Crown prince’s Acropolis visit puts Saudi-Greek cultural partnership in the spotlight

Crown prince’s Acropolis visit puts Saudi-Greek cultural partnership in the spotlight
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was welcomed to the iconic Acropolis in Athens by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. (AFP)
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Updated 28 July 2022

Crown prince’s Acropolis visit puts Saudi-Greek cultural partnership in the spotlight

Crown prince’s Acropolis visit puts Saudi-Greek cultural partnership in the spotlight
  • A memorandum of understanding between the two countries was signed in a special ceremony at Acropolis Museum
  • Saudi-Greece annual bilateral trade of $1 billion includes the exchange of cultural goods, services and skills

RIYADH: When Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman paid a visit on Tuesday night to the archaeological site of the Acropolis in Athens, the purpose was more than to take in the greatest architectural and artistic complex bequeathed by Greek antiquity to the world.

The crown prince went to the Acropolis Museum, where he and Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Saudi Arabia and Greece for cooperation in the cultural field.

The agreement was signed from the Saudi side by Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al-Saud, the Kingdom’s culture minister, who previously visited Athens in May 2021 to discuss aspects of cultural cooperation.




The crown prince oversaw the signing of a major cultural cooperation deal with Greece. (SPA)

During his visit to the Acropolis, the crown prince, who was accompanied by Prime Minister Mitsotakis and Dr. Lina Mendoni, minister of culture and sports of Greece, was briefed on the ancient buildings, areas and theaters contained within the archaeological site.

Those include the Erechtheion, the Belvedere, the Parthenon, the Theater of Dionysus, and the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticus theater.

Later in the evening, the crown prince was honored with a dinner banquet at the Acropolis Museum hosted by Mitsotakis. Opened to the public in 2009, the world-famous archaeological Acropolis Museum houses Bronze Age, Roman and Byzantine artifacts discovered at the site of the Acropolis.




Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his delegation are shown around the Acropolis by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. (AFP)

Hosting the agreement-signing ceremony at this venue was rich in symbolism. “This has never happened before,” Adonis Georgiadis, the Greek minister for development and investment, told Arab News on Tuesday ahead of the Saudi crown prince’s arrival in Athens.

“We have never signed an MoU with any other country in the world in the Acropolis Museum. And this is just a (message) from our prime minister to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to show how we feel, that you are something very exceptional to us.”

FASTFACT

In September 2021, the Saudi-Greek Business Council was set up to enhance bilateral trade and investment.

The Saudi-Greece annual trade relationship of almost $1 billion includes the exchange of cultural goods, services and skills. One of the main initiatives to come out of a strengthened Saudi-Greek cultural relationship are “Cultural Weeks” to be held in both countries.

These events could facilitate collaborative outcomes such as cultural heritage exchanges, art exhibitions and festivals




Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al-Saud, Saudi minister of culture, and Dr. Lina Mendoni, minister of culture and sports of Greece, signed a major cultural cooperation deal. (SPA)

During Prince Badr’s previous visit, both Greece and Saudi Arabia pledged to work together to protect tangible and intangible heritage, counter illicit trafficking of cultural property and manage the impacts of climate change.

“As Saudi Arabia’s cultural transformation continues at pace, we welcome closer relations with our Greek friends,” Prince Badr had said after meetings with Mendoni.

“Both our countries have a deep and rich heritage, stretching back millennia, and a shared outlook on the positive power of cultural exchange, and the need for its protection and preservation. As the Kingdom looks to share its culture with the world, Greece’s insight and experience has much to offer us.”

In the run-up to the Saudi crown prince’s visit, Alexis Konstantopoulos, Greek ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told Arab News: “We have deep-rooted ancient civilizations and tourism, because people-to-people relations are extremely important and Greece is a very touristic country.

“On culture, hopefully we’ll be able to do groundbreaking things together. We can explore the possibilities to do archaeological excavations and the setting up of museums together.”

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s delegation included the ministers of energy, sports, foreign affairs, culture, trade, investment, telecommunications and information technology, as well as the national security adviser.

The official engagements on Tuesday evening began with a formal reception ceremony for the crown prince at Maximos Mansion, the official seat and residence of the prime minister of Greece.

Afterward, the two leaders held a bilateral meeting, during which Mitsotakis welcomed the crown prince and wished him and the Saudi delegation a pleasant stay.




Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis briefs the Saudi crown prince on the important features of the Acropolis. (SPA)

Later, Mitsotakis and the crown prince held an expanded meeting in the presence of the delegations of the two countries.

The two leaders witnessed the signing of the agreement to establish the Saudi-Greek Strategic Partnership Council, besides the exchange of a number of bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding between the two countries.

The deals sealed by the two sides included:

  • an agreement in the field of energy
  • an MoU for cooperation in the field of sports
  • an agreement on cooperation in the fight against crime
  • an agreement to protect and encourage investment between the two countries
  • an MoU for cooperation in the health field
  • an agreement for cooperation in the military field
  • an MoU in the field of scientific and technical cooperation
  • a technical cooperation program in the fields of standards and quality
  • an agreement of cooperation in the field of documents and archiving, and
  • a submarine cable agreement.

The agreement in the field of energy, signed between Saudi Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and Nikolaos Dendias, the Greek minister of foreign affairs, sets a framework for cooperation in the fields of renewable energy, electrical interconnection, exporting electricity to Greece and Europe, and clean hydrogen and its transfer to Europe, according to a Saudi Press Agency report.

The agreement will also look at working together in the areas of energy efficiency and the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, while adopting the circular economy approach to carbon and technologies to reduce the effects of climate change.




Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is shown around the Acropolis. (SPA)

Both countries will explore the scope of reusing, transporting and storing the gas, as well as capturing carbon directly from the air.

As for the submarine cable agreement, it is designed to promote digital transformation and innovation in the fields of energy, including cybersecurity, while working to develop qualitative partnerships to localize materials, products and services related to all energy sectors and their associated supply chains, and technologies.

Concurrently, a strategic partnership was announced between the private sectors in the two countries to build a data cable project linking East and West, in a way that would ensure the smooth digital supply of data globally at a time when the world is witnessing an annual growth rate in data traffic of more than 30 percent.




Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih and Greek Minister for Development and Investment Adonis Georgiadis attend a Greek-Saudi business meeting in Athens on July 27, 2022. (Reuters)

Another high point of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit was the Saudi-Greek Investment Forum, held in Athens on Wednesday and attended by ministers and representatives of the private sector from both sides.

The forum discussed ways to enhance investment and economic cooperation between the two countries in all sectors. Dialogue sessions were held to discuss various topics, including communications, transport, logistics and energy.

Khalid Al-Falih, the Saudi minister of Investment, attended a meeting of private sector representatives, alongside Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah bin Amer Al-Swaha and Minister of Commerce and Acting Minister of Media Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi.

The meeting culminated in the signing of 21 investment agreements in the fields of logistics, transportation, defense, renewable energies, manufacturing, environment services, aquaculture, import and export, engineering and agriculture. 

Saudi and Greek government and private sector representatives discussed mutually beneficial investment opportunities, further bolstering commercial relationships.

 

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Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — govt

Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — govt
Updated 7 sec ago

Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — govt

Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — govt
MANILA: About 2.3 million people in the Philippines were pushed into poverty between 2018 and 2021, largely due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, the statistics agency said on Monday.
The number of people living in poverty in 2021 rose to a total of almost 20 million or 18.1 percent of the population from 16.7 percent in 2018, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said, overshooting the government’s target of 15.5 percent-17.5 percent.
Recently inaugurated President Ferdinand Marcos Jr aims to slash the poverty rate to 9 percent by the end of his single six-year term in 2028 — a target that remains achievable despite soaring inflation, according to Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan.
He said the government’s strategy will focus on fully reopening the economy, investing in human capital and social protection, and transforming production sectors to generate more and quality jobs and competitive products.
“We can reduce poverty incidence by 5 percentage points at midterm, and another 4 percentage points by 2028,” Balisacan told a media briefing.
The PSA — which defines poverty as including those Filipinos whose per capita income cannot sufficiently meet individual basic food and non-food needs — releases these statistics every three years.
Balisacan said that before the pandemic, in 2018, the country had achieved its goal of lifting 6 million Filipinos out of poverty, four years ahead of a 2022 target.
But COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 and a long-running issue of poor households having limited access to regular and productive jobs had plunged many Filipinos back into difficulty, he said.

China conducts fresh military drills around Taiwan

China conducts fresh military drills around Taiwan
Updated 54 min 16 sec ago

China conducts fresh military drills around Taiwan

China conducts fresh military drills around Taiwan
  • Beijing calls drills a ‘deterrent’ against Washington and Taipei

BEIJING: China said Monday it organized fresh military drills around Taiwan, in what Beijing called a “deterrent” against Washington and Taipei on the back of a visit to the island by a United States congressional delegation.
“On August 15, the Eastern Theater of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army organized a multi-service joint combat readiness patrol and combat drills in the sea and airspace around Taiwan,” said the Chinese military in a statement.


Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization

Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization
Updated 15 August 2022

Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization

Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization
  • North Korea has a history of dialing up pressure on the South when it doesn’t get what it wants from the US

SEOUL: South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday offered “audacious” economic assistance to North Korea if it abandons its nuclear weapons program while avoiding harsh criticism of the North days after it threatened “deadly” retaliation over the COVID-19 outbreak it blames on the South.
In a speech celebrating the end of Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula, Yoon also called for better ties with Japan, calling the two countries partners in navigating challenges to freedom and saying their shared values will help them overcome historical grievances linked to Japan’s brutal colonial rule before the end of World War II.
Yoon’s televised speech on the liberation holiday came days after North Korea claimed a widely disputed victory over COVID-19 but also blamed Seoul for the outbreak. The North insists leaflets and other objects flown across the border by activists spread the virus, an unscientific claim Seoul describes as “ridiculous.”
North Korea has a history of dialing up pressure on the South when it doesn’t get what it wants from the United States, and there are concerns that North Korea’s threat portends a provocation, which could possibly be a nuclear or major missile test or even border skirmishes. Some experts say the North may stir up tensions around joint military exercises the United States and South Korea start next week.
Yoon, a conservative who took office in May, said North Korea’s denuclearization would be key for peace in the region and the world. If North Korea halts its nuclear weapons development and genuinely commits to a process of denuclearization, the South will respond with huge economic rewards that would be provided in phases, Yoon said.
Yoon’s proposal wasn’t meaningfully different from previous South Korean offers that have already been rejected by North Korea, which has been accelerating its efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program leader Kim Jong Un sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
“We will implement a large-scale program to provide food, providing assistance for establishing infrastructure for the production, transmission and distribution of electrical power, and carry out projects to modernize ports and airports to facilitate trade,” Yoon said.
“We will also help improve North Korea’s agricultural production, provide assistance to modernize its hospitals and medical infrastructure, and carry out initiatives to allow for international investment and financial support,” he added, insisting that such programs would “significantly” improve North Korean lives.
Inter-Korean ties have deteriorated amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, which derailed in early 2019 over disagreements in exchanging a release of crippling US-led sanctions against the North and the North’s disarmament steps.
North Korea has ramped up its testing activity in 2022, launching more than 30 ballistic missiles so far, including its first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017.
Experts say Kim is intent on exploiting a favorable environment to push forward his weapons program, with the UN Security Council divided and effectively paralyzed over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
North Korea’s unusually fast pace in weapons demonstrations also underscore brinkmanship aimed at forcing Washington to accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiating badly economic benefits and security concessions from a position of strength, experts say.
The US and South Korean governments have also said the North is gearing up to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a nuclear warhead designed for its ICBMs.


Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’

Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’
Updated 15 August 2022

Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’

Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’
  • Country marks the 77th anniversary of its World War II defeat

TOKYO: Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida renewed Japan’s no-war pledge at a somber ceremony Monday as his country marked the 77th anniversary of its World War II defeat, but he did not mention Japanese wartime aggression.
In his first address as prime minister since taking office in October, Kishida said Japan will “stick to our resolve to never repeat the tragedy of the war.”
Kishida did not mention Japanese aggression across Asia in the first half of the 20th century or the victims in the region. The omission was a precedent set by the assassinated former leader Shinzo Abe, who had pushed to whitewash Japan’s wartime brutality.
Kishida largely focused on the damages Japan suffered on its turf — the US atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, massive firebombings across Japan and the bloody ground battle on Okinawa. He said the peace and prosperity that the country enjoys today is built on the suffering and sacrifices of those who died in the war.
Beginning in 2013, Abe stopped acknowledging Japan’s wartime hostilities or apologizing in his Aug. 15 speeches, scrapping the tradition that began in 1995.
Emperor Naruhito repeated his “deep remorse” over Japan’s wartime actions in a nuanced phrase in his speech, like his father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, who devoted his career to making amends for a war fought in the name of the wartime emperor, Hirohito, the current emperor’s grandfather.
Some 900 participants observed a minute of silence at noon during the ceremony held at the Budokan arena. The crowd was reduced from about 5,000 before the pandemic, participants were asked to wear masks, and there was no singing of the national anthem.
While Kishida on Monday stayed away from praying at the Yasukuni Shrine and sent a religious ornament instead, three of his Cabinet members visited — Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi and Disaster Reconstruction Minister Kenya Akiba earlier Monday and Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Saturday.
“I paid respects to the spirits of those who sacrificed their lives for the national policy,” Takaichi told reporters, adding that she also prayed so that there will be no more war dead in Ukraine.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno defended their Yasukuni visits by saying that “In any country, it is natural to pay respects to those who sacrificed their lives to their nation,” but that they decided to pray as “private citizens.”
“There is no change to Japan’s policy of strengthening its ties with its neighbors China and South Korea,” Matsuno said.
Victims of Japanese actions during the first half of the 20th century, especially China and the Koreas, see the shrine as a symbol of Japanese militarism because it honors convicted war criminals among about 2.5 million war dead.
The visits sparked criticisms from China and South Korea.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed “deep disappointment and regret” over the Yasukuni visits which it said beautifies Japan’s past invasions. The ministry urged Japanese officials to “look squarely” at history and demonstrate their “sincere” remorse with action.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, on Sunday after Nishimura’s visit, criticized it as “Japanese government’s erroneous attitude toward historical issues.” Wang also urged Japan to “deeply reflect” on its wartime aggression and act responsibly to gain trust of its Asian neighbors and the larger international community.


‘Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics

‘Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics
Updated 15 August 2022

‘Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics

‘Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics
  • Prime Minister Anthony Albanese accuses Scott Morrison of ‘tin-pot activity’
  • Scandal has shone a light on the opaque nature of decision-making inside Australia’s government

SYDNEY: Revelations that Australia’s ex-prime minister secretly appointed himself to several ministerial posts during the pandemic sparked a political firestorm Monday, with his successor promising a rapid investigation.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese accused Scott Morrison of “tin-pot activity” after it emerged the former leader had made himself minister of health, finance and resources, among other positions, without informing colleagues, parliament or voters.
Describing Morrison’s actions as “extraordinary and unprecedented,” Albanese said Monday he had sought legal advice from the solicitor-general and would be briefed later today.
“This is a sort of tin-pot activity that we would ridicule if it was in a non-democratic country,” Albanese said. “Scott Morrison was running a shadow government.“
In some cases, Morrison made himself a co-minister without telling the cabinet members he had already appointed to those positions.
The scandal has shone a light on the opaque nature of decision-making inside Australia’s government — and raised questions about whether more stringent democratic safeguards are needed.
It is still not clear how many posts Morrison held, but local media reported that he took on the resources portfolio and used his power to axe a significant gas project off Sydney’s coast.
Morrison’s conservative coalition lost power in May elections, ending nearly a decade of center-right rule in the country.
In Australia, elected politicians are selected by the prime minister before being sworn in by the governor-general in a formal ceremony that is usually publicly recorded.
Constitutional law expert Anne Twomey described the allegations as “bizarre” and said it raised possible legal challenges to some of the former government’s decisions.
“The secrecy involved in this is just simply bizarre. I mean, you know, you just wonder what’s wrong with these people, if they have to do everything in secret,” she said.
“It’s just utterly inappropriate. We live in a democracy, which requires transparency.”