The royal road to Pakistan, India and China


Even though Saudi ties to Asia have a long history, many observers have raised questions about the recent visits of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman to three of the continent’s biggest and most powerful nations.

Here is a summary of the rationale behind each visit.

Why Pakistan?

Since Pakistan’s independence from the British Empire and separation from India, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have formed a strong alliance based on a long history with the subcontinent and their shared religion - Islam.

Pakistan has since its creation been one of the biggest and strongest Muslim nations and a founding member of the Muslim League and Organization of Islamic Conference (later, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation).

Pakistanis have worked hard and long with us to develop and build our nation into one of the world’s largest economies. Some two and half million guest workers live among us, not to mention millions of visitors for Haj, Umrah, business and family reunions. They stood with us, shoulder to shoulder, to defend the Land of Islam whenever threatened, and to liberate Kuwait. Today, they are a strong member of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition.

Saudi Arabia supported Pakistan during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. We helped in accommodating millions of Afghani refugees. Our contribution was vital in liberating their country. Saudi investment in the Pakistani military and energy industry are the largest by far. This was greatly increased during Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman’s recent visit.

Pakistan is a strategic neighbor. Its coast on the other side of the Arabian Sea is close to our ports on the Arabian Gulf. Port Gwadar, where Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and China are collaborating to build the largest oil refinery in the world with a $20 billion price tag, is at the end of the Silk Road and close to Chinese industrial cities.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will always remain two of the strongest pillars of stability, development and peace in the Gulf region and the Muslim world.

Why India?

For thousands of years, Arabia has been the Indian highway to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Ships carried spices and manufactured goods to Yemen and these were then carried overland by camel caravan to Makkah and on to Palestine, Egypt and the Roman Empire. Other shipments came via the Arabian Gulf to Eastern Arabia, on their way to Iraq and the Mediterranean.

Today, Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trading partner and largest oil exporter. Our combined recent investments have reached $100 billion, including the largest green refinery in the world. Two and a half million Indians contribute to our development. Millions more visit the holy land every year.

India supports Arab causes. They stood by Arabs in Palestine and voted for us on every UN resolution. We have never had a conflict with our Indian friends. Unlike Iran, India has stayed out of Arab affairs. They have not tried to export ideology and terrorism, or intervene in internal Arab issues.

The royal visit takes our historical relations to higher levels. Saudi investments in renewable energy, oil refineries and the petrochemical and tech industry are in addition to numerous investments in infrastructure and superstructure projects like ports, airports, railways and highways.

So far, the returns on our present investments are profitable and rewarding. It only makes sense to invest in one of the world fastest growing economies, which is also the world’s largest democracy and second most populated country. In addition, Indians are good neighbors, with a peaceful and respectful culture. The West still has the largest part of our investment pie, but the balance is about to change.

Why China?

China is the second largest economy in the world. We have collaborated in technology, renewable energy, space industries and food production. They have invested heavily in our industrial cities of Jazan and Yanbu, as well as our infrastructure and superstructure. We have invested in many Chinese sectors, such as energy, petrochemicals, education, scientific research and space exploration.

Of special interest to Saudi Arabia is the Silk Road Economic Belt. This is by far the greatest project in the new millennium. It connects 60 countries, in three continents, Asia, Africa and Europe, representing 60 percent of the world population with over four billion inhabitants, and a third of the global economy.

Saudi Arabia will greatly benefit from its strategic location in the heart of the world, sitting between the three continents. It’s also a major trade partner to the world largest economies.

The East has always been more promising and friendly. We have more cultural ties and deeper historical relations. The shift towards where the sun rises started decades ago. In the last few years, King Salman has taken it further and deeper. It is not just a political and economic tilt, but more of a strategic balancing act.

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @kbatarfi