip also aims to expand the influence of Saudi Arabia in the Asia region, which holds importance in terms of strategic geography while possessing rich potentials and witnessing dynamic development. Visiting a number of majority-Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, the Saudi King wants to foster relations with the Muslim community, not only in the field of economy but also in other fields, such as religion, culture and education. As Saudi Arabia is now leading an 'anti-terrorism' coalition, the country has called on more support and participation from other countries to build up the alliance’s strength. As recent tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been eased, the additional support from Asian countries will help Saudi Arabia to intensify efforts to improve relations with countries that are its "rivals" in the Middle East while increasing the role played by Riyadh in addressing common challenges in the region.

It is unable to ignore another factor which contributed to Saudi Arabia's sweeping change in foreign policy: concerns from adjustments of the US new administration – a long-term and close ally of Riyadh both politically and economically. US President Donald Trump's “America First” Policy has caused uncertainty in Riyadh about its allegiance.

It is too soon to talk about the split in Saudi Arabia – US alliance, and the lack of trust and insecurity - a direct result of President Donald Trump’s policy of giving too much priority to national interests are among factors urging Riyadh to expand its international cooperation and exert efforts to seek new allies and partners. As the King’s Asian tour was made prior to his Washington visit, it is an illustration of Riyadh’s new direction, which is made in accordance with the current international situation.