Should Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince and PM MBS visit Bangladesh along with India, Pakistan? By Samina Akhter

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Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is expected to visit India and Pakistan next month, according to reports.

The Saudi Crown Prince is likely to visit the two countries on November 14 while on his way to the G20 summit in Bali (Indonesia), reports quoting sources said.

The Crown Prince is visiting India on Modi's invitation, they added. It would be a day-long visit. Mohammed bin Salman had earlier visited India in 2019.

Earlier, Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman had visited India last week, which had coincided with the OPEC+ taking a decision to cut oil production.

During their meeting, PM Salman and PM Modi are expected to exchange views on the present energy security scenario due to the Russian war in Ukraine, and the western coalition sanctions that neither India nor the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has joined. The visit has geopolitical significance given U.S.-Saudi tensions over oil production cuts by the OPEC+ grouping that includes Russia, after which U.S. President Joseph Biden, who will also be in Bali, had warned of “consequences” for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In Delhi, the two leaders will review bilateral projects including the progress on Mr. Salman’s 2019 promise of “$100 billion investment” in India, particularly in oil reserves, and green energy projects, which hasn’t yet fructified. Mr. Modi has visited Riyadh twice, in 2016 and 2019, and announced a number of MoUs and projects as well, which will be reviewed, said officials. 

On the other hand, Pakistan PM Shehbaz is visiting Saudi Arabia as the Saudi crown prince is also planning to visit Pakistan next month. Prime Minister Mohammad bin Salman is expected to travel to Islamabad next month on a crucial visit Pakistan is hoping will lead to yet another financial bailout package from the oil-rich Arab nation.

The visit comes at a time when the coalition government led by Shehbaz is facing an imminent long march of former prime minister Imran Khan and when Saudi Arabia is involved in a diplomatic row with the United States over the recent cut in oil supplies by major exporting countries.

Pakistan in a surprise and significant move took a public stance on the US-Saudi row and backed Riyadh’s position.But the statement in favour of Saudi Arabia at this juncture may help Pakistan get the much needed financial support from Riyadh.

The US has been furious over the OPEC+ move to cut oil supplies by 2 million barrels a day despite request by President Joe Biden to the contrary.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has invited Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman to visit Bangladesh in September this year. 

Ambassador of Bangladesh to Saudi Arabia handed over the invitation letter to the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia Waleed El Khereiji at his ministry's office in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, on Thursday, said a press release issued today (September 30, 2022). The envoy also conveyed greeting to the Saudi prince for becoming prime minister of the kingdom. Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz named his son and heir Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the kingdom's prime minister in September. 

MBS can visit Bangladesh to strengthen bilateral relations between Bangladesh-Saudi Arabia. Bangladesh and Sau Arabia need each other. Bangladeshi government and people also want the visit of the MBS. MBS' visit to Bangladesh will definitely pave the way of Saudi Investment in Bangladesh. MBS should visit Bangladesh as he visits South Asian countries such India, Pakistan. As Bangladesh as an important stakeholder in South Asia now, MBS should visit in Bangladesh also. 

During his meeting with Sheikh Hasina, Muhammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud also focused on trade, investment and defence sectors in October, 2018.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has highly appreciated Bangladesh’s tremendous development under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and said that he wants to be a part of that development.

“I’m aware of the stunning development that took place in Bangladesh at recent time and I want to be a part of that uplift,” Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque quoted the Saudi prince as saying while briefing reporters after a meeting between Al Saud and Hasina in Riyadh on Wednesday, reports BSS.

Shahidul said Al Saud also asked Saudi officials to go to Bangladesh and send experts as well to find out what is happening there.“Then we will take decision in which sectors Bangladesh needs investment,” said Al Saud, who is also the kingdom’s prime minister and defence minister.

 The official journey of Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia relations started in 1975 when Riyadh recognized the newly born South Asian nation as a sovereign country. Since then these two countries have maintained cordial and close friendship. State-level visits from both sides have contributed to further developing their bilateral bonding.  

The current Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, is expected to visit Bangladesh on March 16. Bangladesh expects the visit will take bilateral ties to new heights by ensuring more economic cooperation. 

Muslim-majority Bangladesh attaches a special priority to its relations with Saudi Arabia as the birthplace of Islam. Both countries have common social norms and cultural values derived from their religious practices. Also, they share similar views on many regional and global issues, especially those directly related to the Muslim world. Their common interest led them to cooperate in different regional and international platforms such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the United Nations.  

Their current ties have further been reinforced by deepening cooperation in the fields of investment, trade, investment, manpower, defense, education and culture. As Bangladesh perceives Saudi Arabia as one of its trusted friends, it is the need of the hour to analyze the expectations of Bangladeshis from the KSA's MBS visit.

Saudi Arabia-Bangladesh labor market cooperation

Saudi Arabia is the most sought-after destination for Bangladeshi expatriates. From 1976 to 2021, Bangladesh exported 45.81 lakh migrant workers to the Kingdom -- almost 34 percent of the country’s total manpower export. Even amid the pandemic gloom in 2020 when most labor markets remained shut down, the Kingdom employed over 160,000 Bangladeshi workers.  

Last year, Bangladesh exported over 600,000 migrants abroad, of which 460,000, almost 76 percent, went to Saudi Arabia. In the last five years, Saudi Arabia has become the top destination for Bangladeshi migrant workforces. The richest Gulf country is implementing a number of mega projects under its Vision-2030 which may turn the country a better job destination for Bangladeshis if proper steps are taken during the upcoming visit. 

Bangladesh is on the highway to be graduated from the Least Developed Country (LDC) group by 2026. After the graduation, Bangladesh will not be eligible for many preferential treatments that are exclusively available for LDCs in global trade. Limited access to these preferential facilities will have adverse impact on the balance of payment of Bangladesh, especially with the unavoidable negative impact on its total export earnings. To counter these challenges, Bangladesh may negotiate with Saudi Arabia to ensure duty-free access to the Saudi market even after the LDC graduation. 

Support for Rohingyas

Since the genocide orchestrated by Myanmar military on Rohingya community in 2017, Bangladesh has been hosting 1.2 million Rohingya refugees. Besides, Bangladesh had been experiencing a negative trend in the international humanitarian assistance funds for supporting these refugees.  

Being the leader of the Muslim world, Bangladesh may expect that Saudi Arabia will take initiative to end the plight of Rohingyas by ensuring their safe and dignified return to their homeland. Bangladesh may talk with the Saudi minister regarding more financial support to ensure life-saving assistance required to support the Rohingya refugees. 

Saudi Arabia-Bangladesh multidimensional relations

The tremendous economic growth of Bangladesh in the last 50 years has made the country a financial and industrial hub of South Asia. According to the World Bank, Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing economies of the world supported by its consistent growth in ready-made garment exports, demographic dividend and stable macroeconomic conditions.  

Because of the economic success, Saudi Arabia now perceives Bangladesh - going beyond the religious dimension - as a lucrative investment destination. Saudi Arabia is now one of the most reliable bilateral development partners of Bangladesh, the relations dynamics of which have evolved from one-layered to multi-dimensional cooperation over time. 

The Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA) is planning to allocate some 300 acres of land to Saudi investors in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Shilpa Nagar in Chattogram. It is expected that both countries will sign billion-dollar worth investment proposals, from the part of Saudi Arabia, including some energy sector-related projects. Saudi investors can invest in Bangladesh's 100 special economic zones, large-infrastructure undertakings, textiles, IT and agro-based industries. 

Saudi Arabia-Bangladesh military ties

On the initiative of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia and under the leadership of Saudi Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the first Islamic military alliance in history was formed on 15 December 2015 comprising 34 Muslim countries including Bangladesh. Now the number of member states is 41.

Military relations between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia have been strengthened. A joint military exercise between the two countries was held already in March 2018, hosted by Saudi Arabia. The name of this exercise is ‘Gulf Shield-1’. Sixteen members of the Bangladesh Army took part in the month-long military exercise. This was the first joint military exercise of the Bangladesh Army with Saudi Arabia. Apart from Bangladesh and host Saudi Arabia, 23 other countries have taken part in it. “Joint Gulf Shield 1”, the exercises involved tens of thousands of personnel from the land, sea and air forces of 24 countries, including Saudi Arabia, the U.S., the U.K., Pakistan, Sudan, Egypt and Malaysia.

Its purpose was to increase military cooperation. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina arrived in Saudi Arabia on April 15, 2018, to deliver and attend the closing ceremony. He was invited by King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Through this exercise, a new horizon of military relations between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia can be opened. Of course, this is a very strong decision from the side of Bangladesh.

In the early 1990s, the Bangladesh Army participated in the Gulf War for the first time. The Bangladesh Army has ample opportunities to work with Saudi Arabia.

Counterterrorism, economic diplomacy, tourism, Covid-19 vaccine diplomacy may be the sectors of mutual cooperation between KSA-Bangladesh relations. KSA always supports Bangladesh in favor of Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar, refugees who were forcibly displaced by the Myanmar government in 2017. Bangladesh has sheltered them temporarily. But they have to be repatriated in Myanmar in the long run.

Hopefully, in the changed world situation and in the international political context, Saudi Arabia-Bangladesh’s good relations will play a strong role in the Muslim world. Wherever Muslims in the world, including Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Myanmar, are being persecuted and oppressed, they will play an effective role in solving their problems. Every Muslim around the world has high hopes for Saudi Arabia. We hope that in the coming years, Saudi Arabia will do its best to fulfill its responsibilities through good relations with all Muslim countries, including Bangladesh. given that the bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia has recently become more cordial.

Saudi Arabia-Bangladesh commerce ties

The Minister of Commerce of Saudi Arabia emphasized the importance of expanding trade between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia by using information technology and digital platforms and promoting Bangladesh's development progress and trade capabilities internationally. Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi.

On October 12, 2022, in his office in Riyadh, the ambassador of Bangladesh appointed to Saudi Arabia. He emphasized these issues in a bilateral meeting with Mohammad Javed Patwari, BPM (Bar). Appreciating Bangladesh's progress in economic development after overcoming the epidemic, the Commerce Minister said that it is an expression of Bangladesh's capabilities.

He said that good relations exist between brotherly Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. In order to take this relationship to a new level, he called for strengthening the commercial relationship between the two countries. He assured all cooperation from Saudi Arabia in this regard in the meeting.

Referring to his visit to Bangladesh in 2019, the minister said that he has a long-standing relationship with Bangladesh. He highly praised the leadership of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and expressed hope to see Bangladesh as a strong economic power in the world in the near future. The Ambassador apprised the Minister about the recent initiatives taken between the two countries in the field of trade and commerce. He also informed about the 14th joint commission meeting to be held between the two countries at the end of this month.

At this time, the ambassador sought the minister's assistance regarding duty-free entry of 137 products from Bangladesh to Saudi Arabia. The minister assured effective support in this regard. He expressed interest in increasing the import of these products in Saudi Arabia by referring to Bangladesh's advanced sectors such as fish, halal meat, ready-made garments, leather products, medicine, electronics and ceramic products. Besides, the two sides also discussed the ongoing Saudi investment in Bangladesh and the Saudi proposal in this regard.

During his visit to Bangladesh in 2019, the Ambassador referred to the agreement of the two sides to establish a 'Joint Working Group' to enhance bilateral trade and sought the assistance of the Commerce Minister in this regard. The Minister emphasized on the expansion of trade between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia by increasing bilateral communication using information technology and digital platforms. At the same time, he also emphasized on effective promotion of Bangladesh's growing economy and commercial potential internationally.

Saudi Arabia will always remain beside Bangladesh in various aspects in order to make its dream come true towards the development, Saudi Ambassador to Bangladesh Essa bin Yousef Al Duhailan said.

In a message marking the 92nd Saudi National Day today (September 24, 2022), he said Saudi-Bangladesh relation is deep rooted and excellent based on strong foundation of religious, cultural, economic and humanitarian ties."Saudi Arabia always stands beside Bangladesh helping it, especially in the time of hardship," he said.

Essa bin Yousef said Saudi-Bangladesh relations witnessed more strength after the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to the Kingdom in 2016 and meeting with the King of Saudi Arabia King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, as well as frequent high-level visits by a number of Bangladeshi high officials to Saudi Arabia and vise-versa.

Samina Akhter, a columnist

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