Saudi King Abdullah Begins Asian Tour, Signaling Shift in Foreign Policy
RIYADH, 22 January 2006 — Diplomats and citizens of China, India, Malaysia and Pakistan have welcomed the upcoming visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. They have said that the geopolitical significance of the visit would go a long way in strengthening bilateral relations with those countries across the broad political, economic and security spectrums.
One of India’s leading TV channel, NDTV, yesterday interviewed King Abdullah concerning his visit and the fact that it had been over 50 years since a Saudi ruler had visited the world’s largest democracy. Vikram Chandra, the channel’s anchorman, was delighted with the interview.
Chandra also interviewed Abdul Wahed Al-Humaid, deputy minister of planning and development in the Ministry of Labor, in addition to a cross-section of Saudi officials and Indian expatriates on labor problems and other issues of mutual concern.
The visit is significant in a broader context. Besides its economic dimension, it symbolizes recognition of the resurgent East in terms of the vast economic potential waiting to be tapped and the political clout it has acquired in the international arena. And, for the first time, it spells out the Kingdom’s “Look East” policy. In that sense it represents a new reorientation in its foreign policy that was heavily tilted toward the West.
In a related development, a large contingent of Saudi journalists has arrived in New Delhi prior to the king’s visit.
In the NDTV interview, Dr. Al-Humaid paid tribute to the 1.6 million Indian expatriates for their contributions to the Saudi economy.
Dr. Abid Moiz, one of the participants in the NDTV’s “The Big Fight” debate, told Arab News that the program provided an opportunity for non-resident Indians to raise India’s profile as a regional power and correct misconceptions about India in the Kingdom.
He told the Indian channel that the royal visit could help project the true image of India as a highly industrialized country particularly strong in the IT sector.
Describing the king’s visit to Malaysia as a landmark event, Malaysia’s Ambassador Dr. Ismail Haji Ibrahim told Arab News that it was especially important for his country in view of the Kingdom’s stature in the Islamic world.
Saudi Arabia, he pointed out, could play a major role within the framework of the Makkah Declaration that calls, among other things, for measures to correct the distorted image of Islam.
Dr. Ibrahim said Malaysia would be happy to cooperate in this mission, since it has been holding the dialogue of civilization as part of its effort to promote multicultural understanding. The ambassador also supported the call for a unified approach to the issuance of fatwas, so that Muslims everywhere could act in unison to project their solidarity. The visit could also herald a turning point in Gulf-ASEAN (Association of South East Nations) ties in the economic field.
Shi Cheng Wang, CEO of Sino-Saudi Gas Ltd., said it could go a long way in cementing bilateral ties in the energy sector. The company, a joint venture between Sinopec and Saudi Aramco, has been awarded a contract for gas exploration in the Block B area of Rub Al-Khali covering nearly 39,000 sq. km. He said the visit would also give a boost to bilateral cooperation in the petrochemical sector, both upstream and downstream.
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