Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Saudi prince starts Asia tour

Saudi prince starts Asia tour

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (centre) reviews a guard of honour at the Prime Minister House in Islamabad. PAKISTAN’S PRESS INFORMATION DEPARTMENT/AFP

Saudi prince starts Asia tour

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan signed a raft of investment deals on Sunday worth up to $20 billion for the cash-strapped South Asian country, as Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman launched his Asia tour seeking to emerge from the Khashoggi affair.

Pakistan is facing a serious balance of payments crisis and hopes the deals – seven separate agreements and Memorandums of Understanding – will provide welcome relief to its teetering economy.

The crown prince, widely known as “MBS”, is staging the high-profile three-country visit five months after he came under intense pressure following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He got a warm welcome in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan thanked longtime ally Saudi Arabia for its support, adding: “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are now taking this relationship to a level which [they] never had before.”

Khan has already visited Saudi Arabia twice since coming to power last summer.

Earlier on Sunday, MBS was greeted with a booming 21-gun salute and was warmly embraced by Khan and powerful army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa as he stepped onto a red carpet flanked by an honour guard at a military airbase near Islamabad.

The two-day visit to Pakistan comes amid high tensions in the region – India and Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran, both which border Pakistan, have accused Islamabad of backing militant groups which have carried out bloody suicide attacks on their soil in recent days.

Hours ahead of the crown prince’s arrival, Pakistan dismissed Delhi’s accusations as “well-rehearsed tactics from [the] Indian playbook after such incidents in the past”.

MBS will travel to India after his Pakistan visit, where he will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

He is expected to finish the trip with a visit to China on Thursday and Friday.

The Asia trip comes after the murder of Khashoggi, a fierce critic of MBS, ignited a diplomatic crisis.

Riyadh initially denied the murder, then gave several conflicting accounts of Khashoggi’s death, and now claims he was killed in an unauthorised operation.

‘Not a pariah’

Turkey said on Friday it has not yet revealed all the information it has uncovered in the case, which launched a global wave of revulsion and profoundly tarnished the crown prince’s reputation.

But for analysts, the Asia tour – the largest outing on the international scene for the Saudi royal since his participation in the G20 summit in Argentina last December – is a timely demonstration to the West that he still has friends in rising Asia.

He “wants to demonstrate that he is not an international pariah”, said James M. Dorsey, a researcher at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

It is a matter of proving that he still has “international access and he can function... as the most senior representative of Saudi Arabia beyond the king”.

Li Guofu, director of Middle East studies at the China Institute of International Studies, a government-affiliated think tank, noted that as the Khashoggi case continues to cause indignation in Western countries, visiting them would have been “inconvenient”.

“Not travelling to the West does not mean that he cannot come to the East. Saudi Arabia is also making strategic adjustments, and Asia is the new main direction of Saudi diplomacy,” he said.

Asian countries, he added, “have an important special characteristic – that is, we don’t interfere in the internal affairs of other countries”.

The prince’s trip also includes an important economic component.

“China is the largest buyer of Saudi crude, and Saudi Arabia’s other largest clients are all Asian – India, Japan, South Korea,” said Dorsey.

“Asia is a source of inward investment into Gulf energy and infrastructure investment; and the future growth of the global economy will be in Asia,” said Karen Young, an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hundreds of children in hospital with dengue

    A serious dengue fever epidemic is affecting Cambodia, with nearly 600 children hospitalised in the five Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals on Monday alone, a statement posted on the Kantha Bopha Foundation’s official Facebook page said on Wednesday. Because Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals provide

  • Sihanoukville building collapse death toll rises to 19

    Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said on Sunday that the government will act against those responsible for the collapse of a seven-storey building in Sihanoukville on Saturday, which resulted in 19 dead and 24 injured as of Sunday evening. Sar Kheng said three Chinese nationals and one

  • Gov’t to probe Chinese exports to US via Sihanoukville

    The government is investigating allegations that Chinese companies are using Chinese-owned special economic zones in Cambodia to export goods to the US and avoid tariffs, said Ministry of Commerce spokesman Seang Thay. The move comes after US embassy spokesman Arend Zwartjes said the US had

  • Banh: The Khmer Rouge worse than sanctions and pressure

    Minister of National Defence Tea Banh said on Thursday that having sanctions and external pressure placed on Cambodia was not worse than life under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. Tea Banh, who is also deputy prime minister, was speaking to military and ruling party officials