Crown prince’s visit heralds a bright new era for Saudi ties with India

Crown prince’s visit heralds a bright new era for Saudi ties with India

The visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to India, along with a large business and official delegation, will further deepen relations between the two countries. Saudi Arabia, which is India’s largest source of energy (providing nearly 20 percent of the country’s supply) and the top destination for expatriate Indian workers (who send home $10 billion a year in remittances), has gradually emerged as an energy security partner of India. 

The two nations also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on defense in 2014, and a defense-production agreement is on the cards. 

During his visit to Saudi Arabia in 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for Saudi investment in India’s Smart Cities and Startup India projects. India has also shown interest in investing in the huge infrastructure and business opportunities offered by the ambitious Saudi Vision 2030.  In addition to mutual national security projects, intelligence-sharing and anti-terror cooperation, cultural cooperation has also grown of late. 

The crown prince showed interest in investment in tech, energy and agriculture. 

Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam

Saudi Arabia invited India to be the guest of honor nation at the Janadriyah cultural festival last year, and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Saudi Arabia to participate in the event.

All this is happening against the backdrop of India’s growing strategic relationship with the Kingdom’s archrival, Iran. India has substantial stakes in the Iranian Chabahar Port project, which will provide India with a direct route into Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. It will also make it easier for India to keep an eye on the Chinese-built strategic Gwadar Port in Balochistan. Iranians not only want to deepen their influence in the region through cooperation with India, but also to take cover behind India’s moderating influence in case push comes to shove with the US or Israel. 

Some of the American sanctions on Iranian exports have been softened by US President Donald Trump’s temporary waiver to India for energy purchases from Iran. 

In a significant development last year, the world’s largest oil producer, Saudi Aramco, signed an MoU with India’s major oil companies to invest in Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals, the $44 billion West Coast refinery and petrochemical project. Saudi Arabia could fund as much as half of the total cost.

The Saudi plan to scale up investments in India was announced after the crown prince and the Indian prime minister met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires late last year. The crown prince showed interest in investment in tech, energy and agriculture. 

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale subsequently announced that the Saudis will substantially increase their investment in India within the next two to three years.

• Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam is chairman of the Institute of Objective Studies in New Delhi.

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