Frankly Speaking: How are Saudi-Malaysian bilateral relations faring?

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Updated 06 May 2024
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Frankly Speaking: How are Saudi-Malaysian bilateral relations faring?

Frankly Speaking: How are Saudi-Malaysian bilateral relations faring?
  • Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim highlights close alignment between Malaysia’s Madani economic framework and Saudi Vision 2030, resulting in a “win-win” for both countries
  • Says ties have experienced “phenomenal advance” in terms of trade and investment, sheds light on his friendship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

DUBAI: Saudi-Malaysia bilateral relations have experienced “phenomenal advance” over the past decade in terms of trade and investment, resulting in a “win-win” for both countries, Anwar Ibrahim, the prime minister of Malaysia, has said.

Speaking to Katie Jensen, host of the Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking,” during a visit to Riyadh for a special meeting of the World Economic Forum last week, Anwar said he would like to see accelerated deepening of ties.

Even compared with six months ago, when he attended the Gulf Cooperation Council’s joint summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Riyadh in October, Anwar said the “two-way traffic” of investment had advanced.




Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said he would like to see accelerated deepening of ties between Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. (AN photo)

“It was a phenomenal advance and improvement in terms of trade, investments, not only in oil and gas by Aramco, but also by leading Saudi companies,” he said in a wide-ranging interview covering development, diplomacy and the fight against corruption.

“A lot of Malaysian companies, too, are involved here, of course, in a smaller scale, in many of NEOM’s and in some of the energy transition programs. And I’m pleased that this two-way traffic is advancing.

“In my discussions with the crown prince, I would like to urge that this be further accelerated because that would be a win-win for both countries.”

Anwar’s personal friendship with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman is part of the reason for this burgeoning bilateral relationship, which has in turn bolstered the GCC-ASEAN partnership.




Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receives Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in Riyadh on October 22, 2023. (SPA/File)

“I must say that I’m fortunate because Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman considered me as a friend,” said Anwar, who met the crown prince during his visit for the World Economic Forum.

“We do exchange notes from time to time and he personally requested me to be present, and gives me a good opportunity to express some of the concerns and more so to be focused on economic development, on the relationships that it covers, particularly in terms of trade and investments.

“And I think he’s very forthcoming, he’s serious, he’s very determined and he’s tough. And that is to me a credit, particularly when it comes to bilateral relations. Enough rhetoric, enough pious platitudes. We want action and effective economic programs among our countries and the region, which include, therefore, ASEAN and the GCC.”


ALSO READ: Malaysian PM condemns West’s ‘sheer hypocrisy’ over Gaza war


Saudi Arabia and Malaysia also share much in common in terms of their respective economic development programs, which Anwar says are closely aligned.

While the Kingdom recently celebrated the eighth anniversary of its social reform and economic diversification agenda — Vision 2030 — Malaysia is likewise making strides with its own development plan — the Madani economic framework.

Launched in July 2023, less than a year after Anwar became prime minister, the framework aims to position Malaysia among the world’s 30 largest economies, its top 25 least corrupt countries according to the Corruptions Perceptions Index, top 12 in the Global Competitiveness Index and top 25 in the Human Development Index.




Speaking to Katie Jensen, host of the Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking,” Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said he would like the deepening of Saudi-Malaysian ties accelerated "because that would be a win-win for both countries.” (AN photo)

Malaysia also aims to raise its female labor force participation rate to 60 percent and lower its fiscal deficit to 3 percent and lower. To succeed in this reform agenda, Anwar intends to weed out corruption, implement good governance, boost foreign and domestic direct investment, and raise wages.

“I studied Vision 2030 extensively,” said Anwar. “And during the session we had during the World Economic Forum, we had an opportunity to engage with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for an hour asking questions on how he then sees this vision coming.”

He added: “We are now moving ahead to deal with issues that would affect the future of the world, particularly the emerging economies … dealing with energy, with digital, with technology, with quality education, with good public health service, with AI.




Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim speaks during panel discussion of the World Economic Forum meeting in Riyadh last week. (X: @WEF)

“And I think this is the direction which is consistent with the Madani, because we also talk about civilization and values and integrity and, more importantly, the issue of good governance.”

A shared economic trajectory is not the only thing Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have in common. Both nations have also pursued their own independent foreign policy, without submitting to the demands of powerful allies or choosing sides in superpower rivalries.

“Firstly, we are not tied to this xenophobic view of viewing China in a negative sense,” said Anwar. “As a neighbor, we have not encountered problems with them.

“Of course, there are teething issues which we do encounter with all our neighbors and countries, but we maintain excellent relations, which would enormously benefit Malaysia as an emerging economy: Investments, trade and even cultural exchanges.




Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim (left) meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on March 31, 2023. (PMO photo)

“And we also have a very strong presence of the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia. And I think to deny them a right of engaging would be futile.

“At the same time, as I have said earlier, cumulatively, the US remains the most important trading partner. And we are comfortable with it. We have benefited from its training, the technology transfer and also the workforce.

“Now there’s a continued presence of European countries, including Germany. And I think, why can’t we be just friends and engage with everybody? And those who are having problems should not impose and dictate their policies to the smaller economies, because we cannot afford to have that.

“There’s no reason whatsoever for us to be involved in that sort of a trade war, or bifurcation or tense relations between these countries.”

On the domestic front, Anwar has been true to his word on combating corruption. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has confirmed it is investigating former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in connection with a case involving his sons, Mirzan Mahathir and Mokhzani Mahathir, who have been ordered to declare their assets.

Mahathir is a vocal critic of Anwar, who served as his deputy during the 1990s before being jailed. Anwar has denied accusations of using his anti-corruption drive to settle an old political score.

“We cannot deny the fact that any effective measure to combat corruption would invite some negative political remarks,” said Anwar.

“So, are we suggesting that effective anti-corruption moves should avoid dealing with past corrupt leaders? Of course, the answer is no, because then the public would think that if you belong in a certain level, then you should be safe, excluded from these operations.




Saudi Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission signed an agreement on combating cross-border corruption. (SPA)

“So, I leave it entirely to the Anti-Corruption Commission. They do not consult me. My instructions are clear: We must stop the rot. It does not matter what the position, present or past. If you find basic reasons to suggest that investigations must be conducted fairly and professionally, please do so, because you cannot be selective, whether they are in the government or opposition, whether present leaders or past leaders.

“Otherwise, leaders like me will take the opportunity. You amass wealth as much as possible, quietly, and then later I’ll be safe because past leaders should not be touched. I think this is not the position that we take.

“I started this administration with clear calls. Good governance to rid the country of the scourge of corruption, which has led to so much waste. The endemic corruption is a scourge because it has condemned the society and the poor have suffered due to this. And many of our programs have been somewhat scuttled.

“So, we will proceed regardless. And it does not bother me in terms of the political reaction, because the Anti-Corruption Commission must remain independent and professional.”
 

 


Saudi border guards foil smuggling attempts near Jazan

Saudi border guards foil smuggling attempts near Jazan
Updated 23 June 2024
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Saudi border guards foil smuggling attempts near Jazan

Saudi border guards foil smuggling attempts near Jazan

RIYADH: Border Guard land patrols have foiled an attempt to smuggle 135 kilograms of qat in Al-Dayer sector of Jazan Region. 
Also in Jazan region, border police thwarted an attempt to illegally transport 160 kilograms of qat in Al-Ardah. 
Legal procedures were followed, and the seized items were handed over to the concerned authority.
Meanwhile, two Pakistani residents attempting to sell 4.7 kilograms of methamphetamine in Jeddah. The individuals were referred to the Public Prosecution for legal action.


KSrelief continues humanitarian activities in Lebanon, Sudan

KSrelief continues humanitarian activities in Lebanon, Sudan
Updated 23 June 2024
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KSrelief continues humanitarian activities in Lebanon, Sudan

KSrelief continues humanitarian activities in Lebanon, Sudan

RIYADH: King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center’s (KSrelief) philanthropist works in Lebanon and Sudan continues with its latest provision of medical support and basic food requirements for needy individuals.

In the Miniyeh region of northern Lebanon, the Souboul Al-Salam Social Association ambulance service being funded by KSRelief completed 56 emergency missions, which involved the transport of patients to and from hospitals as well as the provision of first responder services to individuals involved in traffic incidents.

In Sudan, the Saudi aid agency distributed 620 food packages to displaced families staying at the Shelter Center in Blue Nile State, or about 6,131 individuals receiving the subsistence items under the third phase of the Food Security Support Project for the country.


Saudi woman Sondos Jaan set to climb the highest peak in the Arab world

Saudi woman Sondos Jaan set to climb the highest peak in the Arab world
Updated 22 June 2024
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Saudi woman Sondos Jaan set to climb the highest peak in the Arab world

Saudi woman Sondos Jaan set to climb the highest peak in the Arab world
  • Adventurer tackles Mount Toubkal in Morocco

DHAHRAN: Sondos Jaan embarked on the journey to the highest peak in the Arab world on June 20.

It is the latest episode in Jaan’s love for mountain adventures, but to understand the fascination it is important to take a look back at her childhood.

She told Arab News: “I am from Madinah. I was born in a city where I could see a mountain from my bedroom window, and as I walked the streets I would see mountains.”

A picture of Sondos Jaan aged about 5 on the top of a mountain with her father. (Supplied)

Those peaks were an important part of her early childhood. There are pictures of Jaan aged about 5 on the top of mountains. She said: “I call these pictures ‘Sondos between two mountains,’ the real mountain carved in nature, and my father.”

During family camping trips, she would sneak away the moment her family was not paying attention in order to climb a mountain.

HIGHLIGHTS

• For her latest adventure, Sondos Jaan is climbing Morocco’s Mount Toubkal, which is a height of 4,167 meters.

• The climb has two routes: The first takes three days of climbing, and the second takes two days but is more challenging.

She added: “I would hear my father calling me, telling me to stay put and to wait for him. My dear father would come to me and we would then climb together, step by step, him telling me where to place my feet until we reached the summit, and then we would descend together, just the two of us.”

Sondos Jaan from Madinah hopes that young Saudi girls reading about her adventures will feel encouraged to take up sports and hobbies they are passionate about. (Supplied)

Her father was the first adventurer she knew. He was always prepared, she says, and “his car was always ready for a trip.”

She said: “He would tell me stories when he returned from hunting trips, whether on land or at sea. I would imagine the stories as if he were the hero in one of the animated films I watched. Sometimes he would take me with him, and I felt like I was part of the story.”

Sondos Jaan from Madinah hopes that young Saudi girls reading about her adventures will feel encouraged to take up sports and hobbies they are passionate about. (Supplied)

Her love for adventure was instilled in her by her father from a very early age. And it seems mountain climbing is in her DNA.

Jaan said: “My father is my primary mountain-climbing coach, and I certainly inherited the spirit of adventure and love for travel, experiences, and camping from him.

Sondos Jaan from Madinah hopes that young Saudi girls reading about her adventures will feel encouraged to take up sports and hobbies they are passionate about. (Supplied)

“He taught me swimming, horse riding, hunting, fishing, and the basics of camping.”

For her latest adventure, Jaan and a friend are climbing Morocco’s Mount Toubkal, which is a height of 4,167 meters. The climb has two routes: the first takes three days of climbing, and the second takes two days but is more challenging.

A file photo of Sondos Jaan when she was about five years old. (Supplied)

They started the climb early, continuing for about nine to 11 hours, followed by an overnight stay at an elevation of 3,200 meters above sea level.

She believes that elements of nature are instilled within each of us and it is our duty — and a privilege — to find and channel those elements.

She said that climbing to Everest Base Camp was the hardest trek she has yet attempted. It was a two-week journey and she added that she was not able to sleep, eat well or breathe properly due to oxygen deficiency in the two days leading up to arrival at the base camp. However, those were not the main factors behind it being her most difficult climb.

She said: “The (main) reason was simply managing expectations. I was emotional after walking all that time and reaching what was supposed to be the summit for that trip, only to realize it wasn’t even the summit.

“It was the main camp where climbers camp for two months every year before attempting to reach the Everest summit, allowing their bodies to acclimatize to the oxygen deficiency, training, and waiting for the right time to climb the summit.”

The experience taught her a valuable lesson, and she added: “I remember descending and as soon as we settled in one of the tea houses, I cried.

“They asked me why. I said I wanted pizza, crying real tears. The owners of the house tried hard to make pizza for me. I ate one slice and gave the rest to their dog. I reflected on my feelings and asked myself, ‘Why did I act that way?’ And the simple answer was, we didn’t reach the summit, we just saw it up close.”

She considers the thrill of the journey, and not only the destination, to be one worth embracing. She now believes that the feeling of almost giving up happens during every climb; she sees it as a healthy sign.

She added: “It is a reminder that I am human. It is also a reminder that I am capable of doing things that might seem impossible, not because I have superhuman strength, but because I am a human capable of overcoming challenges. This gives me the motivation to complete the climb.”

She believes her latest adventure also serves a greater purpose. Seeing Saudi women participate in various fields, especially sports, helps encourage her to keep striving for the highest heights.

She hopes that young girls reading about her adventures will feel encouraged to take up sports and hobbies they are passionate about, and that her experiences will help to push them to their limits to break stereotypes and barriers along the way.

She is to continue her climb, whether it be a mountain to conquer, or toward the goals of her gender.

For those starting out, she advised: “(You must) start with small, achievable goals and gradually increase the difficulty level. Ensure you have the right gear and training: it’s important to be physically and mentally prepared.

“Join a community or group of climbers for support and motivation. Most importantly, believe in yourself and enjoy the journey.”

 


Migratory birds bring ecological balance to Saudi Arabia’s Northern Borders region

The Aman Environmental Society has launched awareness campaigns and created water basins to support and sustain migratory birds.
The Aman Environmental Society has launched awareness campaigns and created water basins to support and sustain migratory birds.
Updated 22 June 2024
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Migratory birds bring ecological balance to Saudi Arabia’s Northern Borders region

The Aman Environmental Society has launched awareness campaigns and created water basins to support and sustain migratory birds.
  • Nasser Al-Majlad: “They contribute to plant reproduction and diversity through pollination, while also helping to control pests by consuming insects, reducing the need for harmful pesticides in agriculture”

RIYADH: Every year, nearly 300 bird species use Saudi Arabia’s Northern Borders region as a migration path. The area’s diverse landscapes and balanced ecosystem create a natural sanctuary for these avian visitors.

Nasser Al-Majlad, president of the Aman Environmental Society in the Northern Borders region, highlighted the crucial ecological and cultural role played by migratory birds.

FASTFACT

The migratory birds have a positive impact on soil health and ecosystem balance by aiding in soil aeration and seed dispersal near bodies of water.

“They contribute to plant reproduction and diversity through pollination, while also helping to control pests by consuming insects, reducing the need for harmful pesticides in agriculture,” he said.

According to a report by the Saudi Press Agency, Al-Majlad also emphasized the positive impact birds have on soil health and ecosystem balance by aiding in soil aeration and seed dispersal near bodies of water.

NUMBER

300

Every year, nearly 300 bird species use Saudi Arabia’s Northern Borders region as a migration path, Saudi Press Agency reported.

He also stressed the necessity of protecting migratory birds from poaching and environmental problems. The National Center for Wildlife has enacted strict anti-poaching legislation, he noted.

The Aman Environmental Society has launched awareness campaigns and created water basins to support and sustain migratory birds.

 


Saleh Al-Shaibi, senior caretaker of the Kaaba, dies

Saleh Al-Shaibi, senior caretaker of the Kaaba, dies
Updated 22 June 2024
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Saleh Al-Shaibi, senior caretaker of the Kaaba, dies

Saleh Al-Shaibi, senior caretaker of the Kaaba, dies
  • Funeral prayers held after Fajr on Saturday at the Grand Mosque
  • His responsibilities included opening and closing the Kaaba, cleaning, washing, repairing its Kiswa (covering), and welcoming visitors

MAKKAH: Dr. Saleh bin Zain Al-Abidin Al-Shaibi, the senior caretaker of the Kaaba, died in Makkah on Friday evening. Funeral prayers were held after Fajr on Saturday at the Grand Mosque.
Al-Shaibi, who held a doctorate in Islamic studies, was a university professor and an author of several works on creed and history. He was the 77th key holder of the Kaaba since the conquest of Makkah.
His responsibilities included opening and closing the Kaaba, cleaning, washing, repairing its Kiswa (covering), and welcoming visitors. He took over the guardianship after the death of his uncle, Abdulqader Taha Al-Shaibi, in 2013.
His son, Abdulrahman Saleh Al-Shaibi, told Arab News that saying farewell to his father was one of the hardest and saddest moments of his life. He added that the family accepted Allah’s will for a man who was always close to everyone and dedicated his life to serving the family.
He went on to say that his father had been suffering from illness recently but had remained patient and steadfast. The entire community shared in the family’s grief and expressed their sorrow and pain for the loss of the Al-Shaibi family’s pillar.
Al-Shaibi chaired the Department of Creed at Umm Al-Qura University for over two decades. Known for his scholarly approach and love for knowledge, he explored religious and doctrinal issues deeply. An academic at heart, he left a significant and lasting impact.
King Fahd bin Abdulaziz appointed him to the Saudi Shoura Council, and Al-Shaibi served as the deputy to his uncle in the guardianship of the Kaaba until becoming senior caretaker.
His son Abdulrahman added that he had served as his father’s deputy in the guardianship of the Kaaba for five years, after which his cousin Abdulmalik Al-Shaibi had taken over.
He said that his father had wished him to hold the guardianship and the key to the Kaaba after him. However, if this wish is not honored, the guardianship and the key will be handed over to his uncle Abdulwahab Al-Shaibi.
Nizar Al-Shaibi, the cousin of the deceased, told Arab News that it was a sad day for the family. However, the outpouring of love, solidarity, and support from all segments of society, who had rushed to offer their condolences, had helped to ease the burden of their grief.
They had expressed their gratitude for the life of the deceased, who had dedicated his life to the guardianship of the Kaaba and enhancing its reverence.
The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque mourned the death of Sheikh Dr. Saleh bin Zain Al-Abidin Al-Shaibi.
It said in a statement: “With hearts content with God’s decree, the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque and all its employees extend their deepest condolences to the family of the deceased, Sheikh Dr. Saleh bin Zain Al-Abidin Al-Shaibi, the senior caretaker of the Holy Kaaba.”
Khaled Al-Husseini, a writer and expert on Makkah’s affairs, expressed his deep sorrow over the death.
Al-Husseini described Al-Shaibi as a man of knowledge and learning, who, alongside his honored role in the guardianship of the Kaaba, was a scholar, academic, and lecturer at Umm Al-Qura University. He had generously shared his knowledge with successive generations which had benefited from his expertise over 20 years.