King Salman undertook a much-publicised tour of Asia in early 2017, the commercial and political ramifications of which are yet to be fully felt. A delegation of Saudi princes, military officials, and businessmen thought to number in the high hundreds spent approximately 30 days traveling between Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, China, and Brunei – courting their respective counterparts.

As with most contemporary matters pertaining to Saudi, it is hard to look past the ways in which this tour advances Vision 2030. Various bilateral agreements were signed between companies indigenous to both states signalling, on paper at least, that the two have much to gain from one another and that Saudi can be a lucrative investment destination in the years ahead.

However, it is also worth exploring what an enhanced Saudi-Chinese partnership brings to the table, and what effect this may have on power dynamics on the international stage. As such, foreign investors should continue to read between the lines regarding MoUs and cooperation agreements to gain a better understanding of the current political realities facing Riyadh and Beijing.

A Tale of Two Visits
On one hand, the king’s visit to East Asia was largely symbolic. It allowed Salman to play into the hands of the more conservative religious blocs in Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia, all of whom are majority Muslim countries. Saudi’s ambassador to Indonesia, Abdullah Al Shuaibi, alluded at such during Salman’s visit by stating that the cultural relationship between Indonesia and Saudi was “long” – reaffirming support for Indonesian schools teaching the Quran in Arabic (ABC News, 28.02.2017).

This trip is perfect for the Kingdom to take advantage of the soft power it gains by being the leader of the Islamic world, as well as asserting Saudi’s interests vis-à-vis the region’s larger players, such as China and Japan.