Saudi Arabia has been joined at the hip with the West since the Cold War era. This is slowly changing. King Salman’s Asian tour, which kicks off on Sunday, is part of a broader trend of Riyadh’s deepening ties with the East.
The main reason for Saudi Arabia’s interest in Asia is the region’s thirst for oil. In the 20 years to 2016, the continent’s share of Saudi oil exports soared from 33% to 68%. King Salman will hope to convince his country’s fastest growing customers to invest in the 2018 IPO of the Kingdom’s oil champion, Saudi Aramco. Though only 5% of the company will be listed, it could raise up to $100 billion.
Saudi Arabia’s engagement with Asia also aims to develop new types of trade links. The Kingdom’s ‘Vision 2030’ plan aims to relieve its hydrocarbon dependence by that year. To do this, it will need to force its economy to develop new competitive sectors – a gargantuan task. Fortunately, this plan coincides neatly with China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ program, which could see Saudi Arabia benefit from Chinese infrastructure expertise in the future. King Salman’s Asian tour may well be a harbinger of things to come.