The Heritage Authority has completed the first phase of archaeological investigations at Mecca’s The Al-Majaz Market.

Dubai: The ongoing „diplomatic marathon” between the kingdom and its neighbors to the north and east marks a „Saudi-Asian moment”, according to Saudi geopolitical analyst Salman Al-Ansari.

Following several rounds of diplomatic visits and deals between Riyadh and Asian countries, the kingdom has „such a beautiful marathon, I like to call it the Saudi-Asian moment,” he said.

Appearing on Arab News Weekly’s current-affairs program „Frankly Speaking,” al-Ansari discussed the kingdom’s intentions to forge closer ties with Central Asian, Southeast Asian and Far Eastern economies, and explained how Washington, its traditional ally, should view growing Saudi ties with China and Russia.

Salman Al-Ansari, a Saudi geopolitical analyst, talks to Outspoken host Katie Jensen. (a photograph)

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia became the 51st country to sign a friendship and cooperation agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations during Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan’s visit to Jakarta.

The TAC is a peace treaty signed in 1976 that establishes a set of guidelines to govern inter-state relations in the region based on sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.

Apart from ASEAN’s 10 member states, including influential members Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, countries outside Southeast Asia have also signed the agreement.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan (L), Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (R), and ASEAN Secretary General Cao Kim Harn sign a ceremony for Saudi Arabia’s accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) in Jakarta on July 12 (AFP23).

China and India first agreed in 2003, and the United States and the European Union joined in 2009. „It will certainly improve the Kingdom’s bilateral relations with all ASEAN members,” Al-Ansari said. That is why I call this the Saudi-Asian moment.

Another diplomatic highlight of the past month was Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s official Middle East tour – his first since taking office in 2020. Between July 16 and 19, Kishida visited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

While energy conservation was high on Kishida’s tour, green technology initiatives and cooperation in technology and infrastructure took center stage.

„It’s a very important visit,” Al-Ansari told „Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen. “More than 26 agreements covering various sectors have been signed between Japan and Saudi Arabia. Energy, water, advanced industries, technologies and healthcare sector and financial sector you name it.

„So, there is a lot going on in terms of Saudi-Asian relations. We should also not forget that the Central Asia-GCC meeting took place a few days ago where, for the first time, both teams began to cement their ties.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) meets with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (2nd left) at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah on July 16, 2023. (SPA)

On July 19, the Gulf Cooperation Council-Central Asian Nations (GCC-C5) summit was held in the Saudi city of Jeddah, resulting in further strengthening of ties between the two regional blocs.

“Central Asian countries have never been on the Saudi radar like they are now,” Al-Ansari said of the C5, which includes Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.

„These five countries are among the most important countries in OPEC+. And there are massive solar energy and electricity projects operated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, especially through ACWA Power Company, especially in Uzbekistan.

„This summit of the five Central Asian countries and the six GCC countries will pave the way for further win-win cooperation and will definitely strengthen the strategic and economic interests of the two groups.

„This is the Saudi-Asian moment.”

A family photo of the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, UAE, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan during the Gulf Cooperation Council-Central Asian Nations (GCC-C5) Summit in Jeddah (SPA20) on July 19, 2019.

The kingdom’s turn to the east coincides with China’s rise as a major energy importer and a global powerhouse for manufacturing and technology.

China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, while China is China’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and North Africa, with bilateral energy trade and a wide range of manufactured goods.

But Beijing is increasingly at the forefront of Middle East diplomacy.

An agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran in March paved the way for normalization of relations, brokered by China. Was it the beginning of China’s wider role in the region?

Iran’s top security official Ali Shamkhani (L) and Saudi Arabia’s National Security Adviser Musad bin Mohammad Al-Aiban (R) show a document signed in Beijing, helped broker by China’s top official Wang Yi (C). (SPA file photo)

„(A few years ago), I remember, I had a friend who was a diplomat, a GCC diplomat in Beijing, China, and I actually asked him, why don’t we push the Chinese to do something about Iran?” Al-Ansari said.

„He told me that they always raise this question with (their) Chinese counterparts and that they never talk about anything but trade.

“So, this is a very important moment when the Chinese government not only focuses on the trade perspective, but also looks at security arrangements and political brokering.

„I think it’s a big move for China. It’s a big move for Iran. It’s a big move for the GCC countries and Saudi Arabia, of course.

Saudi Arabia’s deepening engagement with non-Western powers has fueled speculation by politicians and commentators in Washington that Riyadh has chosen to side with China and Russia instead of its traditional US and Western allies.

Al-Ansari says it is natural for Saudi Arabia as a sovereign country to diversify its diplomatic and trade relations, but this does not mean the kingdom has abandoned its important strategic partnership with the United States.

At the same time, Washington should not try to interfere in the relations of sovereign states or impose a double standard, whereby it is allowed to have trade relations with China, while preventing others from doing so.

“The US is China’s largest trading partner. „We should not be in the position of dictating how other countries should conduct their businesses and with whom they should conduct their businesses,” Al-Ansari said.

China is the United States’ largest trading partner, and Washington, says Salman al-Ansari, is double-standard to hinder others from expanding trade with China. (a chart)

“Thirty years ago, China was the largest trading partner for 20 countries. Currently, (that number is) more than 130 countries. So, this is the reality in the field. It is the factory of the world. Let’s work together with China.

“China is not an evil country. We don’t want that kind of double standard, and we don’t want this kind of zero-sum approach by America.

„We want the world to live in harmony, and at the same time, we want to have a win-win deal with everyone, whether it’s with China, with Russia, with our European friends, with the United States, and Saudi Arabia wants to play, be equal.

According to al-Ansari, Saudi Arabia’s emphasis on the idea of ​​sovereignty is nothing new, and the United States has nothing to fear from Riyadh’s unilateral diplomatic dealings.

„The Saudis have always felt that sovereignty is important to Saudi Arabia and to all countries that want to be friends with Saudi Arabia,” he said. „Saudi has not changed course in terms of jumping from one partner to another. That is not the practice and style of the kingdom.

The Saudis and Americans fought communism together, they fought terrorism together and they secured global energy and economy together. The Saudis are, in fact, committed to this strategic and important relationship.

Salman Al-Ansari

“The Saudis have been pursuing their interests since the beginning. So, to begin with, the Saudis have joined forces with the Americans in an attempt to confront major conflicts and major enemies in the world.

„The Saudis and the Americans fought communism together, they fought terrorism together, and they consolidated global energy and economy together. The Saudis are, indeed, committed to this strategic and important relationship.

„For the United States now, it is considered Saudi Arabia’s second largest trading partner. It is considered the kingdom’s main strategic partner in matters such as defense. But as with any relationship, there are absolutely some differences.

Washington also doesn’t have to worry about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Russia’s oil dispute, al-Ansari said — a move that could help stabilize global energy markets in the wake of the war in Ukraine and Western sanctions targeting Russian hydrocarbons.

„Now, the Americans might be upset that we’re actually working with the Russians through OPEC+, but I don’t think they should really have any concerns about that, because we’re not there to help one particular country against another,” Al-Ansari said.

„We are here to stabilize the energy market. The only way to do that is by engaging and having an integrated mechanism where we can really work on demand and supply.

Dismissing the idea of ​​geopolitical alignment against the US, he said: „I don’t think anyone bought the idea of ​​Saudi Arabia siding with Russia through its decisions in OPEC. It was outdated information, thrown out by the US administration in a fit of anger. And then the media kept talking about it.

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