India-Saudi Arabia defense cooperation in the naval domain has strengthened: EAM Jaishankar | The Financial Express

India-Saudi Arabia defence cooperation in the naval domain has strengthened: EAM Jaishankar

EAM S Jaishankar called Saudi Arabia an important player in today’s global economy. Apart from traditional trade in the field of energy, both nations are now collaborating in defence and security, especially in naval domain.

India-Saudi Arabia defence cooperation in the naval domain has strengthened: EAM Jaishankar
Jaishankar arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday on a three-day visit to discuss ways to further strengthen relations between the two countries. (Photo source: Twitter@@DrSJaishankar)

India has a powerful case to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the principal UN organ must adapt to the evolving global conditions, not only to fulfil its objectives of maintaining international security but also to remain relevant, said External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who is in Saudi Arabia on his first visit to the Gulf Kingdom.

This is clearly significant in terms of the engagement between New Delhi and Riyadh, including the establishment of a high-level Strategic Partnership Council.

India has been at the forefront of the years-long efforts to reform the Security Council saying it rightly deserves a place as a permanent member of the Council, which in its current form does not represent the geo-political realities of the 21st Century.

Jaishankar said there is a broad global consensus over the need to reform the Council, particularly as it does not reflect the realities of the world, asserting that an expanded Council is not only in India’s favour, but also in favour of other unrepresented areas.

“India as the largest democracy, fifth largest economy, nuclear power, technological hub, and tradition of global engagement has a powerful case to be a permanent member of the Security Council. The Council must adapt to the evolving global conditions, not only to fulfill its objectives of maintaining international security, but also to remain relevant,” he told the Saudi Gazette newspaper in an interview.

Jaishankar arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday on a three-day visit to discuss ways to further strengthen relations between the two countries. It is his first visit to Saudi Arabia as External Affairs Minister.

He called on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and handed over a written message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and apprised him of the progress in bilateral ties on Sunday.

An era of economic partnership

Saudi Arabia is a top supplier of hydrocarbons to India—supplying 18 percent and 30 percent of India’s crude oil and LPG requirements respectively. The trade relations have reached at US $42.68 billion in FY21-22. Now, Saudi Arabia becomes India’s fourth-largest trade partner whilst India is now Saudi Arabia’s second-largest trade partner.

On the other hand, India is a major exporter of labour to, with over 2.6 million Indians working in Saudi Arabia, and over the US $8 billion flowing in as remittances annually.

Jaishankar called Saudi Arabia an “important player” in today’s global economy.

Saudi Arabi remains the world’s leading supplier of energy.  The relationship thrives not only due to its impressive growth numbers, but also due to its central position in the energy markets, he said.

“Energy is indeed one of the keystone areas in our bilateral cooperation. Apart from our traditional trade in the field of energy, both nations are now collaborating in the domains of new and renewable energy. The Joint Working Group on Energy has identified 19 project opportunities for collaboration, which include investments in LNG infrastructure and multiple renewable energy projects, human capacity building and joint research,” Jaishankar said.

He said there are several areas where India and Saudi Arabia can collaborate to help achieve the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

There are headwinds as the US $15 billion investment by Saudi state oil giant Aramco to purchase a 20-percent stake in the Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Limited’s oil-to-chemicals business was called off last year. Along, another big-ticket investment by Aramco in the US $44-billion Ratnagiri integrated refinery and petrochemicals complex project stalled in 2019.

Such headwinds do exist unfortunately but projects are actually not stalled. It is a work in progress, said Former Ambassador Skand R Tayal. He added that there were issues in regards to land acquisitions for such a large project.

“The Saudi sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF) is seriously looking at India and has been marking key sectors for the investment, which is about their growing confidence in the Indian market, said Amb Tayal, highlighting that Riyadh is already announced a US 100 billion investment.

In fact, Reliance has appointed Aramco’s Chairman (and PIF Governor), Yasir Al-Rumayyan, on its board.

PIF is one of the world’s largest investment funds with current assets under management (AUM) approximately $400 billion.  Under the Saudi Arabia’s ‘Vision 2030’, government has planned to build up asset of US $1 trillion by 2025 and US $2 trillion by 2030. To highlight the importance, under the Vision 2030, India is also marked as one of the eight countries chosen for a ‘strategic partnership’.  

Jaishankar outlined the importance of growing economic cooperation said: “India-Saudi Arabia economic cooperation is also another factor that should increase regional stability as the two major economies accelerate regional growth.”

“India and Saudi Arabia followed through on their commercial commitments and maintained the supply chains. India supplied 4.5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Saudi Arabia to support its vaccination drive. Similarly, Saudi Arabia also sent oxygen cylinders and liquid medical oxygen (LMO) tanks during the critical time of the second wave of COVID in India.,” he said.

Jaishankar said as part of India’s extended neighborhood, the Gulf region in general, and the Kingdom in particular, are crucial to India’s foreign policy priorities in the region.

“Such cooperation is visible by increased engagements with all six GCC countries over the past few years. With Saudi Arabia in particular, defence and security cooperation has increased significantly in recent times, with the first-ever bilateral naval exercise “AL MOHED AL HINDI” being held in August 2021. The two countries can certainly look to increase such cooperation to fulfill several of India’s regional initiatives, such as the SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region),” he said.

Responding to a question on climate action and climate justice, Jaishankar said India has been at the forefront of the battle against climate change.

“India is currently the only G20 country that is moving fast towards achieving its climate goals. Similarly, Saudi Arabia too has indicated its willingness to play a leading role towards a greener world, which is indicated through the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative. The two countries can certainly synergise their efforts by increasing cooperation in the fields of renewable energy and clean energy technologies,” he said.

Jaishankar said increased India-Saudi Arabia cooperation will benefit not only the region, but also the global community.

“Bilateral cooperation across all sectors, including political, security, defence, economic, and cultural domains have repercussions for the region. India and Saudi Arabia are collaborating to ensure security through respect for international law, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity. Such cooperation should certainly increase regional stability,” he said.

The changing global order will have an impact on any country’s foreign policy. With the region, as well as the world, experiencing volatility due to Covid-19, conflicts, climate events and economic uncertainty, the Indo-Saudi partnership offers a significant factor of stability, he said.

“In this context, our relations with Saudi Arabia have strengthened considerably over the past decade, which eventually culminated in the formation of the Strategic Partnership Council in October 2019,” Jaishankar said.

He said the bilateral relations have strengthened due to increasing synergies and shared interests, and this carries additional salience in today’s dynamic international environment.

The two countries are currently collaborating across nearly all sectors, which has expanded the depth of the relationship and made it comprehensive, he said.

Defence ties

The hallmark of India-Saudi Arabia bilateral relations is the Defence cooperation which is expanding at all level.

Jaishankar remarked on the growing defence ties: “A major reason for this expansion has been the evolving regional situation, for instance, our defense cooperation, particularly in the naval domain has gradually strengthened in the past few years, leading to the first-ever bilateral naval exercise in August 2021. In the economic domain as well, our bilateral trade last year stood at USD 42.86 billion, reflecting the growing interconnections between our two economies,” he said.

In fact, in June, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister of Defence for Strategic Affairs Ahmed A Aseeri had a series of high-level meeting, including the Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar in New Delhi and discussed ways to enhance defence ties between the two countries. Meeting took place under the India-Saudi Arabia Joint Committee on Defence Cooperation (JCDC). It was decided to identify new avenues and examine areas of mutual interest for Joint Venture in order to enhance defence industry cooperation.  It was agreed to hold the next meeting of JCDC in Saudi Arabia on mutually convenient dates in 2023. The JCDC was formed as an apex body between the Defence Ministries of India and Saudi Arabia to comprehensively review and guide all aspects of bilateral defence cooperation.

“This year is a milestone year for us. We have now entered the “Amrit-Kal” (Golden period), which will continue for the next 25 years to reach the centenary of our Independence and diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. During this period, I am hopeful of exponential growth in our bilateral relations,” he added.

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