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King Salman in Asia: the New Silk Road | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is honored by the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in Kuala Lumpur in this picture released March 1, 2017. Reuters

One of the most important aspects of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy in the past decade has been the enhancement and diversification of its partnerships, and expanding its political options on the international arena.

Surely, the Saudi approach to East Asia is not only a political-diplomatic move, but also an economic need in line with the grand economic reform process the kingdom is currently undergoing.

Asia is blooming and developing to an extent that it has become an international and prominent key player with grand influence politically and economically.

Based on that, the Asian visit of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz reflects the Saudi foreign policy that aims to maintain balanced relations while keeping its current international ties. At the same time, it wants to keep a strategy that is in line with the Saudi Vision 2030 in an attempt to achieve a comprehensive and sustainable economic growth.

Heading east is not strange to the Middle East, yet transforming such an idea into reality through a permanent partnership has always faced many obstacles.

The main obstacle is probably the strong alliance with western powers that always undermines the improvement of relations with key players in East Asia. Nonetheless, the dramatic shift in the international system proved that being content with current alliances – even if strategic and historic – should not stop the search for common interests with Asian parties.

This policy is based on three important facts. First, the developing Asian countries are not only economically influential and dominating, but they are also key political players in international arena in addition to the fact that they effect world security.

Second, the interaction with influential and politically and economically stable countries reflects positively on their partners. East Asian countries are in a politically stable environment and part of the international political circle away from crises and conflicts.

Finally, Saudi Arabia’s strategic role is important for Asian countries, which had previously not benefited from it in a way that establishes their geopolitical importance.

The new “Silk Road” being paved by Saudi Arabia is a tempting view of the future. Surely, it will be a bumpy road at first, but joint Saudi-Asian interests will overcome these obstacles and pave way for a promising future partnership.

If relations between Saudi Arabia and Asia are old and deeply-rooted, the newly-established connections gain their strength from the multipolar international system as more influential players get involved.

It is important for Saudi Arabia to seek strategic relations with the emerging powers of Asia amid changes in international relations and the transfer of economic power from the west to the east.

In 2012, London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies issued its Military Balance report in which it said that for the first time in modern history, military budgets of Asian states exceeded that of their European counterparts.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, it is safe to say that unipolar policy contributed to the isolation of the Middle East and for strategic reasons that required an alliance with the US and European countries.

That era hampered the emergence of independent policy from the Middle East. Yet, Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries that were the first to feel the international shift of power to Asia, acted in line with the new changes while maintaining old alliances.

Based on that, King Salman’s Asian tour is a strategic move to bolster the changes in the international scene. Both China and Japan are strong Asian nations, while Indonesia and Malaysia are rising, making it difficult to affirm if the current great powers will keep exerting influence.