Mohammad bin Salman, deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia, attended the G20 meeting and once again showed that he is the number one man of the country in various fields, especially foreign policy.
Before attending the G20 meeting, Mohammad bin Salman had a brief meeting with Nawaz Sharif and Raheel Sharif in Islamabad. It should be noted that Saudi relations with Pakistan, as the country’s traditional ally, were troubled after Pakistan refused to join the coalition against Yemen. That being said, Pakistan has a thousand military advisers in the Saudi Army, and last year this country even participated in Saudi Arabia’s military maneuvers. Perhaps the Saudis are trying to maintain their relationship with Pakistan, because it is one of Iran’s neighboring countries.
Then, Mohammed bin Salman traveled to China, which is the largest market for the Saudi oil. Before 2014 and the drop in oil prices, the trade between China and Saudi Arabia had reached 70 billion dollars. In fact, Saudi Arabia plans for China to become a large investor in the country’s ambitious 2030 plan. This plan is designed by the bin Salman prince to reduce the dependencies on oil. The trip ended with 15 economic and cultural agreements.
China is also providing Saudi Arabia with medium range ballistic missiles. Authorities of the country believe that the strategic arms of Saudi Arabia need an upgrade, because the CSS-2 missile system is worn out. This missile system was purchased at the time of Bandar bin Sultan, and bin Salman, as the Saudi defense minister, is interested in maintaining this system because of its deterrence value.
China has also sold drones to Saudi Arabia, to use in the war in Yemen. In other words, it is evident that if US and Europe limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia, this country will turn to China as an alternative. Saudis are the largest trading partner of China in the West Asian region, so it is obvious that they are considering shifting their focus towards China, especially after the US-Saudi relations were damaged. In business and economic relations, China pays less attention to political and security issues, instead it insists on trading with stable countries and regions. It should be noted that relations between Washington and Riyadh have gone through difficult stages due to the war in Yemen, reports on the September 11 attack, and terrorism.
After visiting China, bin Salman traveled to Tokyo which is another large market for the Saudi oil. The main goal of this trip was Japan’s participation in the abovementioned plan that is being managed by bin Salman. Especially getting Japan to participate in selling the Aramco shares. In an attempt to give importance to this trip, Mohammad bin Salman even had a meeting with the emperor of Japan.
Internal Aspects of Activities
The increasing power of bin Salman is notable, so much so that as the youngest participant in the G20 meetings, he was trying to turn this subject into a global and international one. Salman bin Abdulaziz had already put aside the Crown Prince Muqrin and if he wishes he can also push aside Mohammed bin Nayef. In addition to being deputy crown prince and Defence Minister, Mohammad bin Salman also serves as the head of the Economic Council and a member of the Political and Security Council. However the power of Mohammad bin Salman is more focused on being the Crown Prince. Saudi media outlets such as the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper tried to evaluate the bin Salman led shift of focus towards China and Japan as moves in development and positive steps in the economic field. The Saudi Gazette newspaper even compared it to Korea’s Chaebol and Japan’s Sogo Shosha. On the contrary to the beliefs of the Saudi news outlets that view these agreements as a way to prevent the consequences of the instability of oil market, and Saudi Arabia’s dependency on oil, in the short term, these agreements and deals will not solve many problems for Saudi Arabia. In other words, now that bin Salman is practically ruling Saudi Arabia, this country is trying to spread a powerful and independent image of itself. Bin Salman claims these activities are relying on his own initiative plan, and are aimed to develop the country. He also does not shy away from using media power to highlight these activities and actions.
Since last year, Mohammad bin Salman has attempted to introduce himself as the number one person in Saudi Arabia by activities such as, starting the war in Yemen, the 2030 plan, numerous visits to the West and the East, and participating in the international meetings such as G20. However, his lack of experience has been revealed in practice. Because, hastily making decisions, lack of strategic views, forcefully convincing individuals, and attempts for change by any means possible, have all been witnessed in the behavior and actions of bin Salman. He easily speaks of a non-oil economy, in a country that over 95% of its budget relies on income from oil sales, and the people do not pay taxes. On that note it should also be mentioned that according to many experts on the issue, a Saudi Arabia without oil is like a Saudi Arabia without monarchy.
Overall, Mohammad bin Salman is attempting to play the role of a charismatic leader in the royal family and in Saudi Arabia but his hyper-enthusiasm and lack of compliance between his plans and the current reality for these reforms, shows his lack of experience in statecraft.