Saudi crown prince courts Asia starting at G20

5. Saudi Arabia G20
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman waves as he arrives for the G20 leaders’ summit in Nusa Dua on November 15, 2022. (Photo: Saudi Royal Palace/AFP)

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince has embarked on a multi-stop Asian tour, shoring up the Gulf nation’s ties with its biggest energy market and signaling growing independence from Washington amid a bitter row over oil supply.اضافة اعلان

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman left Monday for the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.

The official Saudi Press Agency said the trip would include “a number of Asian countries”, though officials have not yet confirmed details of the itinerary.

A likely stop is South Korea, where local media report the crown prince will meet business leaders. He is then expected to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, starting Friday in Bangkok.

The trip comes as Riyadh feuds with Washington over the OPEC+ oil cartel’s October decision to cut production by 2 million barrels per day.

Amid spiraling inflation and high energy prices, the White House worked hard to prevent cuts in oil production.

The US blasted OPEC+’s cuts as akin to “aligning with Russia” in the Ukraine war, and warned of unspecified “consequences”.

Saudi officials defended their policies as driven purely by economics.

“This is a trip to further instill coordination with energy markets in Asia, but also to show to the wider Western world, and essentially to the US, that Saudi Arabia is not lacking in options in terms of partnerships,” said Umar Karim, an expert on Saudi politics at the University of Birmingham.

Energy ties

Sealed at the end of World War II, Saudi-US ties are often described as an oil-for-security arrangement.

Yet for the past decade Saudi crude’s top export markets have been in Asia: China, Japan, South Korea, and India.

Saudi officials therefore began placing special emphasis on cultivating ties in the region well before Prince Mohammed became heir to the throne five years ago, explained Aziz Alghashian, an analyst of Saudi foreign policy.

“But what I would say is the market and economic-driven foreign policy of Saudi Arabia now has amplified this and expedited these kinds of trips and this focus on Asia,” he said.

Prince Mohammed’s meetings with Asian leaders are likely to touch on several initiatives to facilitate further exports to the region, including possible refinery and storage facility projects, said Kaho Yu, an Asia energy specialist at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft.

“It is not just about buying the oil from Saudi Arabia. It is more about trying to expand cooperation along the supply chain,” he said.

Saudi Arabia could also partner with Asian countries on crude alternatives.

On Monday, energy giant Saudi Aramco and Indonesia’s state-owned company Pertamina announced plans to explore “collaboration across the hydrogen and ammonia” sectors.

The timing of energy talks with Asian partners is key, coming just weeks before the next OPEC+ meeting on December 4, which will likely put global disputes over energy supplies back in the headlines.

Prince Mohammed’s Asia tour also precedes a trip to Saudi Arabia by Chinese President Xi Jinping planned for December.

Though no date is confirmed, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said last month the kingdom was “finalizing preparations” for talks with Xi that would also involve other Arab countries.

Developing stronger ties with China sends the strongest possible signal of Riyadh’s move to balance its relations with global powers, pursuing a “Saudi first” oriented foreign policy.

“They are still very much reliant on the US when it comes to security, but they are showing that they are exploring other strategic relations, maybe gradually trying to become less dependent on the US,” said Torbjorn Soltvedt of Verisk Maplecroft.

“I think it’s very important for the Saudis to project that they are not taking sides in this,” said Karim, of the University of Birmingham.

“The current trend in Saudi foreign policy is that of a player on its own.”

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