Feb. 22, 2019

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman paid his first State visit to India from 19-20 February 2019. 

1) Strategic Partnership: 

  • During the visit of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud to India in 2006, the two sides signed the landmark Delhi Declaration. This laid the framework for upgrading ties to the level of “strategic partnership” in 2010, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Saudi Arabia. 

  • During Modi’s 2016 visit, an MoU on cooperation in the exchange of intelligence related to money laundering and terrorism financing was signed. 

  • India is the only country apart from China that can put pressure on Pakistan. 

  • The tour – part of his Pakistan-India-China trip – has been seen as an effort by MBS to repair his image that has been dented badly by the gruesome October 2018 murder of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Ankara. 

  • Steps taken during the recent visit: 
    • The two sides agreed to cement the existing ‘Strategic Partnership’ with ‘high-level monitoring mechanism by the creation of the Strategic Partnership Council at the Ministerial level. 

    • The two sides agreed to hold the inaugural joint naval exercises at the earliest. 

    • The two sides condemned in the strongest terms, the recent terrorist attack on Indian security forces on 14th February in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir. 

    • They also noted the need for early adoption of the UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. 

2) Trade and Investment: 

  • Bilateral trade was US $27.48 billion during the last financial year 2017-18, making Saudi Arabia India’s 4th largest trading partner, recording about 10% growth compared to 2016-17. 

  • Other areas of interest for joint collaboration are fertilisers, food security, infrastructure, civil aviation, information and communications technology, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, electronic and manufacturing facilities etc. 

  • Saudi Arabia itself is undertaking large development projects including Smart City, Red Sea Tourism Project, and Entertainment City, in which Indian companies will be looking to participate. 

  • Steps taken during the recent visit: 
    • Saudi Arabia will invest 100 billion dollars in India in range of areas including energy, refining, petrochemicals, infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing. 

    • A MoU on investing in the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) of India was signed. 

3) Energy: 

  • Saudi Arabia is the key pillar of India’s energy security, being a source of 17% or more of crude oil and 32% of LPG requirements of India. 

  • Saudi ARAMCO, in partnership with ADNOC of UAE, have agreed to partner in Ratnagiri Refinery and Petro-Chemical project Ltd., a Joint Venture of US$ 44 billion (although now Maharashtra Government has decided to shift the site). 

  • Steps taken during the recent visit: 
    • The two sides expressed satisfaction at the first Joint Venture West Coast Refinery and Petrochemical Project estimated to cost US $ 44 billion. 

    • Saudi Arabia signed the Framework Agreement on the International Solar Alliance (ISA). 

4) Soft Power: 

  • Relations between the two countries are rooted in strong historical and civilizational links. 

  • India has the world’s third largest Muslim population (after Indonesia and Pakistan), and there is inevitably a religious-cultural aspect to the ties with the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites. 

  • The 2.7 million strong Indian community is the largest expatriate group in Saudi Arabia. They send remittances of over US $11 billion annually. 

  • The Kingdom also facilitates Hajj pilgrimage to over 1,75,000 Indians every year. 

  • Steps taken during the recent visit: 
    • Mohammed bin Salman ordered the release of 850 Indian prisoners lodged in his country's jails on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's request. 

    • Saudi Arabia has also agreed to resolve issues relating to Indian workers who are currently stranded in the kingdom due to the closure of a foreign company. 

    • Crown Prince also announced the increase in quota for Indian Haj pilgrims to 200,000. 

    • India has decided to extend the e-Visa facility to Saudi nationals.