How Saudi-Indian relations gained momentum through G20 platform

Special How Saudi-Indian relations gained momentum through G20 platform
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Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets India’s Premier Narendra Modi during G20 foreign ministers’ meeting. (AFP/File)
Special How Saudi-Indian relations gained momentum through G20 platform
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Delegates visit the three-day B20 Summit in New Delhi, India, on Aug. 25, 2023. (AFP)
Special How Saudi-Indian relations gained momentum through G20 platform
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Prince Fahad bin Mansour, center, poses with other G20 delegates during the Startup20 summit in Gurugram, India, on July 4, 2023. (Startup20)
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Updated 08 September 2023

How Saudi-Indian relations gained momentum through G20 platform

How Saudi-Indian relations gained momentum through G20 platform
  • Saudi Arabia has been engaged with India’s G20 presidency from the very beginning, indicative of depth of their relationship
  • High-level Saudi delegations have attended meetings on sustainable development, food, health, entrepreneurship and technology

RIYADH/NEW DELHI: Relations with Saudi Arabia have been steadily gaining prominence on India’s foreign policy agenda over the past three decades. But their full potential has only lately been realized thanks to cooperation around the G20 platform.

Saudi-Indian ties began to see a new level of engagement in 2019 following Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to New Delhi and the establishment of a strategic cooperation council.

During Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations in 2020, the two countries started to forge new partnerships and programs and these developed further when India took over the presidency this year.

Ashwini Vaishnaw and Abdullah Al-Swaha sign an agreement on digitization and electronic manufacturing in Bengaluru, India, on Aug. 18, 2023. (SPA)

“Relations between the two nations were already growing and G20 has provided them another platform where new possibilities emerge for engagement on a range of issues,” Dr. Harsh V. Pant, vice president for studies and foreign policy at the Observer Research Foundation in Delhi, told Arab News.

“The relations have gained momentum. I think the relations have acquired greater depth with the G20 process.”

When the working group meetings began in January, Saudi Arabia was engaged from the beginning, sending multiple high-level delegations, and also serving as patron and co-organizer of some key meetings — especially those contributing to policy related to sustainable development, food security, health, entrepreneurship, startups and technology.

Dr. Maymouna Al-Khalil, secretary general of the Saudi Family Affairs Council, speaks at the Ministerial Conference on Women’s Empowerment. (Supplied)

All of these sectors are central to both Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 diversification and transformation plan and India’s development strategy, making further cooperation not only promising but possibly also long term.

“While one can look at energy, trade, defense relationship and security relationship, where the two sides have been cooperating, given the commonality of challenges … the G20 platform expands the area of operation for India and Saudi Arabia and allows new possibilities to emerge,” Pant said.

“This lays the foundation for a much more productive and broad-based engagement beyond the G20 … perhaps you will see a lot of activity on the range of fronts, because certainly groundwork has been laid.”


India holds the presidency of this year’s Group of 20 advanced economies, previously held by Saudi Arabia in 2020.

Saudi delegations have been in India attending summits on finance, health, youth and other fields of cooperation.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made reciprocal official visits in 2019.

1.88 million people of Indian origin live and work in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Health Minister Fahad bin Abdurrahman Al-Jalajel told Arab News he was expecting new developments in the health sector.

“This year’s health ministers’ meeting and the joint finance meeting, which were held on Aug. 18 and 19, reaffirmed previous health initiatives that were announced during the Saudi G20 presidency,” he said.

“The launching of the Global Initiative on Digital Health in cooperation with the World Health Organization on Aug. 19 was a highlight.”

Fahd Al-Rasheed, adviser to the Saudi Council of Ministers, speaks at the G20’s Urban 20 Mayoral Summit in Ahmedabad, India, on July 7, 2023. (AN photo)

The Kingdom’s experience in digital health solutions garnered particular interest.

“During the meetings, I met with several ministers including the Indian minister of health. Investment in Saudi public health is a much sought-after topic,” Al-Jalajel said.

“I deeply appreciated the invitation by the Indian presidency to speak at the launching ceremony about our experience in digital health transformation and the implementation of cutting-edge technologies such as the Seha Virtual Hospital.”

Saudi Arabia’s assistant culture minister Rakan bin Ibrahim Al-Tawq represented the Kingdom at the G20 Culture Ministers' Meeting in Varanasi, India, on Saturday. (SPA)

Launched in February 2022, this is the world’s largest virtual hospital and one of the priority initiatives of Saudi Arabia’s health sector transformation program.

The G20 platform has also provided room for Indian tech entrepreneurs to contribute to these initiatives and for the exchange of knowledge and experience between the two countries.

Saudi Arabia’s minister of commerce Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi held 12 meetings with ministers and officials of the G20 countries in India earlier this week. (Twitter/@malkassabi)

Dr. Huda Alfardus, CEO of Riyadh-based HealthGena and a member of several Saudi delegations to G20 meetings, told Arab News there was “a positive momentum” in relations and cooperation in the field of investment and technology transfer.

“HeathGena is actively working with the Indian Embassy in Riyadh to create cross-country economic opportunities,” she said.

“Now we are running a joint program to take 15 Saudi startups to India and bring a delegation of companies from India next week to Riyadh to help them localize in Saudi Arabia.”

Meetings throughout the year have resulted not only in tangible economic results but also included initiatives to bring the two nations closer together. Some of the Saudi delegates, who like Alfardus took part in the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Summit, have already signed agreements with Indian educational institutions.

Dr. Huda Alfardus, CEO of HealthGena, speaks to Arab News at the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Summit in New Delhi, India, on July 15, 2023. (AN Photo)

“Promoting people-to-people connections through cultural and educational exchanges can foster mutual understanding and friendship,” she said.

“Encouraging student exchanges, cultural events, and collaborations between universities can contribute to long-term relationship building.”

At the YEA summit, which was held in Delhi in July, Prince Fahad bin Mansour, the chair of the board of directors of Entrepreneurship Vision and president of the Saudi G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance, told Arab News that new joint projects were expected soon.

“We have some entities from the private sector as investors that are looking for opportunities over here and we found a lot of investors from India that are planning to invest in Saudi,” he said.

“I think what we have is a huge opportunity and we’re going to capitalize on that as we move forward."

Saudi delegation head Prince Fahad bin Mansour, center, surrounded by international delegates to the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Summit in New Delhi on July 15, 2023. (AN photo)

The two countries are already capitalizing on what they have achieved, as they had come to the “forefront of steps toward sustainable development, inclusive growth and energy transition,” Muddassir Quamar, associate professor at the Center for West Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, told Arab News.

“The enthusiastic Saudi participation in G20 meetings in India underlines the confidence the two countries have in each other’s leadership and G20 agenda. India, too, had taken a proactive approach in participating in G20 events under the Saudi presidency in 2020,” he said.

“India’s G20 presidency focus includes sustainable development goals, inclusive growth, digital public goods, just energy transition, health, education and employment, as well as international peace and harmony. This fits well within the priorities of Saudi Arabia’s developmental agenda and the Vision 2030 program as well as within the scope of Indo-Saudi ties.”

Abdulrahman bin Saleh Al-Fageeh, CEO of petrochemicals group Saudi Basic Industries Corporation and chief of the Saudi delegation, serve as a panelist at a plenary session of the B20 Summit in New Delhi, India, on Aug. 27, 2023. (AN Photo) 

For Quamar, the fact that relations had gained momentum was reflected in how “vibrant” they had become and with a “significant strategic component encompassing political, economic, cultural and security ties.”

He expects a further boost will come from the G20 leaders’ summit on Saturday and Sunday.

“G20 can become a platform for greater Indo-Saudi cooperation at multilateral forums and through multilateral organizations,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia and India can further strengthen their cooperation and partnership in areas such as sustainable development and inclusive growth with sensitivity to environmental and climate change concerns.

“The theme of India’s G20 presidency is ‘One Family, One Earth, One Future,’ and this gives a universal message for humanity to work together toward a sustainable and harmonious future for the world, and this can prove to be the new glue in strengthening Saudi-India ties.”

Saudi India Venture Studio CEO Mansour Al-Sanooni, left, signs an agreement with Pravaig Dynamics CEO Siddhartha Bagri in the presence of Prince Fahad bin Mansour, at the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Summit in New Delhi, on July 16, 2023. (Pravaig Dynamics photo)

Mohammed Soliman, strategic technologies director at the Middle East Institute in Washington, agreed that Saudi-Indian engagement had gained more global significance and attention in recent months.

Saudi Arabia and India knew well how to use the G20 platform to their international advantage, he told Arab News.

“Both nations perceive opportunities in the emerging multipolar world and view the G20 as an effective platform for addressing global challenges and showcasing their economic and political influence.

“The most significant development or change in Saudi-Indian ties, attributable to the G20, is the elevation of their engagement on the global stage.”


Ukraine says wife of spymaster Budanov was poisoned

Ukraine says wife of spymaster Budanov was poisoned
Updated 6 sec ago

Ukraine says wife of spymaster Budanov was poisoned

Ukraine says wife of spymaster Budanov was poisoned
KYIV: The wife of Ukraine’s military spy chief has been poisoned with heavy metals and is undergoing treatment in a hospital, a spokesperson for the agency said on Tuesday.
Marianna Budanova is the wife of Kyrylo Budanov, who heads Ukrainian military intelligence agency GUR, which has been prominently involved in clandestine operations against Russian forces since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
“Yes, I can confirm the information, unfortunately, it is true,” GUR spokesperson Andriy Yusov told Reuters, without clarifying when the poisoning took place.
The BBC’s Ukrainian service cited Yusov as saying that several GUR officials had also experienced milder symptoms of poisoning.
Budanov’s public profile has risen in Ukraine and the West, where he is portrayed as a behind-the-scenes mastermind of operations to strike back at Russia. In Russian media he is a hate figure.
The 37-year-old has himself been the target of several attempts on his life, including a botched car bombing.
If confirmed as deliberate, the purported poisoning of his wife would represent the most serious targeting of a high-profile Ukrainian leadership figure’s family member during the 21-month-long war.
The poisoning was first reported by Ukrainian media outlets.
One publication, Babel, cited an unidentified source who said Budanova had been in hospital, and was finishing a course of treatment for the effects of the poisoning.
Another outlet, Ukrainska Pravda, cited an unidentified source who said the poison was likely administered through food.
Moscow has previously blamed Ukrainian secret services for the murders of a pro-war Russian blogger and a pro-war journalist on Russian soil. Ukraine denies involvement in those deaths.
Separately, Russian media has reported that a court in Moscow had arrested Budanov in absentia in April on terrorism charges.

Ukraine says Russian shells hit private homes, four killed

Ukraine says Russian shells hit private homes, four killed
Updated 23 min 49 sec ago

Ukraine says Russian shells hit private homes, four killed

Ukraine says Russian shells hit private homes, four killed
  • “A 63-year-old man was killed. Two women, aged 65 and 63, were injured,” Dnipropetrovsk region governor Serhiy Lysak said

KYIV: Russian shells struck a residential building and private houses on Tuesday, killing four and injuring at least five people, local Ukrainian officials said.
A five-story building was hit in the morning in the southern town of Nikopol, Dnipropetrovsk region governor Serhiy Lysak said.
“A 63-year-old man was killed. Two women, aged 65 and 63, were injured. There may be people under the rubble,” he said on Telegram messenger.
In a separate attack in the afternoon, Russian shelling destroyed at least five private houses in a northern settlement just on the border with Russia, Sumy regional prosecutors reported.
Two bodies have been recovered from the rubble, and a 7-year-old girl died in hospital after a car she was in came under fire, the prosecutors said on Telegram. Three people have been injured.
Russia has denied deliberately targeting civilians although many have been killed in its frequent air strikes.

Sri Lanka eyes Saudi investment to modernize tourism sector

Sri Lanka eyes Saudi investment to modernize tourism sector
Updated 50 min 1 sec ago

Sri Lanka eyes Saudi investment to modernize tourism sector

Sri Lanka eyes Saudi investment to modernize tourism sector
  • Tourism is a key industry for Sri Lanka, accounting for 12 percent of GDP in 2019
  • Officials also discussed possibility of Saudia Airlines launching direct flight to Colombo

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is looking for Saudi investment to modernize its tourism and other sectors, top officials in Colombo have said following an official visit of Saudi Economy and Planning Minister Faisal Al-Ibrahim. 

Al-Ibrahim was in the Sri Lankan capital on Monday, where he met President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry to discuss ways to strengthen economic ties. 

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe … further highlighted that the tourism and agriculture sectors were areas open to greater investment, as the country is committed to modernizing these domains,” the presidential secretariat said in a statement. 

Tourism and agriculture are key industries for Sri Lanka, accounting for about 12 percent and 7 percent of its 2019 GDP respectively. The country has been working to revive its crisis-hit economy following a severe financial crisis that drove the country to bankruptcy last year. 

Al-Ibrahim said that he was honored to meet Wickremesinghe. 

“We discussed both countries’ ambitions and transformation journeys as well as strengthening our bilateral economic ties and trade and investment growth opportunities,” Al-Ibrahim wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. 

During Al-Ibrahim’s meeting with Sabry, the two officials discussed Saudi investment, as well as manpower and tourism cooperation, the foreign minister said.  

“We also discussed (ways) to improve the tourism traffic between the two countries and further strengthen people-to-people contact. We also discussed the possibility of Saudia Airlines commencing direct flights to Colombo,” Sabry told Arab News. 

“We decided to explore possibilities of Saudi investment in Sri Lanka and opportunities for the Sri Lankans for further skilled employment opportunities in Saudi Arabia in its planned construction boom,” he said, alluding to the Kingdom’s various megaprojects under Vision 2030.  

“All in all, we had a very productive discussion and agreed to have a clear plan to continue our cooperation.” 

Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka have expanded ties in the past year. They agreed to broaden their political consultation following their first joint committee meeting in May and earlier this year launched a new employment scheme aimed at boosting Colombo’s manpower exports to the Kingdom.

Finland closes Russian border for 2 weeks to stop asylum seekers

Finland closes Russian border for 2 weeks to stop asylum seekers
Updated 28 November 2023

Finland closes Russian border for 2 weeks to stop asylum seekers

Finland closes Russian border for 2 weeks to stop asylum seekers
  • Some 900 asylum seekers from nations including Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen have entered Finland from Russia in November

HELSINKI: Finland will close its entire border with Russia to travelers for the next two weeks in a bid to halt a flow of asylum seekers to the Nordic nation, the government said on Tuesday.
Finland last week shut all but one of its remaining border posts to travelers from Russia, keeping open only the northernmost crossing located in the Arctic. But this too would now close, allowing only goods transport, the government said.
Some 900 asylum seekers from nations including Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen have entered Finland from Russia in November, an increase from less than one per day previously, according to the Finnish Border Guard.
The decision means only freight traffic can pass between the two countries.

Singapore sees logistics, green energy opportunities under Saudi Vision 2030

Singapore sees logistics, green energy opportunities under Saudi Vision 2030
Updated 28 November 2023

Singapore sees logistics, green energy opportunities under Saudi Vision 2030

Singapore sees logistics, green energy opportunities under Saudi Vision 2030
  • Saudi Arabia, Singapore elevated their ties to strategic partnership during PM Lee’s visit last month 
  • Manpower Minister Tan See Leng tells Arab News about Singapore’s interests in deepening cooperation 

SINGAPORE: Singapore sees growth opportunities in logistics, transport and green energy under the Saudi Vision 2030, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said on Tuesday, as the two countries have recently elevated their ties to a strategic level. 

Saudi Arabia and Singapore agreed to strengthen relations during an official visit by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the Kingdom and his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last month. 

The visit was preceded by seven memoranda of understanding to facilitate investment opportunities, which were inked during the third session of the Saudi-Singapore Joint Committee held in Riyadh, led by Tan, who is also the city state’s second minister for trade and industry, and Saudi Transport and Logistic Services Minister Saleh Al-Jasser. 

“Minister of Transport and Logistic Services Eng. Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser and I reaffirmed our commitment to growing our countries’ bilateral ties,” Tan told Arab News. 

“With Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the country has seen new growth areas for Singapore’s businesses on many fronts, such as in logistics, transport and green energy. I had shared with His Excellency Al-Jasser Singapore’s interests to deepen our cooperation in the ports and logistics sectors and Singaporean companies’ interest to participate in projects arising from Vision 2030.” 

Singapore’s Manpower Minister Tan See Leng signs an agreement with Saudi Transport and Logistic Services Minister Saleh Al-Jasser, Riyadh, Oct. 17, 2023. (Tan See Leng)

Singapore, Asia’s top logistics hub, has been ranked by the World Bank as the first in the world for logistics competence, infrastructure and timeliness of services. 

During the Saudi-Singapore Joint Committee’s recent sessions, the Saudi Ports Authority, known as Mawani, and Saudi Global Ports, a subsidiary of Singapore’s port operator PSA, signed an agreement to establish an integrated logistics zone at the King Abdulaziz Port in Dammam. 

“The development of the integrated logistics zone is one of SGP’s partnerships with Mawani on its Vision 2030 roadmap to grow Saudi Arabia as a logistics hub,” Tan said. 

“On the energy front, I was pleased that Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and I signed the Energy Cooperation Roadmap. Through this, we will see closer cooperation in areas such as low-carbon solutions and technologies, renewable energy, energy efficiency and innovation for decarbonization. Prince Abdulaziz and I also discussed our countries’ commitment to our energy transition.” 

This year’s joint committee meeting also saw in attendance representatives of the private sector from the Federation of Saudi Chambers and the Singapore Business Federation, as well as members of a business delegation from Singapore, which signed five memoranda with the Saudi Ministry of Investment to facilitate their entry into the Kingdom. 

Tan said that Singaporean companies were also interested in working together with Saudis in the fields of oil and gas, tourism and hospitality, urban infrastructure and education sectors. 

He gave as an example Surbana Jurong, a Singaporean government-owned consulting company focusing on infrastructure and urban development, which has already established offices in Riyadh to work on design consultancy in NEOM, the Kingdom’s flagship smart-city megaproject under Vision 2030. 

“I am also glad that (the Saudi Ministry of Investment) has set up a Singapore office earlier this year in September, to promote investments into the Kingdom and facilitate Saudi companies tapping into Singapore to expand into Asia,” Tan said. 

“With these developments, I hope that in the years to come, there will be greater presence by Singapore companies in the Kingdom, and that more Saudi companies will explore using Singapore as a launchpad into Southeast Asia.”