Saudi Arabia’s Quest for Strategic Autonomy


    In News

    • Recently, Saudi and Iranian officials held bilateral talks, mediated by China in Beijing, that concluded with an agreement to restore diplomatic ties which have been severed since 2016.  

    Recent changes in Saudi’s Foreign Policy

    • Normalization of diplomatic ties with Iran.
    • Saudi Arabia agrees to join SCO as a dialogue partner.
    • Various reports suggest Russia mediating talks between Saudi and Syria.
    • Saudi-Omani delegation to Yemen for permanent ceasefire with Houthis.

    Why are these changes now?

    • Saudi Arabia’s response to the Iran problem has shifted from strategic rivalry and proxy conflicts to tactical de-escalation and mutual coexistence.
    • Kingdom’s recent regional bets were either unsuccessful or only partially successful in case of Syrian Civil war and Yemen conflict.
    • In parallel, the U.S.’s priority is shifting away from West Asia. 


    Is Saudi moving away from the U.S.?

    • De-Americanization of West Asia is not a Saudi goal. Rather it is trying to exploit  America’s weakness in the region to establish its own autonomy by building better ties with Russia and China and mending relations with regional powers without completely losing the U.S.
    • The Kingdom is also trying to develop advanced missile and drone capabilities to counter Iran’s edge in these areas with help from the U.S.
    • Saudi Arabia joined hands with Russia to affect oil production cuts twice since the Ukraine war began
    • It has also built stronger trade and defense ties with China, and the Iran reconciliation deal, under China’s mediation, announced Beijing’s arrival as a power broker in West Asia.
    • Saudi Arabia has placed orders for Boeing aircraft worth $35 billion and entered into conditional talks with the U.S. on normalizing ties with Israel.

    What are the implications for the region?

    • If Syria rejoins the Arab League, it would improve the overall relationship between Damascus and other Arab capitals.
    • If the Saudis end the Yemen war through a settlement with Riyadh would get a calmer border.

    Implications for the India and world

    • It would help in ending ethnic conflict of Shia Sunni.
    • It would assist India in balancing regional powers in West Asia.
    • Peace in areas like Yemen, Syria would improve Oil supply in the market.
    • It leads to a multi-polar world with the increasing role of China and Russia in west Asia.
    • Safety of the Indian diaspora would be ensured by peace in the Persian Gulf area.

    India-Saudi Arabia Bilateral Relations

    • Political Relations:
    • The establishment of diplomatic relations in 1947 was followed by high-level visits from both sides.
    • The historic visit of King Abdullah to India in 2006 was a watershed moment that resulted in the signing of the ‘Delhi Declaration’, imparting a fresh momentum to the bilateral relationship.
    • Commercial Relations:
    • Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trade partner (after China, USA and Japan) and a major source of energy as India imports around 18% of its crude oil requirement from the Kingdom.
    • Saudi Arabia is also a major source of LPG for India.
    • During FY22, bilateral trade was valued at US$29.28 billion. 
    • India’s imports from Saudi Arabia were valued at US$22.65 billion and exports to Saudi Arabia were worth US$6.63 billion. 
    • Cultural Relations:
    • India successfully participated as ‘Guest of Honour’ in the 32nd edition of the prestigious Saudi National Festival of Heritage and Culture in 2018.
    • Yoga was announced as a ‘sports activity’ in Saudi Arabia.
    • Haj pilgrimage is another important component of bilateral relations.
    • Military exercise:
    • AL – Mohed-AL – Hindi is the maiden bilateral naval exercise between India and Saudi Arabia. 
    • Diaspora:
    • The approximately 2.2 million strong Indian community is the largest expatriate community in the Kingdom. 


    What is a Dialogue Partner?

    • Dialogue Partners refer to individual sovereign states and not members, but with a special interest and/or capacity to contribute, particularly in the areas of common interest.


    • SCO is a Eurasian political, economic, international security and defence organization founded in Shanghai in 2001. 
    • It is the world’s largest regional organization in terms of geographic scope and population, covering approximately 60% of the area of Eurasia, 40% of the world population, and more than 30% of global GDP.
    • The SCO currently comprises eight Member States (China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), four Observer States interested in acceding to full membership (Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia) and 9 “Dialogue Partners”.
    • SCO has mainly focused on regional security issues, its fight against regional terrorism, ethnic separatism and religious extremism. SCO’s priorities also include regional development.
    • SCO has been an observer in the UN General Assembly since 2005.

    Source: TH