Frankly Speaking: How to explain the Saudi ‘diplomatic marathon’ in Asia?

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Updated 24 July 2023
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Frankly Speaking: How to explain the Saudi ‘diplomatic marathon’ in Asia?

Frankly Speaking: How to explain the Saudi ‘diplomatic marathon’ in Asia?
  • Saudi geopolitical analyst Salman Al-Ansari says Kingdom’s growing ties with Asian economies should not be viewed as a threat by US
  • Saudi Arabia has hosted several Asian leaders in recent weeks, including the Japanese prime minister, as it deepens engagement with the region

DUBAI: The “diplomatic marathon” underway between the Kingdom and its neighbors to the north and east represents a “Saudi-Asian moment,” according to Salman Al-Ansari, a Saudi geopolitical analyst.

The Kingdom is “having this kind of beautiful marathon, and I would love to call it the Saudi-Asian moment,” he said, following several rounds of diplomatic visits and agreements between Riyadh and Asian countries.

Appearing on the Arab News weekly current-affairs show “Frankly Speaking,” Al-Ansari also discussed the Kingdom’s motives for establishing closer ties with the Central Asian, Southeast Asian and Far East economies, and explained how burgeoning Saudi relations with China and Russia ought to be viewed by Washington, its traditional ally.




Salman Al-Ansari, a Saudi geopolitical analyst, speaks to Frankly Speaking host Katie Jensen. (AN photo)

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia became the 51st country to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations during Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan’s visit to Jakarta.

The TAC is a peace accord signed in 1976 to establish a set of guidelines to govern inter-state relations in the region based on mutual respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of one another.

Besides the 10 member states of ASEAN, which include influential members Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore, countries not located in Southeast Asia have also been entering into the agreement.




Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan (L), Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (R), and ASEAN Secretary-General Kao Kim Hourn at the signing ceremony of Saudi Arabia's accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) in Jakarta on July 12, 2023. (AFP)

China and India were the first to accede to it in 2003, and the US and the EU joined in 2009. “This definitely will enhance the bilateral relations of the Kingdom with all the ASEAN members,” Al-Ansari said. “That’s why I call it the Saudi-Asian moment.”

Another diplomatic highlight of the past month was an official Middle East tour by Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida — his first since taking office in 2020. Between July 16 and 19, Kishida visited Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.

Although energy security was high on Kishida’s agenda during his tour, green technology initiatives and cooperation in technology and infrastructure also featured prominently.

“It was a very important visit,” Al-Ansari told “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen. “There were more than 26 agreements that have been signed between Japan and Saudi Arabia that involve so many different fields. And you can name energy, water, advanced industries, technologies and the health sector, and also the financial sector.

“So, there is a lot going on with regards to the Saudi-Asian relations. And we should not forget also the fact that the Central Asian-GCC meeting happened just a couple of days ago where, for the first time, the two blocs started to solidify their relationships.”




Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) meets with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (2nd left) at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah on July 16, 2023. (SPA)

On July 19, the Gulf Cooperation Council-Central Asia Countries (GCC-C5) Summit took place in the Saudi city of Jeddah, resulting in a further strengthening of ties between the two regional blocs.

“The Central Asian countries have never been on the Saudi radar like they are now,” said Al-Ansari referring to the C5, which includes Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.

“These five nations are among the countries that are considered to be very important also in OPEC+. And there are massive solar energy and electricity projects run by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, specifically through ACWA Power Company, especially in Uzbekistan.

“This summit of the five Central Asian countries and the six GCC countries will pave the way for more win-win cooperation and will definitely solidify the strategic and economic interest of both blocs.

“It’s the Saudi-Asian moment.”




Family photo of leaders of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the UAE, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan during the Gulf Cooperation Council-Central Asia Countries (GCC-C5) Summit in Jeddah on July 19, 2023. (SPA)

The Kingdom’s turn to the East is in part driven by the rise of China as a major energy importer and a global powerhouse for manufacturing and technology.

China is Saudi Arabia’s biggest trading partner, while the Kingdom is China’s biggest trading partner in the Middle East and North Africa, with bilateral trade in energy and a wide range of manufactured goods.

But Beijing is also increasingly taking a lead in the field of Middle East diplomacy.

The agreement reached by Saudi Arabia and Iran in March, which paved the way for the normalization of relations, was brokered by China. Was that the beginning of a broader role for China in the region?




Iran’s top security official Ali Shamkhani (L) and Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban (R) show the document they signed in Beijing, which top China official Wang Yi (C) helped broker. (SPA file photo)

“(Some years ago), I remember, I had a friend of mine, he is a diplomat, a GCC diplomat in Beijing, in China, and I actually asked him, why are we not pushing the Chinese to do something with regards to Iran?” Al-Ansari said.

“And he told me that they always raise this question (with their) Chinese counterparts, and they always speak about nothing but trade.

“So, it is a very important moment right now when we have the Chinese government (shifting) their focus, not only from a trade perspective, but also to look at security arrangements and political brokerage.

“I think it’s a big move for China. It’s a big move for Iran. It’s a big move for the GCC countries and Saudi Arabia, for sure.”

Saudi Arabia’s deeper engagement with non-Western powers has spurred speculation by politicians and commentators in Washington that Riyadh has chosen to side with the likes of China and Russia in place of its traditional US and Western allies.

Al-Ansari says it is only natural that Saudi Arabia, as a sovereign nation, should diversify its diplomatic and trade relations, but this does not mean the Kingdom has abandoned its vitally important strategic partnership with the US.

At the same time, he said, Washington should neither try to interfere in the relations of sovereign nations, nor impose a double standard, whereby it is permitted to have trade ties with China while blocking others from doing so.

“The US is the biggest trading partner with China. We should not be in a way where we dictate on how other nations should conduct their businesses and with whom they should conduct their businesses,” Al-Ansari said.




China is the biggest trading partner of the US and for Washington to hinder others from expanding trade with China would be tantamount to double standards, says Salman Al-Ansari. (AN infographic)

“Thirty years ago, China used to be the biggest trading partner for 20 countries. Right now, (that number is) more than 130 countries. So, it’s a reality on the ground. It’s the factory of the world. Let’s work with China.

“China is not, as it is perceived to be, an evil country. We don’t want that kind of double standards and also this kind of zero-sum kind of approach by the US.

“We want the world to live in harmony, and at the same time, we want to have a win-win agreement with everyone, whether it’s with China, whether it’s with Russia, whether it’s with our European friends, with the US, and that’s the role that Saudi Arabia wants to play, to be an equalizer, to be right in the middle and to make business with everyone.”

According to Al-Ansari, the importance that Saudi Arabia places on the idea of sovereignty is nothing new and the US has nothing to fear from Riyadh’s unilateral diplomatic dealings.

“Saudis have always had this idea that sovereignty is key to Saudi Arabia and to all the countries that are concerned to be friends with Saudi Arabia,” he said. “The Saudis have not changed course with regards to jumping from an ally to another. That’s not the practice and the style of the Kingdom.

The Saudis and the Americans fought communism together, they fought terrorism together and they stabilized the global energy and economy together. And the Saudis are actually, really, committed to this very strategic and important relationship.

Salman Al-Ansari

“The Saudis have been following their interests since their inception. So, in the very beginning, the Saudis have been working with the Americans to confront the major conflicts and the major adversaries in the world.

“The Saudis and the Americans fought communism together, they fought terrorism together and they stabilized the global energy and economy together. And the Saudis are actually, really, committed to this very strategic and important relationship.

“With regards to the US right now, it is considered to be the second trading partner for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is considered to be the major strategic partner of the Kingdom when it comes to security etc. But absolutely there are some differences, just like in any relationship.”

Nor should Washington be concerned about Saudi Arabia’s engagement with Russia on oil, said Al-Ansari — a move that is solely intended to help stabilize world energy markets in the wake of the war in Ukraine and Western sanctions targeting Russian hydrocarbons.

“Right now, maybe the Americans are upset that we are actually working with the Russians through OPEC+, but I don’t think they should be actually having any concern in that regard, because we’re not there to help a specific country against another,” Al-Ansari said.

“We are there to stabilize the energy market. And the one and only way to do so is through engagement and through having a unified kind of mechanism through which we can actually work on the demand and supply.”

Dismissing the notion of a geopolitical alignment against the US, he said: “I don’t think anyone buys the idea of Saudi Arabia siding with Russia through its decisions in OPEC. It’s just outdated information that has been thrown by the US administration at a time of anger. And then the media kept talking about it.” 

 


Female entrepreneurs highlight success stories at AmCham Saudi Arabia event in Jeddah

The Women in Business Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Saudi Arabia recently organized an event in Jeddah.
The Women in Business Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Saudi Arabia recently organized an event in Jeddah.
Updated 7 sec ago
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Female entrepreneurs highlight success stories at AmCham Saudi Arabia event in Jeddah

The Women in Business Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Saudi Arabia recently organized an event in Jeddah.
  • The event featured an enlightening panel discussion on women’s empowerment and economic inclusion

JEDDAH: The Women in Business Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Saudi Arabia recently organized an event in Jeddah dedicated to honoring the remarkable achievements of female entrepreneurs in the Kingdom.

Maha Al-Juffali, founder, director, and supervising board member of the Help Center, highlighted her journey as an entrepreneur and the establishment of her NGO supporting individuals with intellectual disabilities in Saudi Arabia during a time when their needs were largely overlooked.

She said: “It demanded resourcefulness, innovation, and hands-on engagement at every turn. We overcame challenges, and with the support of my family and friends, we achieved significant progress in reshaping societal perceptions and providing essential support to individuals with disabilities.”

Al-Juffali highlighted the essential ingredients that empower women entrepreneurs to thrive, stating: “It’s about fostering a supportive ecosystem that nurtures their ambitions, providing access to mentorship, networks, and tailored financial instruments. Additionally, it involves changing the narrative and challenging outdated stereotypes by celebrating female role models and showcasing their achievements to inspire others.”

She also emphasized the significance of leveraging the digital revolution, stating: “It is crucial to embrace the opportunities presented by the digital revolution, which have opened unprecedented avenues for women entrepreneurs. Technology has become a great equalizer, enabling individuals with vision and determination to launch and scale businesses.”

The event featured an enlightening panel discussion on women’s empowerment and economic inclusion, moderated by Nora Al-Jindi, director of Dar Al-Hekma University’s marketing program.

Joining the panel were esteemed guests such as Marriam Mossalli, founder of Niche Arabia; Dania Shinkar, founder and creative director of Dania Shinkar Ltd; Jehan Alallah, IT manager at Amazon; and Mohammed Khan, associate professor in the marketing, entrepreneurship, and strategy department at Effat University.

The session delved into a range of topics, including effective scaling strategies, leveraging networks, and attracting investors, offering valuable insights from experienced business leaders. Moreover, the event served as a platform to showcase the exceptional talent, innovation, and resilience of female entrepreneurs who are playing a pivotal role in shaping the business landscape of Saudi Arabia.

Mossalli emphasized the importance of networking and relationships in the Saudi entrepreneurial landscape, saying: “Events like these facilitate networking and relationship-building. Despite the digital advancements and various platforms, it still boils down to who you know. I eagerly anticipate the next one.”

She highlighted the challenges of scaling a business, noting the psychological shift required to delegate responsibilities. “Scaling is the most challenging part, especially when your business is your baby. Delegating and letting go is a psychological change you have to get used to. It’s not about stepping down but about trusting others. Taking risks, like expanding Niche into large events, was scary but necessary. It's about pushing through fear and embracing competition.”

She also commended the government’s efforts in breaking down taboos around working women, calling it “a positive change from the top down.”

For aspiring entrepreneurs, Mossalli advised: “Immerse yourself in the industry you aim to enter. Work in various roles and gain a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of the business before embarking on their entrepreneurial journey.”

Shinkar said: “My involvement in the event centered around fashion female entrepreneurs. The event has been fantastic for networking and raising awareness about female entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia. The recent reforms under Vision 2030 have provided significant opportunities and support for female entrepreneurs through initiatives, programs, and incubators. These have been invaluable in offering mentorship, funding, and access to trade shows and fashion exhibitions, helping us gain brand exposure regionally and internationally.”

Zeina Alnouri, AmCham Saudi Arabia Jeddah chapter coordinator, emphasized the importance of women supporting each other in business to pave the way for current and future success.

She said: “To excel as women in business, it’s important to work with one another to pave the path for those who are currently working towards their success and those who will come after them. We are proud to have brought together so many influential females from various fields this evening. It is inspiring to witness the accomplishments and experiences of each of our guests, and we eagerly anticipate hosting similar events of this caliber in the future.”

Attendees had the opportunity to engage in networking and knowledge-sharing activities, gaining valuable perspectives on the successes and challenges faced by women in business.


Preservation of heritage and nature top priority for Soudah Peaks project, says head developer

The Soudah Development company plans to rehabilitate about 200 heritage sites within the Soudah Peaks project area.
The Soudah Development company plans to rehabilitate about 200 heritage sites within the Soudah Peaks project area.
Updated 21 May 2024
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Preservation of heritage and nature top priority for Soudah Peaks project, says head developer

The Soudah Development company plans to rehabilitate about 200 heritage sites within the Soudah Peaks project area.
  • Project prioritizes sustainable environmental practices and protection of natural landscapes, cultural heritage and region’s unique architecture, says Daniel McBrearty
  • The project aims to establish a luxurious mountain tourism destination at an altitude of 3,015m above sea level in the Asir region of southwestern Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: The Soudah Development company plans to rehabilitate about 200 heritage sites within the Soudah Peaks project area in Saudi Arabia, and the work will be carried out in ways that preserve the authentic nature and natural splendor of the area, said Daniel McBrearty, the organization’s chief development officer.

The preservation of the sites and the natural landscapes around them is of paramount importance to the company as it undertakes its transformative tourism project, he added.

McBrearty told the Saudi Press Agency: “The Soudah project’s master plan places sustainable environmental practices at the forefront, ensuring the protection of natural landscapes, cultural heritage and the unique architectural style of the region.”

The Soudah Peaks project aims to establish a luxurious mountain tourism destination at an altitude of 3,015 meters above sea level in the Asir region of southwestern Saudi Arabia. In keeping with the objectives of the Saudi Green Initiative, only 1 percent of the 627-square-kilometer project area has been allocated for development.

“We will focus on safeguarding the environment and mitigating climate change impacts,” McBrearty said. “Soudah Development is committed to translating climate ambitions into tangible sustainability efforts aimed at restoring and reviving the area’s exceptional biodiversity.”

Several environmental initiatives are already underway, he said, most notably an afforestation project that aims to plant more than a million trees by 2030, in support of the Saudi Green Initiative and to help offset carbon emissions by 4 percent.

Soudah Development has already planted 165,000 indigenous trees, SPA reported, including species such as juniper, wild acacia, Dodonaea and katam (wild olive). This has taken place in collaboration with the National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification, to help achieve environmental balance and climate resilience.

And in partnership with the National Center for Wildlife, the company has reintroduced 23 mountain ibexes and 10 idmi, or mountain, gazelles in the past three years, supporting efforts to protect the species from extinction.

McBrearty said that working under the auspices of the Public Investment Fund, the company is leading the development of Soudah Peaks to enhance the Kingdom’s increasingly diverse tourism offerings.

“The luxury mountain resort will feature 2,700 hospitality keys, 1,336 residential units and 80,000 square meters of commercial space across six development zones: Tahlal, Sahab, Sabrah, Jareen, Rijal and Red Rock,” he explained.

“By 2033, the project is projected to create thousands of direct and indirect job opportunities, contribute over SR29 billion ($7.7 billion) to the non-oil GDP (gross domestic product), and attract 10 million visitors annually by 2030, aligning with the nation’s tourism goals.”

Developers say Soudah Peaks will offer a wide range of attractions and activities, including mountain trails, long-distance hiking paths, paragliding, mountain biking, horseback riding and zipline adventures. Nature lovers will be able to immerse themselves in the natural splendor of its attractions, including national parks, biodiversity and agricultural terraces, and indulge in luxurious wellness experiences at eco-resorts, meditation centers and yoga retreats. There will also be an 18-hole golf course atop Soudah mountain, and mild temperatures of around 15 degrees Celsius will allow visitors and residents to enjoy the outdoor pursuits year-round.


Saudi Arabia, Japan leaders exchange views in video summit meeting

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio held a productive video meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday. (SPA)
Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio held a productive video meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday. (SPA)
Updated 56 min 49 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia, Japan leaders exchange views in video summit meeting

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio held a productive video meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday. (SPA)
  • The crown prince expressed his desire to visit Japan as soon as possible to further strengthen ties with Japan
  • Kishida expressed his wishes for King Salman’s early recovery

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio held a productive video meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the prime minister of Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday.
Kishida offered his best wishes for King Salman’s health, a gesture that was appreciated by the crown prince.
The crown prince expressed his desire to visit Japan as soon as possible to further strengthen ties with Japan. Kishida expressed his wishes for King Salman’s early recovery and said that he was also looking forward to strengthening the strategic partnership between Japan and Saudi Arabia, according to the foreign ministry in Tokyo.
As the two countries approach the 70th anniversary of their diplomatic relations, the Japanese prime minister expressed his desire to work even more closely with Saudi Arabia. He emphasized the shared goal of realizing peace and stability in the Middle East, a sentiment that was echoed by the crown prince. The leaders agreed to establish a “strategic partnership council” chaired by them to further strengthen bilateral relations.
Kishida expressed gratitude for Saudi Arabia’s stable supply of crude oil to Japan over the years. He also expressed his anticipation for Saudi Arabia to continue playing a leading role in stabilizing the global oil market, including through production increases, a sentiment that was appreciated by the crown prince.
Kishida added that he would like to cooperate in establishing a global supply chain for clean energy, such as hydrogen and ammonia, and promote cooperation in the field of mineral resources while using Japanese technology under the “lighthouse initiative” agreed between the two countries in July last year.
The crown prince said that Saudi Arabia would like to cooperate with Japan in various areas, including clean energy, and the Kingdom remained committed to providing a stable supply of crude oil to Japan.
Kishida expressed interest in creating business opportunities in Saudi Arabia, and making direct investments in Japan in a wide range of fields, including construction, power transmission, hydrogen, digital fields, information and communications technology, space, health, medicine, food and agriculture.
He also said that he would like to work together to achieve an early realization of the Japan-GCC free trade agreement. This agreement, once implemented, will significantly boost trade and investment between Japan and the GCC countries, creating new business opportunities and fostering economic growth. Negotiations are scheduled to resume soon.
The crown prince said that he welcomed the resumption of negotiations for the Japan-GCC free trade agreement and cooperation with Japan in fields beyond energy.
On peace and security, Kishida explained Japan’s diplomatic efforts and contributions in Gaza, including humanitarian aid and diplomatic initiatives. The crown prince said that he envisioned continued cooperation with Japan on diplomatic efforts to realize peace and stability, appreciating Japan’s active role in the region.
Kishida said that he would be pleased to hand over the symbolic “torch” of the expo to Saudi Arabia following Expo 2025 in Osaka-Kansai. This act symbolizes the continuation of the spirit of international cooperation and cultural exchange. He added that he would like to encourage cultural exchanges in entertainment, tourism, academia and football.
The crown prince said that Japan was an outstanding country in terms of culture and that he sought to strengthen cooperation with Japan in this area.
Read More: Saudi, Japan discuss ties at Vision 2030 business forum in Tokyo  


300 tons of Zamzam supplied daily in Madinah

300 tons of Zamzam supplied daily in Madinah
Updated 21 May 2024
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300 tons of Zamzam supplied daily in Madinah

300 tons of Zamzam supplied daily in Madinah
  • To ensure that Zamzam water is safe, a specialized technical staff takes more than 80 samples daily and examines them with the latest equipment

RIYADH: The General Authority for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque exerts all efforts to provide Zamzam water at the Prophet’s Mosque so that worshippers and visitors can enjoy the blessed water.

The authority supplies 300 tons of Zamzam water, brought daily from Makkah to the mosque in Madinah on bowsers equipped for this purpose, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

To ensure that Zamzam water is safe, a specialized technical staff takes more than 80 samples daily and examines them with the latest equipment.

Meanwhile, Zamazemah Co. and the Coordination Council for Institutions and Companies Serving Domestic Pilgrims (Mutahed) signed a memorandum to provide Zamzam water bottles to domestic pilgrims during Hajj.

Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Abdulfattah Mashat attended the signing. This agreement aims to ensure high-quality services for pilgrims.


Saudi Arabia a ‘faithful friend’ of Cameroon, says envoy

Cameroon celebrates its national day at a diplomatic event in Riyadh. (Supplied)
Cameroon celebrates its national day at a diplomatic event in Riyadh. (Supplied)
Updated 21 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia a ‘faithful friend’ of Cameroon, says envoy

Cameroon celebrates its national day at a diplomatic event in Riyadh. (Supplied)
  • Cameroon’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia said that cooperation between his country and the Kingdom has “continued to deepen over the decades”

RIYADH: Cameroon has celebrated its national day at a diplomatic event in Riyadh, with the country’s ambassador hailing Saudi Arabia as a “faithful friend.”

Iya Tidjani, speaking at a reception on Monday in the Saudi capital to mark Cameroon’s 52nd national day, said that cooperation between his country and the Kingdom has “continued to deepen over the decades.”

Riyadh Mayor Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz bin Ayyaf was the guest at the reception, which was attended by diplomats in Riyadh, Saudi officials and businessmen, the Cameroonian community and embassy staff.

“Since 1966, the year of establishment of relations between the two countries, these ties have continued to deepen and diversify to the mutual benefit of both countries,” Tidjani said.

The ambassador praised Saudi Arabia for sending medical missions every year to support the Cameroonian health sector.

“Our government also expresses sincere thanks to Saudi Arabia for their laudable efforts for the Hajj, both in terms of organization and infrastructure,” he added.

In 2019, the Great Mosque of Maroua in northern Cameroon was inaugurated, built with the support of Saudi Arabia.

The mosque can accommodate up to 5,000 worshipers and is “considered one of the most beautiful achievements in mosque construction in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Tidjani.

The ambassador highlighted Cameroon’s battle against the Boko Haram militant organization, describing Saudi Arabia as a “friend and a major player … as can be seen from its role in the fight against terrorism.”

He added: “Cameroon and Saudi Arabia share similar views on international issues and Cameroon joins the international community to support Saudi Arabia in its effort toward peace in the Middle East and beyond.”

Cameroon’s national day on May 20 saw citizens celebrate the “unity, peace and stability of a country firmly committed to the path of emergence,” the embassy said in a statement.