Indo-Saudi ties a factor for stability, peace

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India and Saudi Arabia ties will be a factor for stability, peace and security in our region and the world, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Okaz Editor-in-Chief and General Supervisor of Saudi Gazette Editorial Jameel Altheyabi in an exclusive interview on the occasion of the visit to India by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: The Saudi-India bilateral relations can be described as “one of the most happening bilateral relationships of 2018,” especially with India being selected as the guest of honor at the 2018 Janadriyah Festival and a range of defining moments commercially. How does your Excellency see this relations going from, what started as commercial to strategic, to something definable?

A: India’s relations with Saudi Arabia have emerged as one of the defining bilateral relationships in India’s extended neighborhood. The elevation of this relationship to a ‘Strategic Partnership’ and Saudi Arabia identifying India as one of the eight strategic partners in its future growth is a testimony to the significance attached by both the countries. The visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, as the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, to India in 2014, and my visit to Riyadh in April 2016 have further consolidated this special relationship. High-level engagements have, over the years, deepened and diversified the relations.

India has historical socio-economic-cultural bonding with the people in the Arabian Peninsula. In this backdrop, Saudi Arabia accorded India the privilege of being the ‘Guest of Honor’ country at the 32nd edition of “Janadriyah” — the annual Saudi National Heritage and Culture Festival in February 2018. The Festival provided a platform not only to highlight the vibrant bilateral relationship but also to project India’s resilient economy, technical acumen, scientific progress, investment potential, flagship programs, tourism and culture.

Q: Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman has embarked on a reform drive through his wide-ranging Vision 2030 strategy that sees reduced Kingdom economy’s reliance on oil and the state by boosting investment in the private sector, how can India become a partner in boosting this vision?

A: India welcomes the series of economic reforms, the ambitious ‘Vision 2030’ and the ‘National Transformation Program’ initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to create a thriving economy and a vibrant society in the Kingdom. We are very much looking forward to contribute to Saudi’s growth story by participating in mega projects like NEOM, Red Sea Project, Qiddiya, Housing projects etc.

In the past few years, my government has also taken a number of flagship initiatives such as “Make in India”, “Start Up India”, “Smart Cities”, and “Clean India”, “Digital India”, which can complement Saudi Arabia’s ‘Vision 2030’ and the ‘National Transformation Program 2020’. These will further deepen our growing bilateral trade and investment cooperation and present India and Saudi Arabia with the opportunity for win-win cooperation.

Q: Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman met your Excellency on the sidelines of the recent G20 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and had revealed to you about plans to scale up investments in India’s tech, farm and energy sectors. Can you enlighten us on the progress in this field?

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In the same meeting both of you have also explored investing in solar energy through Softbank’s Saudi-backed Vision Fund and opportunities to export Saudi non-oil products to India. How can India play a role in assisting Saudi Arabia’s quest in moving toward renewables, reducing the dependency on oil, especially with India emerging as a player in wind and solar energy?

A: I had the opportunity to meet the Crown Prince earlier too during my visit to Riyadh in April 2016 and also on the sidelines of G-20 in September 2016 at China. We held detailed discussions on the ways and means of enhancing bilateral cooperation in diverse fields. Energy security remains a key pillar of our strategic partnership and Saudi Arabia has been a time-tested reliable supplier of crude oil to India. It is satisfying that our bilateral trade in the energy sector is growing steadily.

Both, India and Saudi Arabia emphasize the importance of renewable energy resources. We have developed expertise and technologies in the field of solar and wind energy. We are ready to share our experience and expertise with Saudi Arabia in these fields. As you are aware, International Solar Alliance (ISA) was India’s joint initiative with France during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in November, 2015. The framework for the ISA has since been signed by 75 countries. India has set an ambitious target of production of 100 GW of Solar Energy by the year 2022. We look forward to partnership in this area. We welcome the Saudi decision to join the International Solar Alliance.

Q: With India opening up investment in its defense industry, and Saudi Arabia seeking to develop a domestic arms industry, are the countries eyeing cooperation with India assisting in arms manufacturing and Saudi Arabia helping in investments, especially with the Crown Prince indicating an interest in a initial investment in India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, a quasi-sovereign wealth fund, to help accelerate the building of ports, highways?

A: India and Saudi Arabia are located in the same extended region and are also strategic partners. They have identified a large number of areas of mutual interest and cooperation in the field of defense and security. Cooperation through joint research and development, supply and manufacture of weapon systems and equipment are fields that could be explored towards furthering mutual trust and engagement. While meaningful dialogue through a Joint Committee on Defense Cooperation has been instituted and some progress made, there is further scope for deepening defense cooperation between the two countries. My government has taken several key initiatives to improve the ease of doing business in the country and is committed to simplify and rationalize existing rules in order to attract the foreign direct investment in areas such as railways, defense and insurance.

During my visit to Riyadh in 2016, the two countries concluded the Framework Cooperation Agreement between Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) and Invest India. We welcome greater investment of Saudi Arabia in our infrastructure and other areas including NIIF. I am confident that the visit of Crown Prince to India will open avenues for new and larger investment from Saudi Arabia into India. India can also play major partnership role in Saudi Arabia in the fields of manufacturing, construction, agriculture, renewable energy and health sectors. The business communities of the two countries must come forward to utilize the investment opportunities in both countries.

Q: Your Excellency’s visit to Riyadh in April 2016 further bolstered the relationship, laying foundations for deeper ties and broadening the scope of the partnership. It laid the foundation of a strong strategic partnership and supplied the momentum to the relationship. Have you achieved progress in the five areas of cooperation the visit underlined: Trade and investment; energy; overseas employment; defense and security; and cultural interaction.

A: I fondly recall my visit to Riyadh during which I had interactions with the entire Saudi leadership and held detailed discussions on a gamut of issues of mutual interest. The visit is seen as a turning point in our growing engagement with Saudi Arabia, which has now taken an upward direction. While progress has been steady, we can certainly do with acceleration of our relations in these areas. During the forthcoming visit of the Crown Prince, my endeavor would be to put in place a high level mechanism to monitor the progress in our bilateral relations.

Q: Aramco announced a blockbuster deal to take a 50 percent stake in a proposed $44 billion mega-refinery in western India. Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) is eyeing a major stake in a petrochemicals plant in western India, how can India help in boosting Vision 2030, which targets developing tourism, entertainment and health?

India has such a well-developed and structured health sector. How can India help Saudi Arabia boost this sector while setting up a system that could help in affordable health care and wellness for all?

A: Through the established bilateral mechanism, India and Saudi Arabia have been holding Energy Consultations for past few years to explore the joint investment opportunities and cooperation between the two countries and also to encourage the Saudi private sector companies to invest in oil and gas sectors in India.

Under the ambitious ‘Vision 2030’, renewed interest for investment in India has emerged. The Saudi Minister of Energy, Industry & Mineral Resources visited India several times during 2018, and I was happy to present to him ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ in the field of energy, earlier this month. We welcome the Saudi Aramco’s committed 50% partnership in the $44 billion Ratnagiri Refinery project, as an enhancing factor to our strategic partnership. We also welcome interest of SABIC to invest in India.

As you are aware, India has great potential for developing tourism, health and entertainment sectors, which are key areas of action under the Saudi Vision 2030. India is ever ready to complement the initiatives taken by the Saudi leadership to transform its economy.

Q: The Indian economy remains the oasis of growth and stability in the global scenario, and it is growing steadily at seven percent. Several major MNCs see India as a land of potential and opportunities, including, Saudi MNCs. Has your regime created a business-friendly environment that has led to a large inflow of FDIs, or even interest from Saudi Arabia or this region, except in the energy sector.

A: In the past few years, India has implemented radical economic reforms for ease of doing business, and introducing investor-friendly changes in its FDI regime. As a result of these, India has improved its position in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index by 65 places in a very short time. A number of major flagship initiatives like Make in India, Digital India, Skill India, Swachh Bharat, Smart Cities, and StartupIndia, among others, are offering a whole lot of opportunities to the investors. In a sweeping economic reform, the biggest in the history of the country, India replaced its web of multiple Central and State taxes with the single Goods & Services Tax (GST). It will minimize complexities, increase tax revenues manifold and fuel economic growth.

Q: Kingdom has demonstrated geopolitical diversification in its relations with South Asia, and the accelerating strategic ties between India and Saudi Arabia can contribute significantly to regional stability and prosperity. How does Your Excellency propose to scale up the already strong strategic ties.

A: We attach high priority to our friendly relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Our traditionally close ties are anchored in shared interests based on centuries-old economic and socio-cultural ties and vibrant people to people contacts. Our leadership has been working closely with the Saudi leadership towards further deepening our multifaceted ties for the common benefit of our two countries.

The political commitment at the leadership level has been reflected by the fact that India has been identified as one of the eight strategic partners by Saudi Arabia. We are also progressing towards establishing India–Saudi Arabia ‘Strategic Partnership Council’ which focuses on consolidating bilateral cooperation in specific areas under the Kingdom’s newly constituted ‘Saudi Centre for International Strategic Partnership’ (SCISP). India and Saudi Arabia ties will be a factor for stability, peace and security in our region and the world.

Q: India’s hi-tech plans to develop super-computers and place own satellites in orbit have shown it to be a soft power in the region. Saudi Arabia has, on Feb. 5, launched the SGS-1 the first Saudi satellite for communications and is emerging as a player with an eye on space, how can India help in growing the Saudi space program?

A: We welcome the successful launching of the first Saudi satellite for communications (SGS-1). We have successfully launched a series of satellites and have supported a number of friendly countries in this field. Our projects have been resilient, qualitative and cost effective. India and Saudi Arabia have huge potentials to cooperate in the areas of space, science and technology, including remote sensing, satellite communication and satellite-based navigation. We would be happy to offer manufacturing facilitates to Saudi Arabia to manufacture its satellites in India. We would also be happy to launch Saudi satellites on our launch vehicles.

Q: New Delhi is ready to contribute to the stability of the region by sharing its experience in combating terrorism, maritime security and military training. India and Saudi Arabia have cooperated in ensuring safety and security of sea-lanes of communications, safety and freedom of navigation in the shipping lanes and trade routes. How can this cooperation be enhanced?

A: India strongly condemns extremism and terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, regardless of its motivations whenever, wherever and by whosoever committed. India has been a victim of terrorism sheltered and supported from across the border for over decades, claiming thousands of innocent lives. We affirm that the menace of extremism and terrorism threatens all nations and societies, and reject any attempt to link this universal phenomenon to any particular race, religion or culture. We also call on all states to reject the use of terrorism against other countries; dismantle terrorism infrastructures and stop its financing.

Our bilateral cooperation in areas of counter-terrorism, security and defense has intensified over the years. The two countries have close cooperation on a range of security issues, particularly on maritime security, law enforcement, anti-money laundering, drug trafficking, human trafficking, illegal migration, and other transnational organized crimes. In order to further enhance our bilateral cooperation in the counter-terrorism efforts, we could initiate comprehensive security dialogue mechanism at the level of National Security Advisors who will interact at regular intervals.

We also share the vision of peace and security in the Indian Ocean region.


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