We’re aware of Gwadar’s strategic importance to China and as the main overseas backers to the port city, the Chinese are eager for the region to reach its full potential. The link between Gwadar and Pakistan is obvious and it is underlined by CPEC – the set of projects that are covered by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
But Gwadar is important to other countries too and while the alliances carry fewer column inches, there are several nations watching developments with interest. One of those countries is Saudi Arabia.
Despite close Saudi ties with surrounding countries, Pakistan has been widely described as Saudi Arabia’s closest Muslim ally while the two countries are said to enjoy a special relationship. In more than seventy years, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have sought to establish positive connections in key areas such as politics, religion, culture and the economy. It’s that desire to build stronger commercial relations that drives Saudi’s interest in Gwadar.
Saudi’s Interest in CPEC
In 2018, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan made his first official state visit to Saudi Arabia with CPEC very much on the agenda. Imran Khan’s diplomacy certainly had a receptive audience as in 2019, it was announced that Saudi Arabia would be setting up a $10 billion oil refinery in the Gwadar region. They went further by investing $20 billion into Pakistan’s economy. This is the Saudis biggest commitment to Gwadar with possibly yet more to come!
“Saudi Arabia wants to make Pakistan’s economic development stable through establishing an oil refinery and partnership with Pakistan in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor,” said Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih.
The minister also went on to state that Saudi Arabia would invest in other projects in the region while claiming that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman would visit Pakistan in February to sign on the agreement. To date, no confirmation is available in terms of what those additional projects might be while Imran Khan’s invitation to join CPEC remains unsigned. However, This is a significant move for Gwadar and a sign of what Saudi Arabian investment can help to achieve in the region.
Along with Pakistan, China are also eager for further Saudi Arabia investment and for them to become the third partner in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor alliance. In a 2018 Press Conference at around the time Prime Minster Khan was visiting Saudi, China’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing simply said:
“China welcomes Saudi Arabia’s investment in CPEC.”
Those comments are something of an understatement as Saudi are important to China in the future of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor moving forward. The Chinese government has pledged some $1 trillion into projects within the region and to have a powerful ally on board would undoubtedly speed up and add more substance to those developments.
It is clear that there are positive signs that Saudis and China’s relationship is a growing one and is also strategically important to the development of CPEC.
Future of Saudi-Pakistan Relations
While we’ve seen that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have always enjoyed cordial relations, Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government may even be happier to see an official move in relation to CPEC. The invitation to sign up as the third strategic partner in the group is a possibility and it is hoped by Pakistan that the Saudis will take it up. It’s widely felt that while Saudi Arabia is already heavily invested in Gwadar, an official commitment might even possibly make other countries take notice and become involved in this project worth billions of dollars.
Assisting CPEC and Pakistan dovetails perfectly with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative. This is a planned strategy, over the next eleven years, to move away from an economy that is dominated by petroleum and into something far more diverse.