Special interview: Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar says stronger Saudi-India ties are ‘good for us, good for the world’

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Updated 27 November 2022

Special interview: Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar says stronger Saudi-India ties are ‘good for us, good for the world’

Special interview: Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar says stronger Saudi-India ties are ‘good for us, good for the world’
  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a letter from Indian Prime Minister Modi during meeting with Jaishankar in Jeddah 
  • Jaishankar says there are several areas in which the two countries are working together to achieve their common objectives

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and India are approaching their relationship keeping in mind the larger global context, Dr. S. Jaishankar told Arab News in an exclusive interview during his first official visit to the Kingdom as the external affairs minister of India.

“In a world that has seen the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts such as the ongoing one in Ukraine, or indeed climate events, it is essential that our relationship become a growing factor of stability. This is good for us, good for the region and good for the world.”

He added: “The objective of both countries is to identify complementarities that enable us to expand our cooperation as rapidly as possible. It would require collaborative activities, mutual investments, coordinated policies and greater mobility.”

Relations between Saudi Arabia and India have been historically strong, with Indians constituting the largest community of foreign workers in the Kingdom and one of their home country’s biggest sources of inward remittances. Some 200,000 pilgrims from India, where Islam is the second largest religion, traveled to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj before the pandemic in 2019.




Dr. S. Jaishankar speaking to Arab News in an exclusive interview during his first official visit to the Kingdom. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)

For its part, Saudi Arabia has consistently been among the top three suppliers of energy to India, the world’s third-biggest oil-importing and consuming nation. The two are also members of the G20 intergovernmental forum as well as the Non-Aligned Movement.

In recent years, relations between Saudi Arabia and India have expanded into other fields, notably security, trade, investment, health, food security, culture and defense. The two governments remained in close touch during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are important players in the emerging multipolar world order and there are several areas in which both our countries are working together,” Jaishankar said. “India is a large economy and our focus remains on economic growth and development of 1.3 billion plus people of India. This also gives a great opportunity for Saudi Arabia to make investments in India and work together with us for the mutual benefit of both countries.”

Elaborating on this crucial aspect of the Saudi-India relationship, Jaishankar said: “India and Saudi Arabia are major economies and play an important role in shaping the global economy. The two countries are substantial economic partners, with trade being valued at approximately $ 42.86 billion during the fiscal year (April 2021 to March 2022).”

He continued: “This partnership plays a stabilizing role in the region. The two countries share several synergies in the economic domain. For instance, the two are crucial energy partners and there is immense scope for increasing two-way investment.”




Jaishankar ​with his Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan. (KSA MOFA)

He added: “Energy has been a pillar of our cooperation for several decades. We not only want to build further on this but also extend it to the field of renewables including ‘green’ hydrogen.”

A career diplomat who served as India’s foreign secretary before his induction into the cabinet in 2019, Jaishankar gives credit to “the vision and guidance provided by (Indian) Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman” for the strengthening of the Saudi-India relationship.

“Their respective visits in 2019 to Saudi Arabia and India provided great momentum to the bilateral relationship and that continued despite the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” he said.

“These visits led to the formation of the crucial Saudi Arabia-India Strategic Partnership Council, which reflects the mutual desire of both countries to upgrade the level of this relationship. Today our bilateral partnership covers nearly all areas of cooperation, including political, security, defense, economic, energy, cultural and people-to-people ties.”

On Monday, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received Jaishankar in Jeddah. During the meeting, he handed over a letter from the Indian prime minister to the crown prince.

The previous day, Jaishankar co-chaired with his Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the inaugural ministerial meeting in Riyadh of the Committee on Political, Security, Social and Cultural Cooperation, established under the framework of the Strategic Partnership Council.

Explaining the functioning of the bilateral body, he said: “Formed in October 2019, the Strategic Partnership Council has two sub-committees. The first is the Committee on PSSC and the second is the Committee on Economy and Investments.

“The current ministerial meeting for which I have come (to Saudi Arabia) is of the Committee on PSSC, which focuses on several important areas of bilateral cooperation and has four joint working groups.

“The joint working groups focus on bilateral cooperation in political and consular, legal and security, social and cultural, and defense domains. The agenda for this ministerial meeting would cover all these areas.”

Jaishankar expressed satisfaction over the rise in Saudi foreign direct investments in India from less than $50 million in 2014 to about $3.15 billion at present. “A lot of large Indian companies are also engaged in business in Saudi Arabia. We have furthered our cooperation in areas like health security, food security, education and technology,” he said.

“Our cooperation during the pandemic taught us important lessons on health security and supply chains. We can build on this experience to be better ready to tackle such challenges in future. Both our countries can also collaborate in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, where the Kingdom can benefit from India’s skilled manpower, entrepreneurs and technology.”




Dr. S.Jaishankar visited Diriyah Gate Development Authority. Upon his arrival, he was welcomed by Abdullah Al Ghanem,Advisor to the Chief Executive Officer of Diriyah Gate Development Authority Project. Jaishankar was briefed by DGDA officials about the project and the ongoing renovations. (Supplied)

According to Jaishankar, in view of the above “synergies, one of the verticals of the Strategic Partnership Council focuses on economy and investments. The four joint working groups under this sub-committee have discussed cooperation in the fields of agriculture and food security, energy, technology and information technology, and industry and infrastructure.”

During their meetings, Prince Faisal and Jaishankar undertook a comprehensive review of the bilateral relationship and discussed the progress under the four joint working groups of the Committee on PSSC. The two sides are understood to have also discussed regional and international issues of mutual interest, including their cooperation at the UN, G20 and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

“India considers the Gulf region as its extended neighborhood and that naturally means shared interests with Saudi Arabia in the fields of security and defense. We have been constantly strengthening our cooperation in these fields in the spirit of our strategic partnership,” Jaishankar said.

“On defense, we have had exchange of visits at the level of army commanders in the past two years and we also had our first joint naval exercise last year. Our Joint Committee on Defense Cooperation met a few months back and identified further areas of cooperation. The Indian defense industry provides exciting opportunities for co-production and investments and that is one area where we hope to make more progress with Saudi Arabia.”

Highlighting the importance of security cooperation between the two governments, he said: “India has been a victim of cross border terrorism for decades. Saudi Arabia has had its own challenges and experiences.

“As terrorism knows no borders or religion and is a menace to humanity, it is but natural that India and Saudi Arabia come together to jointly tackle the threats facing our respective countries by intelligence sharing, developing new technologies, keeping abreast with the modus operandi of terrorists, and by working together in international organizations like the UN and FATF.”

According to Jaishankar, there exists a good working relationship “at the highest levels of the security architecture of both countries” on the matter of countering terrorist threats. “Further, under the framework of the Strategic Partnership Council, the two countries have constituted a joint working group on legal and security cooperation to collaborate in this field,” he said.

“In the domain of maritime security, both India and Saudi Arabia have a special interest given our long coastlines and commercial interests. We have a shared objective in keeping the sea lanes of communication open and ensuring that international law is respected.”

Jaishankar noted with satisfaction the increased naval cooperation between Saudi Arabia and India, pointing out that “our ships have done operational turnarounds in Saudi Arabia while Saudi Arabia participated in the multi-nation exercise MILAN 2022 at Vishakhapatnam in February 2022.”

He added: “Besides these ship visits, exchange of information in the maritime domain and other training activities are also continuing. Overall, I see good momentum in our economic, energy, security and defense ties and am confident of good progress in coming years.”

Looking ahead, Jaishankar expressed hope that his meetings and the forthcoming visit of fellow cabinet minister Piyush Goyal, in charge of commerce and industry, would prepare the ground for a meeting in the near future of Saudi and Indian leaders. “We believe that the meeting of the Strategic Partnership Council mechanism will be more productive as a consequence of these preparations,” he said.

During his stay in Riyadh, Jaishankar met other Saudi dignitaries as well as Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf, the secretary general of the GCC. Together with Indian embassy officials, he also visited the cultural sites of Diriyah, Salwa Palace and Diriyah gallery.


Saudi Arabia sponsors $1bn economic reform in Yemen

Saudi Arabia sponsors $1bn economic reform in Yemen
Updated 28 November 2022

Saudi Arabia sponsors $1bn economic reform in Yemen

Saudi Arabia sponsors $1bn economic reform in Yemen
  • AMF program to improve transparency in banking, financial and private sectors
  • Saudi Arabia has been lead donor to Yemen since 2001

RIYADH: Under the sponsorship of Saudi Arabia, the Arab Monetary Fund has signed a $1 billion agreement with the Yemeni government to revitalize its flagging economy.

The deal, signed in Riyadh, seeks to establish a comprehensive economic, financial and monetary reform program to improve governance and transparency, expand and diversify production and lower unemployment and poverty.

Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan said that the program will develop Yemen’s financial and banking sector, strengthen the role of the private sector and promote long-term economic development. 

The reform priorities for the government include developing public resources, controlling and rationalizing government spending, improving efficiency, and rehabilitating critical infrastructure in electricity, water and transport services. 

Priorities for the financial and banking sectors include developing a supervision system to improve transparency and accountability and bolstering services for small and medium businesses and youths and women in rural areas. It will also seek to boost digitalization and payment method flexibility.

The program says the private sector is a primary driver of sustainable economic growth, and key in paving the way for greater integration into the global economy, the flow of foreign investment, and the strengthening of international partnerships. 

The Yemeni government expressed interest in exploring opportunities for regional and international institutions to collaborate to support Yemeni economic reform. 

The agreement’s sponsorship by Saudi Arabia is an extension of the country's economic support for Yemen. The Kingdom gave the Central Bank of Yemen $1 billion in 2012 and $2 billion in 2018 to cover the import of basic food commodities. 

From 2001 to 2022, Saudi Arabia has led the list of donor countries to Yemen, providing 30 percent of total support.

 


Saudi, Egyptian interior ministers hold talks in Riyadh

Saudi, Egyptian interior ministers hold talks in Riyadh
Updated 27 November 2022

Saudi, Egyptian interior ministers hold talks in Riyadh

Saudi, Egyptian interior ministers hold talks in Riyadh
  • Cooperation agreement signed to combat crime

RIYADH: Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Mahmoud Tawfiq in Riyadh on Sunday, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

They discussed ways to improve security cooperation between their ministries. The talks also saw the signing of a cooperation agreement to combat crime.

Saudi attendees included Deputy Interior Minister Dr. Nasser bin Abdul Aziz Al-Dawood, Interior Ministry Undersecretary Dr. Hisham bin Abdulrahman Al-Faleh, Interior Ministry Undersecretary for Security Affairs Mohammed bin Muhanna Al-Muhanna, and Public Security Director Mohammed Al-Bassami.

Egyptian attendees included Adel Al-Sayed Abdulaziz Jaafar, head of the National Security Agency, and officials from the Interior Ministry.

 


Sustainable development of Saudi island will boost economy

Darin and Tarout is among the most archaeologically significant islands in Eastern Province. (SPA)
Darin and Tarout is among the most archaeologically significant islands in Eastern Province. (SPA)
Updated 28 November 2022

Sustainable development of Saudi island will boost economy

Darin and Tarout is among the most archaeologically significant islands in Eastern Province. (SPA)
  • Dr. Saad Dahlawi: 'The Kingdom is witnessing unprecedented economic and developmental growth and following the standards of sustainable development'

RIYADH: Economists and environmentalists say sustainable investment is important for an island north of Dammam allocated billions of riyals for development.

Experts told Arab News that the SR2.64 billion ($703 million) granted to Darin and Tarout island by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last week has much potential to boost the Eastern Province’s economy.

Darin and Tarout is among the most archaeologically significant islands in the region, with evidence of 5,000 years of continuous human habitation and around a dozen heritage sites, including a fortress dating back hundreds of years.

Dr. Saad Dahlawi, Assistant Professor, Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University (L) and
Fahad Almutlaq, CEO of Sharqia Development Authority.

Officials aim to improve the quality of life for its 120,000 people while preserving its cultural and historical heritage, revitalizing its natural beauty sites and enhancing its tourism economy.

As much as 48 percent of its 32 sq. km area will be dedicated to public parks, waterfronts, roads, and facilities. The island hopes to boost the number of tourists to 1.36 million by 2030 and generate thousands of jobs.

HIGHLIGHT

Officials aim to improve the quality of life for its 120,000 people while preserving its cultural and historical heritage, revitalizing its natural beauty sites and enhancing its tourism economy.

“This project represents the first strategic works and initiatives done by the Eastern Region Development Authority,” said Eastern Province Development Authority CEO Fahad Al-Mutlaq.

He said that work would start next year on a program to gradually improve social and economic conditions after comprehensive studies were completed.

Fadhel Al-Buainain, a member of the Shura Council, said that the island had historical importance.

Fadhel Al-Buainain, member of the Saudi Economists Association and member of the Shoura Council (L) and Abdullah Al-Khuzam, member of the National Program for the Development of Handicrafts.

“Developing Darin Castle and Darin Airport as heritage tourist destinations will enhance the cultural side,” he said. “The establishment of the largest forest on the banks of the Gulf will contribute to enhancing the environmental goals of the Kingdom.

“If eco-hotels are developed in natural areas, this will be an important base for eco-tourism, which will support the economy of the island.”

Al-Buainain, who is also a member of the Saudi Economists Association, said that the development plan would make an important economic contribution to the region.

“Providing small and medium investment and employment opportunities will have an important socio-economic impact,” he said, adding that the development would contribute to achieving the goals of Vision 2030.

Dr. Saad Dahlawi, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health at Imam Abd al-Rahman bin Faisal University, said he believed that the development announcement came at the perfect time.

“The Kingdom is witnessing unprecedented economic and developmental growth and following the standards of sustainable development,” he said.

Dahlawi added however that project leaders needed to assess impacts on the environment and especially on marine life to ensure that endangered species are not put at further risk.

“Such a study would provide decision-makers with a clear picture of how to implement the project sustainably,” he said.

Dahlawi said it was important to follow international environmental standards, as well as the standards and requirements of the National Center for Environmental Compliance, to avoid any damage to the environment.

Abdullah Al-Khuzam, a member of The National Handicraft Development Program, said the intention to turn Darin Airport into a heritage museum “means that a new prosperity period is being written on one of the oldest inhabited islands in the Arabian Gulf.”

He said that the museum and planned art festivals would help present “our ancient culture and civilization to the world.”

 

 


University signs deal to boost Saudi student fitness

University signs deal to boost Saudi student fitness
Updated 27 November 2022

University signs deal to boost Saudi student fitness

University signs deal to boost Saudi student fitness
  • The SFA is the main body responsible for promoting a healthy lifestyle in the Kingdom by providing sports activities

JEDDAH: The Saudi Sports for All Federation has signed a deal with the Arab Open University in Riyadh to cooperate on creating sports programs that will help build a healthy and active society.

Both organizations will also work together to promote sports culture and community sports to build a healthy lifestyle among the AOU’s students.

The federation will use the university’s sports facilities to launch initiatives and sports groups, organize community events and motivate students to take part.

SFA President Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal said the agreement was part of a strategy to work with partners and improve the health of the nation.

“We will also cooperate with the university in research, studies, data and statistics to attract a large number of university students to participate in sports and physical activities. This will help achieve our strategic objectives,” he said.

AOU Rector Ali Al-Shahrani said he was pleased to have signed the agreement.

“We seek to provide an integrated educational environment for our students by launching initiatives, sports events, and community programs within the university’s facilities. This agreement will help promote a sports culture among our students.

“We aim to provide multiple opportunities for people to participate in sports and physical activity in order to promote a healthy lifestyle and prevent diseases.”

The SFA is the main body responsible for promoting a healthy lifestyle in the Kingdom by providing sports activities. Its priorities are education, community, volunteering, fitness and health, campaigns, and promotions for people of all ages.

The AOU operates in nine Arab countries. It was founded in 1996 by Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz as a nonprofit institution and a nontraditional education academic entity. It focuses on scientific, social and cultural subjects.

In 2002, it worked with the Open University in the UK to transform into an integrated institution.

 


Saudi Arabia’s largest e-sports festival kick starts in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia’s largest e-sports festival kick starts in Riyadh
Updated 27 November 2022

Saudi Arabia’s largest e-sports festival kick starts in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia’s largest e-sports festival kick starts in Riyadh
  • RUSH event allows video-game aficionados to experience latest tech

RIYADH: The RUSH festival, the largest event for virtual sports and games, opened at the Riyadh Front on Saturday as part of the Riyadh Season of activities.

Over five days, it will provide gamers with the best-known games and real-life experiences.

They will get the chance to play real games such as “Fortnite,” “FIFA,” and “Valorant.” The event will also bring together the best international teams so that the biggest tournaments and direct qualifiers can be held on the e-sports stage.

Representatives of the 25 E-Sport organization greeted fans at the event’s meet-and-greet booth.

Aoun, the organization’s director of operations, told Arab News: “We have content makers and professional players in all games, and we came to meet the audience here.”

HIGHLIGHT

Over five days, the RUSH festival will provide gamers with the best-known games and real-life experiences. They will get the chance to play real games such as ‘Fortnite,’ ‘FIFA,’ and ‘Valorant.’

The festival aims to provide fun video games, competitions, and challenges through direct tournaments with prizes, and includes live entertainment shows, DJ performances, an augmented reality experience, and a cosplay competition.

The Valar Club booth was promoting e-sports for women.

Malak Al-Qahtani, founder of Valar Club, told Arab News: “Valar Club is the first licensed women’s club from the federation’s electronic sports, and our goal is to help female Saudi players, as they aspire to the world, and help with their training.”

Saudi YouTuber Pika Loli travelled from Jeddah to attend the event.

“This event brings together most of the YouTubers and gamers, and it is a good opportunity to get to know each other, and it will increase our followers and grow the channel on YouTube.”

Some of the cosplayers were dressed as video game characters.

Abdulelah Al-Qahtani said: “Today we are dressed as characters from the ‘Genshin Impact’ game, and I think this is so good that Saudi Arabia brought up a hidden community, like cosplayers and gamers.”

With a focus on the whole of the gaming industry, from console and PC gaming to mobile and e-sports, the RUSH festival aims to give gaming aficionados the opportunity to access and experience the latest tech and the chance to interact with each other in real life, and online.

Tickets for the event are available via https://riyadhseason.sa/event-details-en.html?id=599/en_RUSH.