Saudi Arabia Crown Prince's Asia tour tells West: You may shun me, but I'm not alone
(CNN)It's hard to think of anywhere else in the world right now
where Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would get
such a warm welcome.
In Pakistan, the kingdom's de facto leader was met by a 21-gun
salute and fighter jet escort, and gifted a golden
submachine gun. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke
protocol by greeting the 33-year-old prince on the tarmac, and
giving him a giant bear hug.
In China, he was able to pose for a photograph with President Xi
Jinping, one of the most powerful leaders in the world.
That reception would be unthinkable in the US or Europe, where
bin Salman's reputation has been severely damaged following the
murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi
consulate in Istanbul last year. Bin Salman has denied any
connection to the killing.
That was a transactional approach that Saudi was happy to
In Beijing, the crown prince of a kingdom containing the holiest
site in Islam did not challenge China on allegations of Muslim
persecution in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.In India, he
highlighted $100 billion of potential deals with the country, where
attacks on Muslim minorities have become a major issue ahead of
this year's national election.
Over the course of a week in three countries bin Salman inked
billions in trade deals.
A short, calculated trip
When bin Salman's father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud,
visited Asia two years ago, he took a very different route through
the region, stopping off at Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Japan and
His son has made a much shorter trip, skipping
strong trade allies such as Japan, South Korea and
Jonathan Fulton, a professor in China-Middle East Relations at
Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, believes bin Salman's succinct
itinerary was a careful calculation of where his charm offensive
would be best received.
"Pakistan has historically been really important to Saudi
Arabia," Fulton says, "especially since Imran Khan became Prime
After Khashoggi's death last year, Western business leaders in
their droves boycotted an investment conference in Saudi Arabia,
nicknamed "Davos in the Desert." Khan was one of the few state
leaders who attended, and was willing to have his picture taken
with bin Salman. Soon after, Saudi Arabia gave Pakistan a $6
billion bail out to ease its economic woes, cementing the
India and China, meanwhile, are long-standing partners who have
the added benefit of being able to provide Saudi with much-needed
foreign investment and
technological expertise, as it faces a chill from the West.
"The relationship between India and Saudi Arabia is in our DNA.
Indians (have been) part of building Saudi Arabia for 70 years,"
the Crown Prince said in New Delhi last week. Nearly
three million Indians live in Saudi Arabia, making it an
important labor source.
China is also Saudi Arabia's largest trading partner, last year
$46 billion from the kingdom, which it relies heavily on for
The two countries also have "a lot of synergy," says Fulton. Xi
is trying to push his Belt and Road initiative, under which huge
amounts of Chinese trade will pass through the
Red Sea that borders Saudi Arabia on its way to Europe. The
Crown Prince wants to promote his own Vision 2030 economic plan,
which would benefit from Chinese investment and technology
"Bin Salman has appeared very magnanimous throughout the whole
trip," says Fulton. "For folks watching back home, who have heard
nothing but negative stories for a while, here are countries that
are important to Saudi receiving him well. So on that note, it's
been a success."
Bin Salman launched his bold Vision 2030 plan aimed at weaning
his country off its economic dependence on oil in 2016.
But more than two years later, it is still the
backbone of the Saudi economy -- as shown by the deals he
struck in Asia this week.
但两年多过去了,，它仍然是沙特经济的支柱 - 正如他本周在亚洲达成的交易就说明了这一点
Anoush Ehteshami, a professor of international relations at the
University of Durham, says: "Saudi Arabia's lifeline remains
energy," adding that soft oil prices have sent the kingdom's
economy into "relative decline."
In Pakistan, the Crown Prince signed tentative agreements for
$20 billion of investment, which included a $10 billion agreement
to establish an oil refinery in the southwestern coastal city of
Gwadar. That port is a key part of the
$46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, further
intertwining the interests of Saudi and China.
"When you lock up your country's billionaires in the Ritz
Carlton it doesn't reassure foreign capital that their investment
will be safe," he adds, referring to the detention of high profile
Saudi royals at the five-star hotel in Riyadh in an alleged
corruption sweep in 2017.
Bin Salman did not receive the same hero's greeting in Beijing
that he did in Pakistan or India. Furthermore, just days before the
Crown Prince's arrival, Beijing announced it wanted to build
"strategic trust" with Saudi's arch rival Iran.
But China was a much more important stop for the Crown Prince,
says Fulton. It was in Beijing he was looking for investment.
On Friday, after meeting with Xi, the Crown Prince signed a
series of agreements in politics, shipping, energy and, crucially,
the two nations agreed to further enmesh their Belt and Road and
Vision 2030 projects.
"We respect and support China's rights to take counter-terrorism
and de-extremism measures to safeguard national security. We stand
ready to strengthen cooperation with China," bin Salman said,
according to state news outlet Global Times.