OPINION: India-Saudi ties have evolved into a strategic partnership

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by Dr. Ausaf Saeed

I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for ensuring the welfare of all residents in the Kingdom, including Indian nationals…

On the joyous occasion of India’s 72nd Republic Day on Tuesday, I would like to extend my warm greetings and felicitations to all Indian nationals, persons of Indian origin, and friends of India in Saudi Arabia.

Republic Day reminds us of the values enshrined in our constitution, which came into effect on Jan. 26, 1950 and declared India a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic. Our Indian constitution can be construed as a multicultural document, drafted by members who were drawn from different regions, religions, socio-economic backgrounds, and from both sides of the rural-urban divide.

India is one of the oldest civilizations in the world and has always absorbed and amalgamated new ideas, customs, and traditions. In the process it has diversified and enriched its own culture. As a result, India has emerged as a modern, forward-looking country that boasts an inclusive and plural society, providing equal opportunities for all its citizens.

As the world becomes more globalized and interconnected, India stands out as a country with a global outlook because of its belief in transparency, openness, and market principles, and its eagerness to share its knowledge and resources with the rest of the world.

India has been at the forefront of the new economic resurgence in Asia: Its economy has grown at an average annual rate of around 7 percent over the last decade. The year 2020 was undoubtedly a difficult one for the global economy owing to the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. That resulted in a “technical recession” in India and the contraction of the country’s economy by about 7.7 percent during 2020-21.

Fortunately, India’s economy is now headed for recovery based on a revival in the demand for consumer goods, high manufacturing activity, and a major economic stimulus package of $266 billion. The package was extended by the government in key growth-focused projects in addition to implementing bold economic reforms. The rollout earlier this month of the biggest COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the world has also sent comforting signals to global investors.

Despite the pandemic, the total foreign direct investment inflows into India were a record $50 billion, including inflows worth over $20 billion in capital markets. India was one of the two emerging markets to see positive inflows despite the pandemic. India is moving on a path toward reclaiming its title as the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

The London-based data and analytics firm GlobalData has projected a GDP growth rate of 9.7 percent during 2021. Other business entities have forecast a GDP growth rate as high as 12 percent for India despite the World Bank conservatively projecting India’s GDP growth at 5.4 percent in 2021.

On the global front, India joined the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member with effect from Jan. 1, 2021. India has also assumed the presidency of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. As part of these new multilateral responsibilities, India will play a responsible role and give priority to issues such as promoting inclusive solutions to international peace and security. It will give an effective response to international terrorism, tackling climate change, promoting sustainable development, and supporting the evolution of human-centric technologies. India remains committed to reformed multilateralism, a rules-based international order, and a fair and equitable international system.

On climate change, India is not only on track to achieve its Paris Agreement targets but is expected to exceed them. India’s emissions have been reduced by 21 percent over 2005 levels while its solar capacity grew from 2.63 gigawatts in 2014 to 36 gigawatts in 2020.

India’s renewable energy capacity is the fourth largest in the world and is expected to reach 175 gigawatts by the end of 2022. Its ambitious target is to achieve 450 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030.

On the bilateral front, relations between India and Saudi Arabia have evolved into a strategic partnership. The formation of the Strategic Partnership Council as the highest bilateral mechanism between the two countries in October 2019 marks a new era of understanding, convergence, and collaboration.

Our strategic partnership is centered on political, security and strategic cooperation, defense cooperation, energy security, food security, economic cooperation, mutually beneficial investments, healthcare, technology, cultural cooperation, and people-to-people engagement.

Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth-largest trading partner after the US, China, and the UAE. Bilateral trade was put at $33 billion in 2019-20, with India’s imports from Saudi Arabia valued at $26.84 billion and India’s exports to Saudi Arabia at $6.25 billion.

From the Saudi perspective, India is the Kingdom’s second-largest trade partner after China. India is the sixth major source of Saudi imports and the second-largest destination for Saudi exports.
Saudi Arabia remains India’s dependable partner for energy security, supplying 18 percent of its crude oil and 30 percent of its liquefied petroleum gas requirements.

Continuing to get the largest number of licenses for new foreign projects in the Kingdom in 2019, Indian companies dominated new licenses issued by the Ministry of Investment from June to September 2020, bagging 30 out of the 306 licenses. The cumulative Indian investment in the Kingdom now exceeds $1.5 billion.

On the Saudi side, the Public Investment Fund announced an investment of $1.5 billion into Reliance’s Jio Platforms in June 2020. The Kingdom looks on India as a favored destination for investments, particularly in the areas of high technology, telecoms, artificial intelligence, startups, logistics, and e-commerce.

The Indian Embassy in Riyadh has recently relaunched the Saudi-India Business Network and the Indo-Saudi Medical Forum. I have no doubt that these two organizations will work hand-in-hand with both governments as well as with trade and industry bodies to promote closer economic cooperation between the countries.

By virtue of its geostrategic location and with the presence of a strong maritime force, India has been at the forefront in promoting maritime safety and security in the Indian Ocean region. The Indian Navy has deployed ships for anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden since 2008. India also commenced maritime security operations in the Gulf of Oman in June 2019 and has also hosted several plurilateral and bilateral naval exercises. It has taken several initiatives toward increasing maritime domain awareness and rendering humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, on many occasions as the first responder.

The first-ever visit of India’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. M.M. Naravane to Saudi Arabia in December 2020 threw open new vistas of defense cooperation between the two countries. These include joint military exercises, sharing military intelligence, cybersecurity, combating terrorism, maritime cooperation, and training and capacity building.

Healthcare is another important area in our bilateral cooperation under the Strategic Partnership Council. Our two countries are in discussions to conclude a new memorandum of understanding on health cooperation and will replace an earlier memorandum signed in 2006. India has offered to assist the Kingdom in procuring 10 million doses of Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which is being developed by the Serum Institute of India.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Saudi Arabia for managing the COVID-19 pandemic so effectively. The Kingdom has demonstrated that the health and welfare of all its residents is a top priority for the Saudi government which undertook all necessary measures to control the spread of the virus.

I would also like to commend Saudi Arabia and its leadership for the tremendous success of the historic G20 Summit held virtually in Riyadh despite the constraints imposed by the pandemic.

The holding of the GCC-India ministerial meeting on Nov. 4, 2020 was another important diplomatic success during the past year. The two sides pledged to work together to promote peace and stability at the international level and to further enhance bilateral trade by negotiating a free trade agreement between India and the GCC.

The world’s largest repatriation mission carried out by India — the “Vande Bharat Mission” — has facilitated the travel of over 4.5 million Indian nationals and others from across the world. In Saudi Arabia, the embassy was able to repatriate over 300,000 Indian nationals to their homes in India. This was the biggest such repatriation exercise handled by the Indian Mission in Riyadh in its history and I wholeheartedly thank all Indian organizations and community volunteers who extended critical helping hands in this process.

And finally, I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for ensuring the welfare of all residents in the Kingdom, including Indian nationals, during these difficult times and for their strong support to elevate bilateral relations in all areas.

Long live the India-Saudi relationship!

Article first published in Arab News.

Dr. Ausaf Sayeed is India’s ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @DrAusaf

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Milli Chronicle’s point-of-view.

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